When I began teaching my political philosophy class at Shawnee State University in the spring of 2018, I had no idea that day’s discussion would bring me to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, but it did.
On that day, a biologically male student raised his hand, and I responded with a simple “yes, sir.” After class, the student said that he identified as a woman and insisted that I refer to him as a woman, using feminine terms. I offered to accommodate him by referring to him only by his name, but this did not satisfy my employer.
The university insisted that I either use identity-based terms (including recently concocted pronouns like “ze” and “xe”) for all students or eliminate all sex-referencing terms from my vocabulary at all times. This would have required me to speak the English language as it has never been spoken in the history of Western civilization.
In a lawsuit I filed through my Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys, the 6th Circuit rightly recognized the university’s demands as an assault on the First Amendment freedoms of faculty members. That ruling should be seen as a resounding affirmation that professors do not give up their First Amendment rights when teaching.
Professors in public universities cannot be coerced into endorsing an ideology we reject. Before our current “cancel culture” era, this would have been as obvious as any truism in higher education or American society, including “men can’t be pregnant.”
According to the ruling, forcing professors to address students in ways that endorse transgender ideology violates our First Amendment rights just as much as requiring them to give the Nazi salute, to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, or to refrain from voicing their opinion on other important matters of public concern. In normal times, free speech advocates across the political spectrum would applaud this decision.
Alas, our times are not normal, and their number is steadily dwindling. Instead, critics of the ruling have embraced two fallacies: the straw man and the far more pervasive appeal to pity.
For example, law professor Andrew Koppelman embraces the straw man argument when he says the ruling “would apply equally to a professor who… refused to call on African American students or who refused to call on women because he thought that neither of those groups ought to participate in class discussion.”
But Koppelman doesn’t provide the slightest bit of evidence for this. Instead, he ignores the numerous differences between me and his hypothetical professor, who seeks to exclude certain groups from class discussion.
On the contrary, I welcome all students to participate. In my now-momentous political philosophy class, the student in question spoke up regularly in class and completed my course quite successfully. Also, Koppelman’s hypothetical professor makes value judgments about certain races or sexes. All I sought to do was affirm the biological differences between men and women, things even Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said “remain cause for celebration.”
Professor Darren Rosenblum exemplifies another fallacy, the “appeal to pity,” which is far more effective in our therapeutic age and almost appears to be the coin of the realm. It occurs when someone tries to win support for an argument or idea by manipulating his audience’s feelings of pity (or guilt, as is the specialty of critical race theory).
Rosenblum claims that “misgendering” a student is an attack on the student’s dignity and, as it “deliberately … humiliates them” and to “everyone, including cisgender students,” it is “discrimination.”
Like Koppelman, Rosenblum provides no evidence. Regardless, it’s still a fallacy, because feelings don’t determine truth.
But since pronouns are protected speech (as the 6th Circuit just reaffirmed), why would disagreement humiliate and intimidate anyone in the first place? What if I used the student’s preferred pronouns but then proceeded to dismantle the case for gender identity ideology—demonstrating its contradictions, its blatant rejection of science, and its very real dangers—in front of the entire class? Wouldn’t I still be “humiliating” the student?
If refusing to use preferred pronouns is such a terrible thing, wouldn’t showing the class that the transgender student has no philosophical, scientific, or moral basis for his views be far worse? How then can we engage in lively class debate if disagreement constitutes humiliation and intimidation?
I have no doubt that many transgender students wish to be referred to by their preferred gender identity. But transgender ideology is no harmless dysphoria. Falsehoods are rarely harmless, which is why I won’t endorse them. For thousands of children, it leads to intentional infertility through “puberty blockers” and the surgical removal of reproductive organs, all based on confusion that frequently dissipates over time.
Endorsing an ideology unsupported by science and that inflicts enormous damage on hurting people is far from compassionate. And all of these medications and procedures still cannot change a biological male into a female, since the person’s genes do not change.
Of course, I agree with those who say that the college classroom should be inclusive, if by that we mean open and welcoming to all. And I work hard to provide the kind of environment in which everyone—of whatever political, religious, or philosophical persuasion—feels welcome.
In fact, I use titles “Mr.” and “Ms.” to create this environment and encourage students to treat each other with respect even while disagreeing on contentious issues. But it’s a college classroom, not a counseling center. We will inevitably disagree with each other. Yet we cannot be forced to say things we do not believe, and certainly not because it makes others feel better. I can’t require this of students, and administrators cannot require it of me.
Tolerance is a two-way street, and a university classroom is not an assembly line for one type of thought. Students and, more importantly, administrators have to learn to accept that the freedom to disagree is part and parcel of living in a free society.
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