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Statement on FIRE’s emergency SCOTUS petition in West Texas A&M lawsuit

Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression

Today, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression filed an emergency application asking the Supreme Court of the United States to immediately halt West Texas A&M University’s unconstitutional ban on drag performances ahead of our clients’ next annual show scheduled for March 22.

Whether it’s a fiery political speech, Bible study, or drag performance, the First Amendment protects student groups from public university administrators who want to silence speech simply because it offends them. Yet, that’s exactly what West Texas A&M University President Walter Wendler did last March, invoking his personal views to cancel student group Spectrum WT’s PG-13 drag show intended to raise funds and awareness for suicide prevention. Wendler declared “West Texas A&M will not host a drag show,” and stated he did not care that “the law of the land appears to require” him to let the show go on. 

In short, Wendler imposed a viewpoint-driven prior restraint on speech — an intolerable First Amendment violation that should not have lasted a day, let alone a year. That is why FIRE sued on the students’ behalf last year, and appealed after the district court denied FIRE’s request to stop the censorship at West Texas A&M. 

With Spectrum WT’s next show only weeks away, our clients and free expression at West Texas A&M need the courts’ immediate intervention. The district and appeals courts declined to rule in time to ensure the students can take the campus stage — as the First Amendment guarantees. So today, we’re asking the Supreme Court to step in and put an end to the censorship that has muzzled protected expression at West Texas A&M for far too long.

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