TALLAHASSEE, Florida, October 14, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) ― A U.S. District judge ruled that reinstating a Catholic student expelled from office because of his privately shared religious beliefs would cause “tumult and chaos.”
Justice Allen Winsor ruled October 8 that Jack Denton’s constitutional right to free speech had been violated. He stated that Denton, 21, should be paid the salary he expected as the president of the Florida State University student senate for the remainder of the term for which he was elected.
However, Winsor also ruled that it was not in the “public interest” for Denton to be reinstated. The reason was the “extreme and emotional” reactions of FSU senators, which made it unlikely that Denton could effectively carry out the presidential role.
Denton, who was elected president of the student senate in 2019, was removed on June 5, 2020 after a second non-confidence vote by the senate. This followed a three-day campaign to have him removed after messages Denton wrote on a private Catholic group chat were made public. Denton had advised fellow members of the Catholic Student Association that certain groups being proposed for their support actively promoted causes contrary to Catholic doctrine. A member of this chat group took screenshots of his remarks and circulated them around the university.
“To put it mildly, the student senators reacted strongly to Denton’s views,” Winsor wrote.
“Regardless of how reasonable one finds those reactions, the fact remains that many were extreme and emotional. One senator could ‘think of no more abhorrent thing to hear coming from our senate leadership” than Denton’s remarks,’” Winsor continued.
“His discussion in the Catholic Student Union discussion group made her worry about ‘the safety’ of senators and the whole student body. Another senator echoed the ‘massive outcry from the student body to remove President Denton and do right by the LGBTQ+ community.’”
Denton’s removal was necessary, one senator insisted, “so that we may begin the work to heal.” That senator said she just ‘do(es) not feel comfortable developing a professional relationship further (with Denton).’ Another senator insisted keeping Denton ‘would be effectively enabling bigotry.’ She closed by saying that “upon thinking that I had to spend … another three days serving under President Denton, I immediately began to cry.’”
Winsor stated that a defense of these reactions was not necessary “to recognize that a federal court order returning Denton to his leadership position could produce tumult and chaos.” He concluded, therefore, that reinstating the young man would “cause more harm than good.” A “senate beside itself over its president’s expression of Catholic views” was “unlikely” to be able to carry out its duties to the university, the judge said. The other students in the government “deserve a functional government,” and not all of them are to blame for Denton’s “unconstitutional removal.”
In addition, Denton’s term in office would have lasted only a few more weeks after the judgment, and Winsor felt that the young man had “shown substantial benefit” in being reinstated for such a short period of time. Denton still holds the office of student senator.
As harm has clearly been done to Denton’s First Amendment rights, but because Winsor deemed it unlikely that the young man would succeed in winning damages from the defendants, Winsor directed that Florida State University should pay him “prospectively for six hours of work per week for the remainder of the current term of student senate president.”
Denton was represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom. In an October 9 press release, the ADF stated that it would continue to fight for his constitutional rights to be “fully restored.”
“ … Jack has the right to free speech just like all the students who spoke in favor of his removal,” the ADF said.
“And the university has a duty to uphold its students’ constitutional rights. Yet Florida State officials refused to stop this gross violation of Jack’s rights and have kept enforcing the Student Senate’s removal,” it continued.
“The Court said today that this was wrong and told the University to stop giving any effect to the vote removing Jack and to start paying him as the rightful Student Senate President. The bottom line is that all students should be able to peacefully share their personal convictions without fear of retaliation. That’s why ADF will continue to advocate for Jack’s constitutional rights to be fully restored.”
A spokeswoman for the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee told LifeSiteNews that the diocesan bishop was in contact with Denton when he was removed from office.
“Bishop (William) Wack reached out to Mr. Denton after he was relieved from his position as president of the FSU student senate,” stated Sharmane Adams, the director of communications for the Florida diocese.
“Bishop Wack expressed how proud he was of Mr. Denton and told him that he was praying for him. Bishop Wack also offered any kind of assistance that Mr. Denton needed. Mr. Denton said he was fine and appreciated his support, as well as thanked him,” she continued.
Adams added that in “the political and moral realm, Catholics have been facing many challenges concerning religious freedom. “As Catholics, we are called to practice our faith and follow the teachings of our Church, whether it be in public squares such as colleges and universities or anywhere else. We cannot be silent; we need to let our voices be heard for the sake of the Gospel.”
The private messages that Denton wrote to his fellow Catholics and later caused so much apparent anguish to some fellow student senators were as follows:
The various funds on that list are fine causes as far as I know, but everyone should be aware that BlackLivesMatter.com, Reclaim the Block, and the ACLU all advocate for things that are explicitly anti-Catholic.
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!
To thank Bishop Wack for his pastoral care for Denton, please contact:
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The Most Rev. William A. Wack
c/o Jan Viau
Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee
11 North B. Street
Pensacola, FL 32502