Catholic student ousted from FSU student gov't over criticisms of BLM org. appeals removal

A "Black Lives Matter" banner hangs on the fence erected around the White House to protest the death of George Floyd in Washington, D.C., on June 10, 2020. | OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images

A Catholic student who was removed from his student government position at Florida State University for scrutinizing the views of the Black Lives Matter organization is now appealing the student senate's decision to oust him.

Last month, Jack Denton, who was president of the FSU senate and a member of the FSU class of 2021, was in a private group text message chat with the FSU Catholic Student Union when he criticized, from a Catholic perspective, the beliefs of BLM and other groups like Reclaim the Block and the ACLU, arguing that their positions were not in keeping with the Church's teachings. His comments were later made public when a fellow student posted screenshots of his comments on social media.

While an initial motion to bring up a no-confidence vote in the student senate failed on June 3, two days later, under duress, the student senate summarily voted to remove him from his office.

The Alliance Defending Freedom is representing Denton and sent a letter to university administrators Wednesday appealing the student government's decision.

The letter notes that the FSU junior appealed his removal to the student supreme court in mid-June but that the senate refused to confirm a temporary chief justice before its regular session concluded, which then prevented Denton’s complaint from being adjudicated in timely fashion.

According to the letter, student senators also vetted a potential nominee for chief justice by asking the nominee how she would rule on hot-button cases centering on LGBT issues such as Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, and Bostock v. Clayton County, which was decided in June in favor of LGBT-identified employees. The Bostock ruling held that legal definition of sex discrimination in the workplace extends to both sexual orientation and transgender status.

The senators vetting the nominee also reportedly expressed concern and frustration over her “limited knowledge” of the LGBTQ+ community, in light of the "sensitive case on the docket,” referring to Bostock.

ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom, said in a statement on Wednesday that “No student should fear retaliation for peacefully sharing his personal convictions.” 

“Public universities should be fostering real diversity of thought, not discriminating against individuals based on their religious convictions or political beliefs. Under the guise of creating a ‘safe space,’ FSU students banded together to cancel Jack’s First Amendment freedoms and silence Jack because of his religion, in violation of the school’s SGA Ethics Code and the Student Body Constitution," he continued. 

"A university that promotes true diversity allows students to wrestle with differing viewpoints, instead of smashing dissent. The SGA student senate has failed to respect Jack’s freedoms; that’s why we’re asking school administrators to step in and correct this constitutional violation.”

Since the student senate refused to fill the court vacancy in time to hear Denton's case, ADF attorneys are requesting that the FSU Vice President for Student Affairs schedule a hearing to consider Denton’s appeal by July 29.

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