A federal court came to a decision on the Jack Denton v John Thrasher case on Oct. 9. The court issued an order requiring that Florida State University continues to pay Denton his salary for student senate president. The court also found that Denton was unconstitutionally removed from his position as student senate president for sharing his personal religious beliefs in a private group chat with fellow students. The court’s reasoning for this decision was explained in the preliminary injunction that “those participating in the political process do not forfeit their First Amendment Freedoms.”
U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor ruled that Denton would not return to his position as president; however, he would continue getting his pay. According to Winsor’s ruling, Denton will get paid for six hours a week until the end of the student senate president’s term. Denton will continue getting his $8.75 per hour pay until November.
Denton was represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, also known as the ADF. The ADF is an organization that is dedicated to defending religious freedoms, freedom of speech, the sanctity of human life, religious liberties and marriage and family. The ADF consists of attorneys, business people, pastors and legislators.
“All students should be able to peacefully share their personal convictions without fear of retaliation,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “As the court found, FSU violated Jack’s constitutionally protected freedom of speech and therefore cannot withhold his salary from him in his role as student senate president. We look forward to a final resolution for Jack.”
The incident that put Denton in this situation occurred on June 3, 2020. Denton was in a private group chat with fellow members of the Catholic Student Union. Denton shared his beliefs that the Black Lives Matter movement, Reclaim the Block and the ACLU advocate for causes that oppose the teachings of the catholic church. Denton suggested that his fellow Catholic Student Union members should abstain from financially supporting these organizations.
[bf_image id="c3jvktxwc8rtjwx4hqqt98k"] Students of Florida State saw screenshots of the conversation between Denton and his fellow Catholic Student Union members. Students took to social media, specifically Facebook, to create forums that called for the removal of Denton from his position as president of the Student Government Association. Students created petitions on change.org to remove Denton from his position. These petitions received over 7,000 signatures.
A vote of no-confidence took place on June 3 within the student senate, but the vote failed. Two days later, on June 5, the senate re-voted to remove Denton. This time the motion passed with an 86 percent approval rate. Senators who supported the motion said that they wanted to remove Denton because his beliefs were anti-black, transphobic and did not represent the student body.
“Florida State should be fostering real diversity of thought, not punishing individuals based on their religious convictions or political beliefs,” Langhofer said. “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 SGA Ethics Code, the Student Body Constitution, and—most importantly—the First Amendment.”