CINCINNATI (AP) — A ruling March 26 from a federal appeals court allows a professor to continue with his lawsuit against a small public university in Ohio that rebuked him for not addressing a transgender student using the student's preferred gender terms.

Nicholas Meriwether argues Shawnee State University officials violated his rights by compelling him to speak in a way that contradicts his Christian beliefs. The small, public school argues such language was part of his job, not speech protected by the First Amendment.

A federal judge concluded that the manner in which Meriwether addressed the student wasn't protected under the First Amendment, and dismissed Meriwether's claims related to free-speech and religious protections. A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, saying in the ruling that the First Amendment protects professors' academic speech.

The panel sent the case back to the trial court for further proceedings.

Meriwether's lawyer, John Bursch, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, said the court's message was effectively: "If Dr. Meriwether is able to prove these allegations true, these are constitutional violations, and he should win."

Messages seeking comment were left for the university and the lawyer who represented it.

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