UW President, Dean of Students Call Church Elder’s Injunction Request ‘Misguided’

Man who targeted trans UW student wants student union ban lifted

University of Wyoming President Ed Seidel (pictured) and Dean of Students Ryan O'Neil asked a U.S. District Court judge to dismiss a request for a preliminary injunction filed by a Laramie church elder who has been banned for one-year from the student union. (Wyoming Truth photo by Kaycee Clark)

By Ellen Fike

Special to the Wyoming Truth

A Laramie church elder’s request to rescind his one-year ban from the University of Wyoming’s student union is “misguided,” the university’s president and dean of students claim in a recent court filing.

In a July 24 response to Todd Schmidt’s injunction request, attorneys for UW President Edward Seidel and Dean of Students Ryan O’Neil said the church elder’s ban was the culmination of multiple unspecified instances of misconduct.

“According to [Schmidt], the suspension resulted from an isolated exercise of [Schmidt’s] free speech that was in no way designed to discriminate against or harass anyone,” the attorneys for the university officials wrote. “[Schmidt’s] assertion is insincere.”

Schmidt was banned from the student union in December 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.

Laramie church elder Todd Schmidt is suing University of Wyoming officials for allegedly violating his First Amendment rights and is seeking to have
 his one-year ban from UW’s student union rescinded. (Credit: Facebook)

UW’s attorneys argued that Schmidt’s statement harassed Langford based “entirely on her membership in a protected class,” as Langford is a transgender woman. They asked U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Freudenthal to reject the injunction request.

In a separate filing, the attorneys sought a partial dismissal of Schmidt’s lawsuit, asking Freudenthal to dismiss all claims against O’Neil individually, along with his claim that his due process and equal protection rights had been violated and Schmidt’s request for unspecified monetary damages.

In their 17-page memorandum, the attorneys said the claims against O’Neil should be cleared, because she is a “government official performing a discretionary function, which are usually shielded from liability or civil damages as long as their conduct doesn’t violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights.”

They also argued O’Neil is not the only university official responsible for Schmidt’s ban, as it was a leadership decision, not hers alone.

On Dec. 2, 2022, Schmidt displayed the sign about Langford in the student union, where he has been a regular for 17 years. Within 15 minutes, a group of students crowded around Schmidt’s table in an apparent attempt to block the message from being seen. When Schmidt tried to engage the students in discussion about the sign, they told him that his messaging was inappropriate, the initial lawsuit stated.

Thirty minutes after Schmidt displayed the sign, O’Neil came to the table and questioned the message. Twenty minutes later, she returned and informed Schmidt that his message violated university policy, according to the lawsuit Schmidt filed against UW officials in June, alleging they violated his constitutional rights to free speech, due process and equal protection.

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.

Following student protests and calls from alumni to ban Schmidt from campus, university leadership did exactly that on Dec. 7, suspending him from tabling privileges at the student union for one year.

O’Neil 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.

Additionally, UW’s attorneys said Schmidt’s due process claim lacked requisite facts to adequately plead a cause of action, while his equal protection claim contained “mere legal conclusions and fails as a matter of law.”

They also wrote that the 11th Amendment barred Schmidt from seeking nominal damages from UW, as it restricts the ability to bring suit against states in federal court and the university is an “arm of the state.”

Schmidt claimed in his lawsuit that his sign was not intended to target Langford personally or offend anyone. Instead, he wanted to convey to the entire campus community that Langford is a biological male, even though Langford identifies as a transgender woman. 

It was not clear when Freudenthal may rule on Schmidt’s injunction request.

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