Exclusive: FSU settles discrimination suit with student Senate president ousted for criticizing BLM
Thomas Catenacci, DCNF
- Florida State University (FSU) settled a lawsuit Tuesday with former Student Senate President Jack Denton who alleged he had been discriminated against because he is Catholic.
- “If you stand against cancel culture, you can win,” Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer told the DCNF. “Cancel culture is scary and it’s very active, but Jack shows that if you stand, you can win.”
- FSU must pay Denton $10,000 in damages and issue a statement affirming that it is committed to protecting the rights of all students “no matter their religion” under the settlement agreement.
Florida State University settled a case with its former student Senate president who alleged he had been discriminated against because he is Catholic.
Jack Denton settled with Florida State University (FSU) on Tuesday, nearly one year after he was ousted from his student government leadership position for criticizing progressive groups like Black Lives Matter, his lawyers told the Daily Caller News Foundation. FSU agreed to pay Denton $10,000 in damages and $1,050 in back pay, which he would’ve earned if he hadn’t been removed, according to the settlement agreement shared with the DCNF.
“If you stand against cancel culture, you can win,” Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer told the DCNF. “Cancel culture is scary and it’s very active, but Jack shows that if you stand, you can win.”
“I hope that’s the message students across the country see when they hear about Jack’s case,” he said.
Denton, who has since graduated, said he felt blessed to have been able to defend truth and justice alongside ADF. The settlement brought him great relief, he added.
“I hope that my case will embolden other students to not be afraid to speak their mind and to share their religious convictions with others,” Denton told the DCNF. “When we engage in free speech, we make society better.”
Last June, in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody, Denton advised friends in a private Catholic Student Union group text message against donating money to Black Lives Matter, the ACLU and Reclaim the Block. He argued the groups promote causes like transgenderism and abortion that violate Catholic teaching.
Denton, who had been the FSU student Senate president, was then voted out of his leadership position after the texts were leaked to other student senators. Denton was accused of “dehumanizing” others and being “explicitly racist” because he privately told friends not to support progressive organizations.
“I don’t feel safe with you as president,” an FSU student, Valentina Brown, said during a June 5 Senate debate over Denton’s removal. “You are condemning our identities, an integral part of our selves and our nature.”
ADF eventually filed a federal lawsuit against FSU administrators in August, alleging that his removal was “unconstitutional retaliation” in violation of his First Amendment rights. Denton only sued after attempting to resolve the case via internal school procedures, Langhofer said.
“The policies were clear,” Langhofer told the DCNF. “[The lawsuit] could have been avoided if the university had the courage to stand up and say this was not right.”
After Judge Allen Winsor of the Northern District Court of Florida and the FSU Student Supreme Court both ruled in favor of Denton in October, ADF entered negotiations with the school over a settlement, Langhofer added.
FSU must soon issue a statement affirming that it is committed to protecting the rights of all students “no matter their religion” under the settlement. The university must also correct its webpage listing former student government leaders and mention that Denton was reinstated per court order.
“The First Amendment is universal and extends to people of all beliefs,” Denton said. “This victory is a victory for all religious students.”
The settlement affirmed that religious students cannot be punished for their religious beliefs, ADF Legal Counsel Logan Spena said in a statement.
“We are pleased that Florida State has finally affirmed its commitment to students’ First Amendment rights on campus,” Spena said. “All students should be able to peacefully share their personal convictions without fear of retaliation.”
FSU didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.