Florida State University's student-run Supreme Court has ordered the student senate to reinstate its former president Jack Denton, who was ousted for expressing his Catholic beliefs in a private group chat.
After Denton sued the school in September, a U.S. district judge ruled that the university was under no obligation to reinstate him to his role. But the student Supreme Court—whose decisions are binding on the student senate—decided to reinstate him anyway, saying that Denton's ouster violated the senate's own First Amendment policies.
"The essential question for this Court is whether a violation of [Denton's] constitutional rights has taken place," the court's decision reads. "We hold that it has."
Alliance Defending Freedom, the religious liberty law firm that represents Denton, commended the school's Supreme Court for its swift action. "All students should be able to peacefully share their personal convictions without fear of retaliation," said senior counsel Tyson Langhofer.
In June, the student senate voted almost unanimously to remove Denton from his position after the student newspaper published text messages in which Denton criticized groups for taking "explicitly anti-Catholic" stances, such as supporting abortion and transgenderism.
Denton was replaced by Ahmad Daraldik, a Palestinian-American student who has a history of anti-Semitic posts online, including "f— Israel" and "stupid Jew." Daraldik joined several student senators in arguing that "although we are granted freedom of speech, when you are in a public office you are public property and that means you must say things that won't necessarily offend other people." Senators pleaded with the court not to reinstate Denton, as they "do not feel comfortable developing a professional relationship further with him."
The court responded that principles of free speech supersede personal feelings. "A Senator who uses his influence in student government to silence the message of a fellow student, simply because of his disagreement with that message, offends the very principles upon which our Republic was founded," its decision reads.
Denton did not respond to requests for comment.