Despite a judge’s order foreshadowing their significant legal hurdles, University of Wyoming leaders are fighting a church elder’s lawsuit accusing them of stifling his speech regarding a transgender sorority member on campus.
UW in a Monday response denied the accusations of Todd Schmidt, the Laramie church elder who displayed a sign from his reserved presentation table at the UW Student Union on Dec. 2, 2022, calling out a transgender student by name as “a male.”
UW Dean of Students Ryan O’Neil confronted Schmidt for targeting a student by name and made him cover the student’s name on the sign. Days later, the university suspended Schmidt’s tabling privileges for one year.
Schmidt sued June 15, claiming O’Neil and UW President Ed Seidel violated his free speech right.
The officials say they acted properly, and Schmidt doesn’t have grounds to sue. They have argued in earlier case documents that Schmidt’s sign was harassing and discriminatory, in violation of the school’s policies.
“(Schmidt’s) complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted,” says Seidel and O’Neil’s Monday response to the lawsuit. “All of Defendants’ actions were reasonable, in good faith, authorized by law, and taken within the course and scope of their official duties.”
The school officials are arguing further that they are entitled to sovereign immunity, and that the evidence may show that Schmidt failed to exhaust his administrative remedies.
People suing institutions have to exhaust the remedies available through those institutions before resorting to a lawsuit.
The officials are asking U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Freudenthal to adjudicate the case in their favor, let them recover their attorney fees and costs from Schmidt and award nothing to Schmidt.
A Legal Hurdle
The response comes about six weeks after Freudenthal leveled a significant blow against UW in an Aug. 18 preliminary injunction order blocking the officials’ actions against Schmidt while the lawsuit is ongoing.
Freudenthal’s order lifted the tabling ban against Schmidt and barred UW officials from blocking the protected speech on his table signs.
The judge characterized the officials’ behavior as viewpoint discrimination, which is a breed of censorship, saying UW appears to favor one viewpoint above another.
“Viewpoint discrimination is heavily disfavored, regardless of forum,” wrote Freudenthal, adding a quote from earlier case law: “The government must abstain from regulating speech when the specific motivating ideology or the opinion or perspective of the speaker is the rationale for the restriction.”
Freudenthal said Schmidt is likely to win his free-speech challenge on the merits of his case.
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.