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Federal court rules U. Wyoming cannot censor Christian activist who called trans student ‘male’

A judge has issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the University of Wyoming from censoring a Christian activist’s views that “God created male and female and Artemis Langford is a male.”

The U.S. District Court in Wyoming on Friday granted Todd Schmidt a preliminary injunction barring administrators from prohibiting him from tabling this message in the student union.

Langford is a transgender student who joined a sorority in 2022, prompting national headlines and a fierce debate. In April of this year, members of Kappa Kappa Gamma filed a lawsuit for allowing the biological male who identifies as a transgender woman into the sorority.

“U.S. Senior District Judge Nancy Freudenthal ruled Schmidt proved he would suffer irreparable harm and provided adequate grounds for his case,” the Wyoming Tribune Eagle reported. “…Judge Freudenthal upheld that Schmidt’s speech was not harassment, but rather protected free expression, and that the inclusion of Artemis Langford’s name was necessary to express his opinion.”

The ruling stated that “Schmidt’s speech was expressive, with the intent to convey a particular message. Schmidt mentions Artemis Langford by name, but that is unavoidable, as the debate revolves around the propriety of a particular biological male participating in an activity — joining a sorority — traditionally reserved for biological females.”

The university released a statement on its website that it is “disappointed” by the decision but added it “will comply with the terms of the preliminary injunction while considering whether to continue its defense and present further arguments in the case.”

“…Providing a forum for free expression and the airing of diverse views is a foundational principle for UW. However, the university must also prioritize protection of its students from unlawful harassment and discrimination. That was the guiding principle in the university’s response to Pastor Schmidt,” the statement continued.

“While the court found in this instance Pastor Schmidt’s conduct was not harassment or discrimination, the university’s right to regulate certain conduct by those tabling in the student union was recognized, and the university will continue to take lawful steps to protect the safety of students, employees and members of the public.”

As The College Fix previously reported, Schmidt, an elder at Laramie Faith Community Church, was prohibited by the university in December 2022 from setting up a table with his message “God created male and female and Artemis Langford is a male.”

“We have determined that these actions violated the university policy prohibiting discrimination and harassment,” according to a campus statement at the time. “Given this, the individual’s privileges to reserve a table in the Union have been suspended for one year.”

The university said while it does support freedom of expression, “a line was crossed when a student was harassed by name.”

Judge Freudenthal disagreed.

“Schmidt does not misgender Langford to denigrate her, but to debate a public issue,” the decision states. “Normally, mentioning a student by name or ignoring a student’s requested pronouns has low expressive value. Outside of a debate about gender, misgendering is of limited communicative value.”

“Here Schmidt’s speech is part of an earnest debate about gender identity, a matter of public importance.”

“…This is particularly true on college campuses because they are the ‘marketplace of ideas.’ While elementary and public schools prioritize the inculcation of social values, universities seek to encourage inquiry and the challenging of a priori assumptions,” the judge added. “Therefore, this Court finds that Schmidt’s speech is protected free expression and not harassment or discriminatory conduct.”

UCLA law Professor Eugene Volokh said he agrees with the decision.

“I think this is the correct result, though I am even more skeptical of attempts to recharacterize speech as ‘harassment’ than the judge is,” he wrote on Reason.

“Note that a policy categorically forbidding outside groups from mentioning students by name might be seen as permissibly viewpoint-neutral; but that wasn’t the policy here: Saying that Langford is a woman and not a man wouldn’t have been forbidden; likewise as to, for instance, condemning by name one of the students challenging Langford’s admission to the sorority.”

MORE: Sorority sisters file lawsuit to remove male member

IMAGE: Everything Possible / Shutterstock

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About the Author
Fix Editor
Jennifer Kabbany is editor-in-chief of The College Fix.