UPDATE: Pride Club reports that after meeting with university officials, Whitworth University has restored the Queer Church event.
A week after Whitworth University’s student government rejected a campus TPUSA chapter’s request to hold an event, the university reportedly canceled the Pride Club’s Queer Church event.
Although Whitworth is a private, religious institution not otherwise required to respect students’ expressive rights, the Spokane university affirms “freedom of expression for its students, staff and faculty” in line with the “Constitutional understandings of free expression.” It additionally commits that “students are free to express their views . . . on any matter of interest to the student body.” Given those commitments, both TPUSA and Pride Club must be able to express themselves freely without administrative interference.
According to Pride Club, the administration canceled Queer Church — advertised as a “celebration of LGBTQIA2S+ resilliency and love” featuring “food trucks, gender affirming resources, an open mic, and a drag workshop” — because “it doesn't align with the ethos of the university.” If this event was canceled based on the event’s content, it’s a clear violation of the university’s commitment to free expression.
When institutions guarantee students expressive rights, they cannot cancel events based on value judgments of the event’s content. Instead, they can express disapproval of or disagreement with the content of the event while allowing students to express themselves.
In an interesting twist, the Pride Club itself expressed support for denying TPUSA’s event featuring Chinese dissident Xi Van Fleet. Pride Club’s disapproval of TPUSA’s free expression — just days before being censored themselves under similar circumstances — shows why students need not support certain speech while still vigorously defending the right to say it. Instead, when you call for censorship of certain views, censors will eventually suppress your views too.
Two violations of students’ expressive rights in just over a week is not a good look for Whitworth. Students who aim to express themselves in college and are considering what institution to attend should look elsewhere until Whitworth recommits to protecting expressive freedoms.
Whitworth must restore Pride Club’s Queer Church and approve TPUSA’s event to comply with its commitments to free expression. FIRE is committed to defending both groups and ensuring their expressive rights are protected.
FIRE defends the rights of students and faculty members — no matter their views — at public and private universities and colleges in the United States. If you are a student or a faculty member facing investigation or punishment for your speech, submit your case to FIRE today. If you’re a faculty member at a public college or university, call the Faculty Legal Defense Fund 24-hour hotline at 254-500-FLDF (3533). If you’re a college journalist facing censorship or a media law question, call the Student Press Freedom Initiative 24-hour hotline at 717-734-SPFI (7734).
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