Leaders Of Tennessee Tech Accused Of First Amendment Violation For Investigating On-Campus Drag Show

Image Credit: tntech.edu

The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –

A liberal group called The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression wrote in a letter to Tennessee Technological University’s president that investigating or issuing punishments for those involved in a controversial on-campus drag show is a violation of the First Amendment.

The drag show in question, called “DRAG at the Backdoor” that was hosted by Upper Cumberland Pride, Lamda Gay-Straight Alliance and the Tech Players, took place at the school’s Backdoor Playhouse on the first floor of the Jere Whitson building.  In a video shared by Landon Starbuck on Twitter, children can clearly be seen handing cash to a man dressed up in what appears to be a Catholic monk or nun costume, complete with a veil of sorts, which he proceeds to rip off his head before starting to strip.

Starbuck said, “Every parent who pays to send their kids to [Tennessee Tech] deserves to know that this is what they’re allowing on campus.”

“DRAG at the Backdoor” actually took place on August 20th but it was September 7th before Starbuck’s post hit Twitter and the subsequent news stories began.

The event alarmed parents, Tech alumni and residents across the state causing many to reach out to Tennessee Tech’s president, Phil Oldham.

Oldham issued this statement on September 8th in reply:

I am disturbed and dismayed about the activities in a video circulating on social media from a recent event on Tennessee Tech’s campus.

I do not feel the activities in the video represent Tech’s values, and I do not condone explicit activity where minors are present. I also am offended by disparaging mockery toward any religious group.

To be clear, this was not a university sponsored event. No university funds were used. Two registered student groups facilitated the scheduling and promotion of the event. Although registered student organizations have the ability to reserve space on campus, the programming should not include obscene, lewd, or explicit activities. 

The university is investigating the activities that took place at this event and the circumstances surrounding its scheduling and promotion. As of now, all public events scheduled on campus by these sponsoring organizations are canceled pending a review.

All students, faculty and staff deserve care and consideration, as well as representation and respect. The investigation focuses on the inappropriate involvement of minors and a review of our policies and procedures.

The Backdoor Playhouse was scheduled to put on another “all ages” drag show September 24th at 6:30pm but the event was canceled pending review.

However, now the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) is claiming that the investigation and the cancellation of further events (pending review) is a violation of the First Amendment and is Unconstitutional.

Their letter to Oldham states in part:

“While the event may have been offensive to some, it does not fall into any category of speech unprotected by the First Amendment, which bars Tennessee Tech from investigating or punishing protected expression. FIRE calls on Tennessee Tech to end its investigation of the student sponsors of the drag show, reinstate their canceled events, and promise to uphold students’ First Amendment right to host expressive events.”

“While authorities may enforce content-neutral regulations that may incidentally impact expressive conduct, they cannot restrict the expressive conduct “because it has expressive elements.” Conduct is also considered expressive when it falls within a traditionally protected genre—such as art, theater, and dancing—even if it does not convey a “narrow, succinctly articulable message.”   This is what protects the act of saluting or refusing to salute a flag, wearing black armbands to protest war, raising a “seditious” red flag, burning an American flag, picketing or leafletting, and participating in a sit-in.”

FIRE goes on to state that by canceling upcoming events (pending review), Tennessee Tech is punishing the student groups in an “unconstitutional response” to “subjectively offensive expression, which remains fully protected by the First Amendment.”

FIRE states that the investigation’s focus on the “inappropriate involvement of minors and a review of our policies and procedures,” does not “remove the groups’ expression from the First Amendment’s protection.” 

FIRE has stated that they fight against Cancel Culture and support freedom of speech regardless of where it comes from.

Formerly called The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, they renamed themselves earlier this year and raised $28.5 million for a planned three-year, $75 million litigation, opinion research and public education campaign aimed at “boosting and solidifying support for free-speech values.”

FIRE’s president, Greg Lukianoff, said, “There’s a very strong belief in not just the First Amendment, but a culture of freedom of speech that — black or white, liberal or conservative — that most Americans think you should be entitled to your own opinion.”

However, in a Politico article, Lukianoff said, “Most of FIRE’s staff leans to the left politically,” and made it a point to say that the group regularly defends left-leaning students and faculty members when “their freedom of expression is threatened.”

About the Author: Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative  ~ Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career.  Most recently, he served as Deputy Director for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others.  He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History.  Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com

2 thoughts on “Leaders Of Tennessee Tech Accused Of First Amendment Violation For Investigating On-Campus Drag Show

  • September 23, 2022 at 1:11 am

    This TRASH has nothing to do with the First Amendment.

    • September 27, 2022 at 5:55 pm

      It has everything to do with the first amendment. Have any opinion you want of the expression, but don’t tell me what I can and can’t see, listen to, or read. If you don’t like it, don’t partake in it. I’ll defend them, and I’ll defend your right to say what you want. That’s how free speech works.


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