Laramie Church Elder Sues UW Administrators For Allegedly Violating Rights
Evangelist who was banned from campus claims he did not target or harass trans student
- Published In: Other News & Features
- Last Updated: Jun 16, 2023
Laramie church elder Todd Schmidt is suing University of Wyoming officials for allegedly violating his First Amendment rights. (Credit: Facebook)
By Ellen Fike
Special to the Wyoming Truth
Todd Schmidt, a Laramie church elder, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Thursday against two University of Wyoming administrators for allegedly violating his constitutional rights when they banned him from campus last December.
UW President Ed Seidel and Dean of Students Ryan O’Neil are named in the suit.
“This action is…concerning the denial of Schmidt’s fundamental rights of free speech, due process, equal protection and against unconstitutional conditions,” the lawsuit read.
Schmidt is seeking unnamed injunctive relief, declaratory relief and nominal damages.
Schmidt was banned after he posted a sign on his table inside the Wyoming Union — a public gathering space —t hat stated “God created man and woman and Artemis Langford is a man,” singling out a transgender student on campus.
Schmidt, an elder at Laramie Faith Community Church, had been a regular at the Union for 17 years, the lawsuit stated.
“Access to a breezeway table in the UW Union is essential for Schmidt’s communicative efforts at UW,” the lawsuit said. “Schmidt has found over the years that he can convey his religious beliefs more clearly and convincingly through tabling.”
Schmidt has historically placed a sign on the front of his table that allows him to change messaging and attract student interest. Over the years, he has posted messages that include “Abortion is murder,” “Confused about your gender? I can help,” and “Are you bad enough to go to hell?”
According to the lawsuit, Schmidt considers the sign an “invaluable and irreplaceable method of communication” that has facilitated numerous interactions with students.
The lawsuit details that Schmidt became interested in Langford in November 2022 after hearing a news report on a radio talk show about her induction into UW’s chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma Sorority.
“[Schmidt] did not know a transgendered individual, an individual he considered a male, could be eligible to join a sorority consisting of females,” the lawsuit said. “He could not believe this was happening at UW, his home university.”
The lawsuit added that Schmidt believes the regular presence of a biological man in a house of sorority sisters is unwise and unsafe.
Six current and former KKG members have since filed a lawsuit against the sorority and Langford for breaking its bylaws and allowing the transgender woman to join.
According to the lawsuit, Schmidt prayed about the Langford situation and decided he should address it, as well as provide a biblical perspective on the controversy.
“Schmidt was determined to convey his beliefs about the issue through his sign…,” the lawsuit said. “As was his custom, he wanted to use a catchy phrase that could grab students’ attention and lead to reasonable and friendly exchanges about this latest controversy at UW.”
‘Harassed by name’
On Dec. 2, Schmidt displayed the sign about Langford in the Union. According to the lawsuit, it was not intended to target Langford personally or offend anyone; rather, Schmidt intended to convey the message to the entire campus community.
About 15 minutes after the sign went on display, a group of students crowded around Schmidt’s table in an apparent attempt to block the message. When he tried to engage the students in discussion about the sign, they told him that his messaging was inappropriate, the lawsuit stated.
Despite the negative reaction from some students, Schmidt claimed in the suit that multiple students thanked him for addressing the issue and told him that KKG members who were upset about Langford’s induction felt they couldn’t speak about it.
Thirty minutes after Schmidt displayed the sign, O’Neil came to speak with him about the message and questioned it. Twenty minutes later, she returned and informed Schmidt that his message violated university policy, according to the suit.
Schmidt said he did not understand how he had violated university rules, and O’Neil did not elaborate. She instructed him to remove Langford’s name from the sign, the suit stated, and when Schmidt asked about his First Amendment rights, O’Neil did not respond.
“Schmidt considered Langford’s name a vital part of the message,” the lawsuit said. “He did not want to address the issue generally because the controversy at UW was specific.”
O’Neil threatened to call the police if Schmidt did not abide by her directive to remove Langford’s name from the sign; he abided in order to avoid trouble.
On Dec. 5, Seidel released a statement to the UW community about the situation with Schmidt.
“While freedom of expression is cherished on this campus and across this nation, a line was crossed when a student was harassed by name,” Seidel said at the time. “This is something we will not tolerate on this campus, and this action speaks to that key principle to which we adhere at UW. We do not tolerate harassment of any student or any university community member.”
Following student protests and calls from alumni to ban Schmidt from campus, O’Neil did exactly that on Dec. 7, suspending him from tabling privileges at the Union for one year.
She specified that there had been multiple complaints about Schmidt and a report that Schmidt engaged in “discriminatory harassment,” although he claims in the lawsuit that he is unaware of any complaints about him.
Schmidt argues in the lawsuit that his behavior did not discriminate against Langford, who also did not suffer “adverse consequences” from the sign.
UW spokesman Chad Baldwin declined comment Thursday, stating he had not yet seen the complaint. Schmidt’s attorney, Douglas Mason of Pinedale, did not respond to the Wyoming Truth’s request for comment.