Court Declines to Reinstate Student President Removed From Post for Catholic Beliefs

Florida State University / YouTube screenshot
October 12, 2020

A U.S. district judge ruled that Florida State University does not have to reinstate its former student senate president Jack Denton, who was removed from his position for espousing Catholic teachings.

District judge Allen Winsor ruled that while the university had chilled Denton's speech, it was under no obligation to reinstate him. Denton's "unqualified reinstatement" would not "serve the public interest," the judge said, because students' "extreme and emotional" responses to his views had precluded "effective leadership." "One need not defend these reactions to recognize that a federal court order returning Denton to his leadership position could produce tumult and chaos," Winsor added.

Even so, the judge did order the university to resume paying Denton the salary from his former position—$54 a week until the end of the fall semester. He also said that Denton's speech fell under the purview of the First Amendment and that by removing a sitting student senate president, the university had discouraged other students from expressing themselves.

Alliance Defending Freedom, the religious liberty law firm that represents Denton, told the Washington Free Beacon that it is hopeful this preliminary decision will lead to an ultimate victory in court. "While [Denton] was not reinstated to his position ... his rights were vindicated, and we are hopeful that we will achieve full justice for [Denton]," an ADF spokesperson said. "Universities cannot discriminate against someone for expressing their religious beliefs, and the court has affirmed that."

In June, the student senate voted 38-3 to remove Denton from his position after text messages surfaced in which Denton criticized left-wing groups for taking "explicitly anti-Catholic" stances, such as supporting abortion and transgenderism.

"I don't mean to anger anyone. … It is important to know what you're supporting when you're Catholic. If I stay silent while my brothers and sisters may be supporting an organization that promotes grave evils, I have sinned through my silence," Denton said in a GroupMe for Catholic students. "I love you all, and I want us all to be aware of the truth."

Denton was replaced by Ahmad Daraldik, a Palestinian-American student who has a history of anti-Semitic posts on social media, including "f— Israel" and "stupid Jew." Daraldik also created a website connecting the "occupation of Palestine" to the Holocaust, claiming that "the Holocaust never ended, it just moved to Palestine."

A Florida State University spokeswoman told the Free Beacon that the university is reviewing the court's decision and "considering its options."