Supreme Court Declines to Hear Lawsuit Against Texas A&M University Over Drag Show Ban



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The Supreme Court on Friday decided against hearing a case that could have had significant ramifications related to speech on college campuses. At the center of the matter is a contentious debate over West Texas A&M’s decision to ban drag shows on its campus.

The case pits students’ rights to freedom of expression against the university president’s claims of protecting dignity and disallowing drag shows, which he believes make a mockery of women.

The conflict began when a group of students had hoped to put on a charity drag show. Walter Wendler, the university’s president, denied their request, claiming that these shows promote “derisive, divisive and demoralizing misogyny,” which prompted the lawsuit the Supreme Court decided not to adjudicate.

The Supreme Court will not intervene to let students at West Texas A&M University host a drag show while their First Amendment lawsuit against a similar show’s cancellation is on appeal.

The court on Friday denied the students’ request for emergency action so a charity drag performance set for later this month could go ahead. The students have claimed an order preventing drag events on campus violates their constitutional rights.

“This act of censorship is predicated on nothing more than the president’s personal opinion that a planned performance on campus ‘demeans,’ ‘mock[s],’ and ‘denigrates’ women,” the students said in their original motion to the Supreme Court from earlier this month.

West Texas A&M University’s president, Walter Wendler, canceled a charity drag show last year that had been organized by members of Spectrum WT, a student-led LGBTQ organization. He said drag shows are “derisive, divisive and demoralizing misogyny, no matter the stated intent” and compared drag to blackface in an email to the university community.

In a blog post, Wendler hashed out his justification for banning the show and even appeared to acknowledge that his action could run afoul of the Constitution.

A harmless drag show? Not possible. I will not appear to condone the diminishment of any group at the expense of impertinent gestures toward another group for any reason, even when the law of the land appears to require it. Supporting The Trevor Project is a good idea. My recommendation is to skip the show and send the dough.

The matter came to light amid widespread discussions regarding what type of speech is acceptable on college campuses.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), a nonprofit group helping the students’ case, has been vocal about the matter, arguing that barring the students from holding a drag show violates the First Amendment. “While FIRE is disappointed by today’s denial of an emergency injunction, we’ll keep fighting for our clients’ First Amendment rights,” said JT Morris, an attorney working with FIRE.

However, the battle is far from over. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is set to hear oral arguments in the case in April, which offers a glimmer of hope to the student group. “The show is not over,” Morris said.

This case could still become a significant landmark, especially if it eventually makes its way to the Supreme Court. With speech on college campuses being such a hot-button issue, the lawsuit could make more than just a few waves.

The upcoming hearing promises to be a pivotal chapter in the debate over speech on university campuses and elsewhere.



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