The Laramie church elder who lost presentation privileges at the University of Wyoming for a year for calling out a specific transgender student as “a male” is rebutting recent defensive court filings from university officials in his lawsuit against them.
Todd Schmidt is asking again for the U.S. District Court for Wyoming to block University of Wyoming President Ed Seidel and Dean of Students Ryan O’Neil from limiting his speech.
University leadership on Dec. 2 made Schmidt cover a student’s name on a sign he brought to the Student Union. The sign commented on the UW Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority chapter’s first transgender member, reading: “God created male and female and Artemis Langford is a male.”
After numerous local residents and alumni complained, UW officials banned Schmidt from presenting in the Student Union for one year.
Schmidt claims UW only did this to stifle his viewpoint.
“While UW disallows the statement that Artemis Langford is a male, it wholeheartedly approves the sentiment that Artemis Langford is female,” reads a Monday filing by Todd Schmidt via his attorneys Nathan W. Kellum and Douglas J. Mason. “The undeniable difference between the two is viewpoint. Depicting the speech as an ‘act’ does not circumvent the reality of the viewpoint discrimination at hand.”
Langford’s induction has sparked a separate lawsuit, Westenbroek vs. Kappa, in which six sorority sisters are suing the sorority’s national organization, claiming the sorority broke its own rules to secure Langford’s induction. That case is ongoing.
University Cites Duty To Stop Harassment
Schmidt’s renewed request for a preliminary injunction comes after Seidel and O’Neil asked the court last week not to block their actions against Schmidt.
The officials said Schmidt’s actions weren’t protected speech; but rather harassment against a student.
“From a reserved table in the Wyoming Union breezeway, (Schmidt) publicly harassed a student based entirely on her membership in a protected class – transgender female,” says the officials’ July 24 filing defending the ban.
They said Schmidt also has violated the union’s rules in the past by leaving his table and getting confrontational with students. In a Dec. 7 letter suspending Schmidt’s tabling privileges in the union, O’Neil told him his pattern of behavior was on a trajectory likely to create a hostile environment.
Harassment, Discrimination Rebuttal
While Seidel and O’Neil told the court Schmidt’s speech was discrimination and harassment, and therefore not protected, Schmidt is accusing the officials of trumping up a fake harassment claim to censor his speech based on his views on transgender issues.
Once a government institution opens up a limited public forum to let people exchange thoughts, it has to keep that forum viewpoint-neutral. Meaning, people can’t be censored simply for having unpopular opinions.
Schmidt’s Monday filing counters the officials’ harassment and discrimination claims against him, saying his actions don’t rise to the high legal bar for such findings.
For speech to be discrimination, Schmidt’s filing says, the impacted person has to demonstrate an adverse consequence, like a failure to be hired or admitted into a school. Also, to prove harassment, the conduct has to interfere unreasonably with a person’s work or academic performance or create a hostile work or educational environment.
Schmidt’s filing cites O’Neil’s letter banning him from the table for a year to support his case that he wasn’t harassing Langford.
Because O’Neil wrote that Schmidt’s behavior was on a “trajectory” toward a hostile environment, Schmidt had not yet created a hostile environment and therefore wasn’t harassing anyone, Schmidt’s filing reasons.
Just Who Is Suffering?
Schmidt alleges that if the court lets O’Neil and Seidel keep the ban in place during this lawsuit, then he will suffer what his filing calls a “two-fold irreparable harm.”
“UW prohibits him from communicating his viewpoint about Artemis Langford’s sex status — though the topic is a contested and public issue — by any conceivable means on the UW campus; and (two) UW bars his use of a breezeway table for one year no matter what Schmidt would communicate at the table,” his filing says.
Both restrictions would infringe Schmidt’s constitutional rights, the filing claims.
The filing cites a 1976 case in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals (of which Wyoming is a part) in which a court found that the loss of First Amendment freedoms constitutes irreparable injury.
The university, Schmidt’s filing claims, would not suffer like he would if the court grants the preliminary injunction. The officials remain free to comply with federal anti-discrimination requirements, even if they let him speak at the student Union.
Schmidt also claims that it is in the public’s interest for the court to block the officials’ actions, since the public has an interest in First Amendment freedoms.
We Will Leave This School Behind
The numerous people who wrote to the university Dec. 8 after Schmidt’s sign controversy erupted demanded his permanent suspension and claimed Schmidt threatened students and made them feel unsafe.
They said Schmidt in the past sought interactions with students with whom he “obviously disagrees” to preach to them which, they claimed, “infringes on the rights of those students.”
“Targeting a specific student on campus, like he did at his table,” the letter continues, “is harassment, plain and simple. His repeated actions to target LGBTQIA+ students on-campus is in itself threatening to LGBTQIA+ students.”
The letter writers threatened to remove themselves from the University of Wyoming Alumni Association, withhold their donations to the school, refuse to buy UW merchandise and refuse to return to campus for future activities like sports and homecoming.
“We want to be proud Cowpokes, but cannot do so while such explicit refusal to commit to the safety of current UW students is on display,” the letter says.
The school did not ban Schmidt permanently. It banned him from his Union table until the 2024 spring semester.
Schmidt’s latest filing says the university can’t justify its one-year ban by calling Schmidt a safety risk.
“UW officials … contend Schmidt’s very presence would be disruptive and generate safety concerns should be he be allowed to come back to a table before this suspension ends,” the filing reads, then claims that argument is a fallacy. “UW officials fail to explain how Schmidt’s presence would be any more unsafe this fall than it would next year after the suspension is over.”
Schmidt’s lawsuit is ongoing.
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.