FSU student sues school, student govt for punishing him for privately sharing his Catholic convictions

ADF attorneys represent student after university fails to address unconstitutional retaliation against him by student government
Tuesday, September 01, 2020

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a lawsuit Monday against Florida State University administrators and student senate officials after they repeatedly failed to address unconstitutional retaliation against the president of the FSU Student Senate for sharing his personal religious beliefs with other students.

In a June 3 private text conversation with fellow Catholic students, Jack Denton suggested that BlackLivesMatter.com, Reclaim the Block, and the ACLU advocate for causes opposed to Catholic teaching and Catholic students may wish to avoid supporting the organizations financially. After another student took screenshots of Denton’s private messages and shared them publicly on social media, student senators mocked and misrepresented his remarks and, after a failed attempt on June 3, removed Denton from leadership as the SGA’s student senate president on June 5. ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit after receiving no response to a letter they sent to university officials on July 22, advising them to address the unconstitutional violation of Denton’s First Amendment freedoms.

“All students should be able to peacefully share their personal convictions without fear of retaliation,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “Florida State should be fostering real diversity of thought, not punishing individuals based on their religious convictions or political beliefs. While FSU students claim they’re creating a ‘safe space,’ they’ve tried to cancel Jack’s freedoms and discriminate against him because they don’t like his beliefs, in direct violation of the school’s SGA Ethics Code, the Student Body Constitution, and—most importantly—the First Amendment.”

“Jack has patiently appealed to fellow students and university administrators using the university’s internal procedures,” Langhofer continued, “but students and administrators have repeatedly failed to respect Jack’s constitutionally protected freedoms. That’s why we’re filing a federal lawsuit to defend Jack.”

As the ADF lawsuit states, “Student governments at public universities are the ultimate ground for experimenting with representative self-government in a diverse society. Students from all walks of life and points of view have the opportunity to work together for the common good of their university community through the political process, all while engaging in the pursuit of truth that the university is designed to facilitate. Students must live with one another—quite literally—and student government helps them learn to do so in a way that respects the ability to develop different moral and political ideas and speak about them in a political context.”

Mark Welton, one of more than 3,400 attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as local counsel in the lawsuit, Denton v. Thrasher, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, Tallahassee Division.
 
  • One-page summary: Denton v. Thrasher
  • Pronunciation guide: Langhofer (LANG’-hoff-uhr)

The ADF Center for Academic Freedom is dedicated to ensuring freedom of speech and association for students and faculty so that everyone can freely participate in the marketplace of ideas without fear of government censorship.
 
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