TN Tech leaders accused of violating First Amendment amidst drag show investigation

FIRE sent the University’s President a statement after an investigation was launched regarding a drag show that was deemed “controversial” online.
Tennessee Tech Generic
Tennessee Tech Generic(TN Tech)
Published: Sep. 19, 2022 at 5:19 PM EDT
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COOKEVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression responded to a statement made by the Tennessee Tech University President. The President’s statement was made after a video of a drag show on campus went viral in early September.

The controversy began when Landon Starbuck posted a video on Twitter of a drag show that occurred on stage on the Tennessee Tech campus. In the video, Starbuck notes young children giving the performer cash and claiming that the performance was “meant to mock Christians.” She goes on to call out the University for allowing the show she believed was “not appropriate for the young audience.”

Tennessee Tech President Phillip Oldham then issued a statement that said the University would launch a full-on investigation into the show and would suspend the on-campus organization from hosting further events during the investigation.

FIRE said in a letter to President Oldham that by punishing the student group for hosting the drag show, it would be a violation of the First Amendment, which bars the University from investigating or punishing protected expression.

“Drag shows, or a student group’s sponsorship of them, constitute expressive conduct. The freedom of expression enshrined in the First Amendment ‘does not end at the spoken or written word,” FIRE said in the letter to President Oldham. “While authorities may enforce content-neutral regulations that may incidentally impact expressive conduct, they cannot restrict the expressive conduct ‘because it has expressive elements’.”

FIRE went on to say in the letter that the cancelation of student groups’ events serves no purpose but to “unlawfully chill students’ expressive rights.”

WSMV4 reached out to the University for a statement but have not received a response.