University’s Ban Of Church Elder From ‘Public Forum’ Raises Free Speech Questions, Lawmakers And Legal Experts Say

University’s Ban Of Church Elder From ‘Public Forum’ Raises Free Speech Questions, Lawmakers And Legal Experts Say

  • The University of Wyoming suspended a church elder’s ability to operate a table inside its student union after he displayed a sign reading “God created male and female” and named a biological male student who is in a sorority, the Cowboy State Daily reported.
  • Multiple legal experts and lawmakers told the Daily Caller News Foundation that the school’s decision raised free speech concerns.
  • “Rather, the answer to this speech is more speech through student discussion and debate with the speaker, not censorship by administrators,” Zach Greenberg, Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression’s senior program officer for student organizations and campus rights advocacy, told the DCNF.

The University of Wyoming’s (UW) decision to ban a church elder from operating a table inside the student union raises free speech concerns, lawmakers and legal experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

UW restricted Laramie Faith Community Church elder Todd Schmidt’s ability to reserve a table in the student union after he put up a sign which identified a biological male student who is currently in the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, the Cowboy State Daily reported. Schmidt’s sign was considered discrimination and harassment because it read “God created male and female and [student’s name] is a male.”

Schmidt, who reportedly has preached Christianity at the school for 17 years, complied with the university’s request to remove the student’s name from the sign, the Cowboy State Daily reported. However, he was still issued the one year ban. (RELATED: Men Are Upending Women’s Athletic Competitions Across The Nation)

Eugene Volokh, a distinguished professor of law at the University of California, Los Angeles, told the DCNF that while universities do retain the right to regulate speech inside of buildings, once that space becomes a public forum, policies must be applied neutrally regardless of viewpoint.

“The university could try to set up some viewpoint neutral rule that applied to speech regardless of its stance on transgender issues or any other issues, but from what I understand it sounds like this speech was targeted in large part because of its message, because of its ideological position,” Volokh said. “And that is unconstitutional in this type of limited public forum.”

“Universities, as with any other government entity, have a good deal of authority over what speech it permits within its buildings, but only so long as whatever rules they make are viewpoint neutral and sufficiently clear [to] be applied in a neutral way,” he continued.

Zach Greenberg, Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression’s senior program officer for student organizations and campus rights advocacy, told the DCNF that Schmidt’s sign was “clearly protected by the First Amendment” since it “falls far short of the legal definition of harassment in the education setting, which is severe, pervasive and objective offensive conduct that denies equal access to an institution’s resources and opportunities.” 

Greenberg also said that UW violated students’ right “to listen to diverse views.”

“Rather, the answer to this speech is more speech through student discussion and debate with the speaker, not censorship by administrators,” he explained.

Several Republican state lawmakers demanded that UW reaffirm its commitment to free speech in a Dec. 9 letter, according to Republican state Representative-Elect Jeanette Ward of Wyoming’s Facebook post.

“Colleges and universities in general need to lose their ‘wokeness’ and focus on serious academic inquiry or they are fast undermining their legitimacy,” Ward told the DCNF.

Republican state Representative Rachel Rodriguez-Williams told the DCNF that the school may have violated a Wyoming Union Policies and Operating Procedures policy, which claims external visitors receive one warning prior to losing their tabling access. She claims that Schmidt was not given a warning in advance.

“The University is a public institution and is under a constitutional obligation to refrain from infringing on the protected speech of its community,” she said. “Mr. Schmidt has been preaching at UW for 17 years, and this appears to be the first time a complaint has been lodged against him. Mr. Schmidt was not given a warning and was instead stripped of his tabling privileges in violation of UW policy.”

“The University is a public institution and is under a constitutional obligation to refrain from infringing on the protected speech of its community,” Republican state Senator Cheri Steinmetz told the DCNF.

Chad Baldwin, UW’s associate vice president for Institutional Communications, responded to the DCNF’s request for comment with the university’s Dec. 7 statement which defended its decision to suspend Schmidt.

“While freedom of expression is cherished on this campus and across this nation, a line was crossed when a student was harassed by name,” the statement read. “This is something we will not tolerate on this campus, and this action speaks to that key principle to which we adhere at UW.”

Kappa Kappa Gamma and Laramie Faith Community Church did not respond to the DCNF’s request for comment. Schmidt could not be contacted.

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