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Natural rights have natural limits

The Constitution doesn’t protect sexualized performances on college campuses

Protesters rally against West Texas A&M University’s decision to cancel a drag show on campus in Canyon, Texas, on March 21. Michael Cuviello/Amarillo Globe-News via Associated Press

Natural rights have natural limits
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Institutions of higher learning have populated the news as of late. A group of Stanford University law students—whose conduct resembled that of frenzied two-year-olds throwing a temper tantrumbrazenly disrupted a speech by a federal judge because they disagreed with his conservative worldview. In another story, the students of Wellesley College, an all-female institution, voted to allow women who identify as men and nonbinary individuals to be considered for admission. Arizona Christian University, moreover, had an agreement to place its education students in local schools revoked because of the institution’s flagrant commitment to “Jesus Christ—accomplishing His Will and advancing His Kingdom on earth as in heaven.” Shocking, indeed.

College campuses seem to have emerged as the likely arenas of the culture wars. In fact, a campus in rural Texas now finds itself caught in the contest of ideas when the university’s president scandalized his campus community with a profound declaration of moral clarity and sanity.

The dust-up began when a student organization at West Texas A&M University (WT) advertised its intention to host a drag show on campus to raise money for The Trevor Project. Walter V. Wendler, the president of WT, canceled the event and issued a public declaration that articulated his reasons for shutting down the event.

President Wendler deployed natural law categories, along with religious principles, as the pillars of his argument to ensure that drag shows never occur on WT’s campus. He began by affirming his belief in the imago Dei, arguing that this principle of human dignity not only had its roots in biblical revelation but formed the “foundational fiber” of the American nation. Wendler asserted that drag shows, given their sexual content and their exploitative use of female images, violated the moral demands of the image of God. “Drag shows,” he stated, “stereotype women in cartoon-like extremes for the amusement of others and discriminate against womanhood.” These sexualized performances, far from promoting human flourishing, only encouraged vice and division—qualities no campus community or society should tolerate, even under the banner of supposed inclusivity.

Wendler’s decision, as might be expected, evoked the ire not only of the students but the national media.

Wendler’s decision, as might be expected, evoked the ire not only of the students but the national media. NBC, The Associated Press, and CNN, to name a few, have all reported on the scandal of Wendler’s decision. A petition calling for Wendler to rescind his decision has now garnered more than 10,000 signatures. Furthermore, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) swiftly launched a campaign against Wendler’s decision, decrying the president’s alleged disregard for the Constitution and the separation of church and state. FIRE’s open letter to president Wendler stated, “As the president of a public university bound by the Constitution, your opinions on Natural Law are subordinate to your obligations under ... the First Amendment.” The letter goes on essentially to assert that natural rights—like the right to freedom of expression and speech—have no natural limits.

Similarly, the Freedom from Religion Foundation penned an open letter to Wendler, asserting that the natural law arguments he levied in his reasoning violated the Constitution’s establishment clause in the First Amendment. Wendler can enjoy his freedom of opinions on drag shows in his “personal capacity. But you cannot use your position of authority to impose your personal religion onto students or censor student activities based on your personal religious beliefs.”

Thus, the controversy at WT serves as yet another example of what happens when moral and ethical sanity collides with the demands of an ideology wedded to chaos and the rejection of ontological truth. No moral or ethical standard, especially one that violates the dogma of the sexual revolution, can exist in the public square.

Wendler, on the other hand, articulated a broader vision for the purposes of higher education that bolstered his decision to cancel the drag show. College and university campuses are places for the presentation and consideration of robust, serious ideas. Ideology—the kind that undergirds the sexual revolution—constrains that endeavor. Indeed, the entire array of the LGBTQ+ ethic demands submission to its moral claims and will not tolerate public resistance or dissent to its pursuit of ethical conformity.

This university president’s decision, which joins a growing movement of institutional leaders and state legislatures, resists the ideologies peddled by the LGBTQ+ movement and the sexual revolutionaries. Our natural rights have natural limits, and it is incumbent upon those who lead the academy to uphold moral sanity, no matter the scandal and derision it incites.

Cory D. Higdon

Cory D. Higdon (Ph.D., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is an adjunct professor of history and humanities at Boyce College. His research focuses on the history of religious liberty in Colonial America and has been featured in the Journal of Church and State, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Public Discourse, and Providence Magazine. He has presented at numerous scholarly meetings including the American Society of Church History and the Evangelical Theological Society. He and his family reside in Louisville, Ky.


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