A fired university professor who once said the Newtown, Conn., massacre in 2012 was staged by the U.S. government to promote gun control appeared in court Thursday, claiming he was unlawfully dismissed.
James Tracy told a federal jury in Florida that Florida Atlantic University terminated his employment in January 2016 after learning about his writings. He described the firing as a clear breach of his First Amendment rights, the Palm Beach Post reported.
Tracy is reportedly seeking reinstatement, back pay and an unspecified amount in damages.
“Looking at mainstream media coverage, there were a number of anomalies and missing information,” Tracy told the court, as he shared some of his theories about the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which he believes was staged. “It caused me to look at the event more closely. Normal emergency protocols were abandoned.”
The Dec. 14, 2012, shooting left 26 people dead, including 20 children. The gunman committed suicide as police arrived.
The professor’s defense lawyers, framing the lawsuit as a fight for free speech, also tried to convince the jury that the official reason the university fired him – insubordination and misconduct – was not accurate.
“FAU is a place with two sets of rules - one set of rules for people whose speech they agree with and another set of rules for people whose speech they don’t agree with,” said Tracy’s attorney Matthew Benzion, the Sun-Sentinel reported.
"FAU is a place with two sets of rules - one set of rules for people whose speech they agree with and another set of rules for people whose speech they don’t agree with."
Joseph Curley, an attorney for the university, described Tracy’s theories about the massacre as “distasteful” but noted that they were not the reason why the university let him go from his tenured position.
“This isn’t playtime for Florida Atlantic University,” the attorney told the court. “They’ve been accused of violating the First Amendment. That’s a serious charge for a public institution.”
Tracy’s free speech rights, Curley said, were respected despite many believing he deserved to be fired after his writings were revealed in the media.
“What they wouldn’t let (Tracy) do is violate the rules that affect not just him but everybody,” Curley said, according to the Sun-Sentinel.
For example,Curley said, Tracy failed for three years to fill out a form required of all FAU faculty members to disclose other activities in addition to teaching at the college. Tracy reportedly refused to disclose writing a blog, soliciting donations for it and using the school’s equipment to produce it.
Tracy claimed the forms were confusing as he did not consider writing the blog to be employment, according to the Post. Running the blog also did not interfere with his teaching job, he contended, adding that the blog includes a disclaimer that it does not reflect the university’s views.
The trial is expected to end next week.