The Freedom From Religion Foundation is demanding that West Texas A&M University President Walter Wendler rescind his decision to cancel a student-hosted drag show.
Wendler sent an email to students, faculty and staff on March 20 with the subject line “A Harmless Drag Show? No such thing,” canceling a drag show scheduled for March 31. The show was to have raised proceeds for The Trevor Project, a nonprofit organization focused on LGBTQ-plus suicide prevention. Wendler’s email falsely compares drag to blackface and speciously states that it reduces women to stereotypes. It also repeatedly cites his personal religious beliefs as a rationale for the cancellation:
I believe every human being is created in the image of God, and therefore, a person of dignity. Being created in God’s image is the basis of Natural Law…
The WT community should live by the Golden Rule. As a Christian, I personally learned this in the book of Matthew, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
“We write to request that you immediately reverse course and permit the drag show to take place,” FFRF Equal Justice Works Fellow Kat Grant writes to Wendler. “We also request that you issue an apology for your unconstitutional, religiously motivated censorship of WTAMU students.”
Wendler’s decision to cancel the drag show censors the free speech of WTAMU students, the state/church watchdog says. Wendler may not use his position as the president of a public university to censor student groups who view drag performances as a celebration of gender identity and expression simply because that view is contrary to his own. Wendler is in violation of the West Texas A&M Expressive activity on Campus policy, which states that the university “may not take action against student organizations on the basis of religious beliefs.”
As president of a public university, Wendler is tasked with upholding the Constitution of the United States — including the Establishment Clause. His religiously motivated censorship alienates the 37 percent of Americans who are non-Christian, including the nearly one in three adults and at least 34 percent of Gen Z who now identify as religiously unaffiliated.
“Censoring this drag show is an egregious abuse of your power as the president of WTAMU, and violates both the Free Speech and Establishment clauses of the United States Constitution,” FFRF’s letter concludes. “You must not allow your personal beliefs to interfere with your constitutional responsibilities to your students and the broader university community. The U.S. Constitution, the Texas Constitution, and the university’s own policies require that you allow the drag show to proceed as scheduled.”
FFRF is pleased to see students rallying against the show cancellation, some of them carrying placards promoting separation of state and church.
“Drag shows can’t harm college students, but Wendler’s high-handed and religion-based censorship certainly can,” adds FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “West Texas A&M isn’t a fundamentalist church — it’s a public university that requires free inquiry, diversity and freedom from censorship.”
Read FFRF’s letter (Wendler’s email is attached).
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is the nation’s largest association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics) working to keep religion out of government. FFRF has almost 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including more than 1,600 members and a chapter in Texas.