Judge Grants Laramie Church Elder’s Injunction Request Against UW

Todd Schmidt experienced viewpoint discrimination, Judge Nancy Freudenthal wrote in ruling

A U.S. District Court judge has granted a preliminary injunction that will allow Todd Schmidt, a Laramie church elder, to return to the University of Wyoming's student union. In December, Schmidt was banned from the union by UW President Ed Seidel and Dean of Students Ryan O’Neil. (Credit: Facebook)

By Ellen Fike

Special to the Wyoming Truth

After weeks of back and forth between a Laramie church elder and University of Wyoming administrators, a U.S. District Court judge has granted a preliminary injunction for Todd Schmidt to be allowed back in the student union.

Judge Nancy Freudenthal ruled on Friday that Schmidt be granted the injunction he requested more than a month ago.

“Schmidt engaged in tense debate with students regarding the propriety of a biological male joining a sorority,” Freudenthal wrote in her 20-page filing. “He did not engage directly with Artemis Langford. His sign was pure speech and not conduct. Furthermore, Schmidt’s speech does not meet the University’s own definition of discrimination [or] harassment.”

“There is no evidence Langford suffered any adverse consequences or experienced interference with academic or work performance,” Freudenthal continued.

She found that Schmidt’s speech was protected free expression, rather than harassment or discriminatory conduct.

Nathan Kellum, one of Schmidt’s Memphis, Tennessee-based attorneys, told the Wyoming Truth on Friday that Schmidt and his lawyers were pleased with the outcome.

“UW officials marginalized Mr. Schmidt’s views about the Artemis Langford controversy, censored his beliefs and even punished him for sharing those beliefs, taking away his access to a table in the student union for one year,” Kellum said. “We are grateful for the relief provided by the court, allowing Mr. Schmidt to share his opinion on campus – just like everyone else. Mr. Schmidt is looking forward to coming back to campus this fall and having a table again.”

University officials expressed disappointment with Freudenthal’s ruling, but noted they would comply with the terms of the injunction while considering whether to continue its defense. UW’s fall semester begins on Aug. 28.

“The university believed its one-year suspension of plaintiff Todd Schmidt’s ability to reserve a table in the Wyoming Union breezeway was appropriate and lawful, especially considering his prior misconduct and the university’s legal obligations,” UW officials said in a statement Friday. “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.”

“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,” the statement continued.

Schmidt, who was banned from the student union in December, filed the injunction against UW President Ed Seidel and Dean of Students Ryan O’Neil in U.S. District Court on June 28. Earlier in June, Schmidt sued both officials for allegedly violating his constitutional rights when they initiated the ban. 

Seidel and O’Neil attempted to block the injunction, calling the request “misguided” and claimed the church elder’s ban was due to multiple, yet unspecified, instances of misconduct.

Freudenthal wrote in her ruling that Schmidt’s speech was expressive with the intent of conveying a particular message.

Schmidt was banned after he posted a sign on his table that read “God created man and woman and Artemis Langford is a man.”

Langford, a transgender UW student and employee at the student union, has gained national attention over the last year due to her membership in the Kappa Kappa Gamma (KKG) sorority. Six current and former KKG members have since filed a lawsuit against the sorority and Langford for allegedly breaking its bylaws and allowing the transgender woman to join.

“Schmidt does not misgender Langford to denigrate her, but to debate a public issue,” Freudenthal wrote. “The debate revolves around the propriety of a particular biological male participating in an activity – joining a sorority – traditionally reserved for biological females.”

The judge also wrote that Schmidt experienced viewpoint discrimination by having his sign removed from his table and his subsequent ban.

“Students approached Schmidt’s table to debate his views on Langford’s sex,” Freudenthal wrote. “Presumably some of those students have views opposed to those of Schmidt and believe that Langford is female and belongs in a sorority. There is no indication that those students were prohibited from debating Schmidt or speaking Langford’s name. Therefore, the University appears to be favoring one viewpoint over another.”

According to his most recent court filing, Schmidt is experiencing “two-fold irreparable harm” due to the ban, while no harm at all would be caused to UW officials should his ban be rescinded. Freudenthal agreed with this argument in her ruling.

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