Judge orders defendants to respond to drag show lawsuit by Thursday

United States District Judge Matthew J. Kacsmaryk has ordered the defendants, including officials from West Texas A&M University and the Texas A&M University System, to respond to the motion for a “temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction” in the drag show lawsuit by 10 a.m. this Thursday.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), a nonpartisan free speech nonprofit, has sued West Texas A&M University, President Walter Wendler, and other Texas A&M University System officials after Wendler “unilaterally canceled a student group’s charity drag show fundraising for LGBTQ+ suicide prevention.”

The LGBT student group Spectrum WT, represented by FIRE, officially filed the lawsuit after an announcement online by Wendler that he would cancel the drag show for “derisive, divisive, and demoralizing misogyny, no matter the stated intent.”

“Does a drag show preserve a single thread of human dignity? I think not,” Wendler said. “As a performance exaggerating aspects of womanhood (sexuality, femininity, gender), drag shows stereotype women in cartoon-like extremes for the amusement of others and discriminate against womanhood.”

“Any event which diminishes an individual or group through such representation is wrong,” he said.

In a statement to FIRE, Spectrum WT President Bear Bright said, “Hopefully, this lawsuit will not just help us the LGBTQ+ students here at WTAMU protect our rights, but also help protect students’ rights across the U.S.”

“President Wendler has made it clear to us that he knows what his legal obligations are, but he chose to ignore them, and we are thankful to FIRE for taking up our case to protect our First Amendment rights.”

In his statement, Wendler said he has an obligation to uphold natural and religious dignity. “I believe every human being is created in the image of God and, therefore, a person of dignity. Being created in God’s image is the basis of Natural Law.”

“The WT community should live by the Golden Rule,” he said. “The law of reciprocity is at work in every known religion and society on the planet. Colloquially speaking, it is a manifestation of Newton’s Third Law of Motion, ‘For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.’”

In a letter directed to Wendler, FIRE stated that a “public university bound by the Constitution, your opinions on Natural Law are subordinate to your obligations under — as you dismissively put it — ‘the law of the land,’ that is, the First Amendment, which protects student expression regardless of whether you ‘condone’ it.”

In 2019, Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill (SB) 18 with the intent to protect free speech in public universities. The bill codified that “freedom of expression is of critical importance and requires each public institution of higher education to ensure free, robust, and uninhibited debate and deliberations by students enrolled at the institution, regardless of whether the students are on or off campus.”

“It is a matter of statewide concern that all public institutions of higher education officially recognize freedom of speech as a fundamental right,” the bill states.

FIRE’s lawsuit is seeking relief from the court and reinstatement of the event based on First Amendment rights to use campus facilities for student group activities. “President Wendler isn’t just violating the First Amendment, he’s also violating Texas education law. Public colleges and universities must be beacons of free expression, not Orwellian conformity centers,” stated FIRE senior attorney JT Morris.

The Texas Education Code explicitly states that “expressive activities” includes any speech or conduct protected by the First Amendment and ensures “that all persons may assemble peaceably on the campuses of institutions of higher education for expressive activities, including to listen to or observe the expressive activities of others.”

This session, the Texas Legislature is considering a number of bills related to drag show performances. Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) filed SB 12, which would restrict “certain sexually oriented performances on public property, on the premises of a commercial enterprise, or in the presence of a child.”

SB 12 would make drag performances that are performed on public property or in the presence of a minor a class A misdemeanor.

The Legislature’s attempts to prohibit drag performances and FIRE’s lawsuit to uphold First Amendment rights on college campuses — where some students are still legal minors under 18 — is just one point of contention in the debate on how to balance freedom of expression, the protection of individual rights, and the state’s efforts to determine a judicial moral standard.
Dan Butcher

Dan Butcher is the editor and publisher of High Plains Pundit. Dan is also the host of the popular High Plains Pundit Podcast.

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