Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Student Senate President Who Was Removed For His Religious Views Gets Limited Relief

In Denton v. Thrasher, (ND FL, Oct. 8, 2020), a Florida federal district court held that Florida State University's Student Senate acted unconstitutionally when it removed Jack Denton as Student Senate president. (He remained a member of the Senate.)  Student Senate took the action after Denton's private chat room comments were publicly circulated.  The offending remarks were:

BlackLivesMatter.com fosters “a queer-affirming network” and defends transgenderism. The ACLU defends laws protecting abortion facilities and sued states that restrict access to abortion. Reclaim the Block claims less police will make our communities safer and advocates for cutting PDs’ budgets. This is a little less explicit, but I think it’s contrary to the Church’s teaching on the common good....

I don’t mean to anger anyone – I know this is a very emotional topic. However, 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. I love you all, and I want us all to be aware of the truth. As far as it’s a religious issue or not, there isn’t an aspect of our lives that isn’t religious, because God wants our whole lives and everything we do to be oriented around him!

The court said in part:

Denton is not here to complain about insults or hurt feelings. His claim is that he lost his job—his student government position—because he chose to exercise his First Amendment rights.

The court however limited its relief to an order that Denton be paid for the six hours per week for the rest of the term that he would have served as Student Senate president. It refused to order that Denton be reinstated to his position since that could produce "tumult and chaos."  Inside Higher Ed reports on the decision.