Florida State University's ousted student senate leader, in lawsuit, says he was targeted for his religious beliefs

Jack Denton is described as a 'devout Catholic'

Florida State University student who was recently removed from his position as leader of the student senate has filed a lawsuit against the school’s leadership and student government, arguing he was targeted in “retaliation for his private religious speech.”

Jack Denton, a “devout Catholic”, suffered damage to his finances and reputation following his ouster in early June, the lawsuit filed Monday in a U.S. District Court alleges. He is now asking the court “to order his reinstatement, compensation, and the expungement of all records relating to the Senate’s retaliatory and discriminatory actions against him.”

“All students should be able to peacefully share their personal convictions without fear of retaliation,” Tyson Langhofer, a lawyer for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) – which filed the suit on Denton’s behalf – said in a statement. “While FSU students claim they’re creating a ‘safe space,’ they’ve tried to cancel Jack’s freedoms and discriminate against him because they don’t like his beliefs, in direct violation of the school’s Student Government Association Ethics Code, the Student Body Constitution, and -- most importantly -- the First Amendment.”

The Florida State University campus in Tallahassee, Fla. (iStock)

The Florida State University campus in Tallahassee, Fla. (iStock)

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The lawsuit states on June 3, Denton was participating in a private group chat amongst members of the Catholic Student Union over “recent instances of police violence.”

“One student shared a link to a video on YouTube that raised advertising and donation revenue for several organizations derived in part from each time a person views the video,” it said.

Denton, in response, wrote “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,” according to screenshots of that conversation provided by the ADF.

When a person in the chat asked Denton to elaborate, he wrote that “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” and Reclaim the Block – a police reform organization -- “claims less police will make our communities safer and advocates for cutting PDs’ budgets,” the screenshots show.

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“This is a little less explicit, but I think it’s contrary to the Church’s teaching on the common good,” Denton added, before saying “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,” he continued, according to the screenshots. “If I stay silent while my brothers and sisters may be supporting an organization that promotes grave evils, I have sinned through my silence.”

The ADF, in a statement, said “after another student took screenshots of Denton’s private messages and shared them publicly on social media, student senators mocked and misrepresented his remarks and, after a failed attempt on June 3, removed Denton from leadership as the SGA’s student senate president on June 5.”

The ADF says it sent a letter to university officials on July 22 asking them to address the “unconstitutional violation of Denton’s First Amendment freedoms” -- but received no response. Then its attorneys decided to file the lawsuit.

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“Jack has patiently appealed to fellow students and university administrators using the university’s internal procedures,” Langhofer added “but students and administrators have repeatedly failed to respect Jack’s constitutionally protected freedoms. That’s why we’re filing a federal lawsuit to defend Jack.”

Fox News has reached out to Florida State University for comment.