Supreme Court denies emergency request for campus drag show

U.S. Supreme Court

“A West Texas A&M University student group just lost its emergency appeal to host a drag show on campus this spring,” reports the College Fix. “The U.S. Supreme Court denied Spectrum WT’s request Friday, leaving their school’s ban on the event in place for now.”

The Court’s action doesn’t mean the student group won’t ultimately win its lawsuit. The Supreme Court usually declines to issue injunctions that a trial judge has refused to grant, preferring to let a federal appeals court first decide whether an injunction should have been granted before the Supreme Court takes up the matter.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, which is representing the students, says, “The Fifth Circuit will hear oral arguments in the case next month. And FIRE will be there advocating for our clients and for the First Amendment freedoms of every public university student — no matter how they express themself,” FIRE said in a statement on its website.

As The College Fix notes, “Spectrum WT alleged the university violated students’ free speech rights when it refused to allow them to host a charity drag show on campus in 2023.”

But University President Walter Wendler argued that the show should not occur, because drag shows are “demeaning” to women and “demoralizing misogyny.”

But this involves a university, where free-speech protections are relatively broad, to the point where “demeaning” speech is generally protected by the First Amendment. For example, a federal appeals court overturned a fraternity’s discipline for a blackface “ugly woman” skit, ruling that it was protected by the First Amendment despite its demeaning nature, in Iota Xi Chapter v. George Mason University (1993).

The Epoch Times reports:

The Supreme Court’s decision doesn’t finally decide the issue but means Spectrum WT won’t be able to schedule its performance until the matter is resolved in the courts. […]

The group later held the 2023 charity event off campus, but it continued to seek an injunction barring Mr. Wendler from prohibiting future events including a planned drag show on March 22.

The student group’s lawsuit alleged Wendler acted with a “retaliatory and oppressive intent … in reckless and callous disregard for their clearly established constitutional rights.”

In a campus-wide email March 20, 2023, Wendler explained in great detail about why he canceled the event, arguing “every human being is created in the image of God.”

“Remarkably, Wendler appeared to know he was violating the law by canceling the show. Announcing the cancellation in a campus-wide email, Wendler acknowledged the ‘law of the land appears to require’ him, as the leader of a public university, to permit student expression he dislikes,” FIRE argued in a 2023 press release.

However, in an argument to dismiss the lawsuit, Wendler’s attorneys argued drag shows are not “inherently expressive” and universities are allowed to “prohibit lewd conduct and speech.”

West Texas A&M also has a policy that prohibits “disruptive, lewd or indecent” behavior, Wendler’s attorneys stated.

However, the Supreme Court ruled that a graduate student had a First Amendment right to hand out indecent handbills on a college campus, in Papish v. Curators of the University of Missouri (1973).

Spectrum WT planned the show as a fundraiser for The Trevor Project, a nonprofit focused on reducing suicide in the LGBTQ community.

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