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Lawsuit Over FSU SGA Senate President Removal Alleges Religious Discrimination

Westcott building and fountain on the campus of Florida State University
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FSU officials are asking anyone who visited the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity house to quarantine for 14 days and get tested for COVID-19.

Florida State University’s former student senate president is suing the Student Government Association and the school over his removal. Jack Denton lost his position earlier this year over online comments he made regarding the Black Lives Matter movement and Transgender people.

Denton’s attorneys say student senate leaders and the university discriminated against him for expressing his religious views.

Denton’s comments were made in a forum for Catholic students and came in response to another student who had posted about organizations like Black Lives Matter, the ACLU and Reclaim the Block. In his response, Denton said the issues pushed by the organizations went against Catholic teachings on subjects like LGBTQ rights and abortion.

“It’s important to know what you’re supporting when you’re Catholic,” Denton wrote. “If I stay silent while my brothers and sisters are supporting an organization that promotes grave evils I have sinned through my silence.”

Student groups called for Denton’s removal as SGA senate president and he lost the position, though he remains as a student senator.

Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative, Christian non-profit group, is representing Denton in his First Amendment lawsuit.

In a statement, FSU attorney Carolyn Eagan says student government was created by students for students and in most cases, is protected from lawsuits stemming from student government actions.

"FSU is aware of the civil lawsuit filed by Mr. Denton after he was provisionally removed as Student Government Association Senate president by a two-thirds vote of his colleagues on June 5, 2020. Recognizing that student governments are created by students for the purpose of experiential self-governance, universities are protected from civil liability of the actions of student government unless the university has taken action to adopt the decision, which hasn't occurred here. We look forward to seeking dismissal of Mr. Denton's claims by the court," said FSU General Counsel Carolyn Egan in a statement.

Denton’s successor, Ahmad Daraldik, has also faced calls to step down over social media comments in 2013 and 2019 that were perceived to be anti-Semitic. Daraldik said his comments were a response to what he was experiencing while living in Palestine at the time.

Corrected: September 2, 2020 at 8:47 AM EDT
The original version of this story incorrectly identified Denton as the former Student Government Association and student body President. Denton was the student senate President. The article has been updated with correct language.
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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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