- Jack Denton was removed from his position as Florida State University senate president after texts in which he criticized Black Lives Matter and ACLU were leaked.
- The Alliance Defending Freedom is advising Denton as he appeals the decision to the Florida State University Supreme Court.
The student government president at Florida State University was removed from his position earlier this month after he was accused of making transphobic, racist and “anti-abortion” comments.
Jack Denton, 21, was voted out of his position after his texts in a private group chat were leaked. He criticized Black Lives Matter and the American Civil Liberties Union in the texts, saying that they promote causes such as transgenderism and abortion.
“What happened with me at Florida State is egregious and an egregious attack on the Constitution,” Denton told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “Public universities like Florida State are supposed to be marketplaces of ideas and free expression. Expression should be encouraged, not shut down.”
Tyson Langhofer, director of the Center for Academic Freedom with the Alliance Defending Freedom, is now advising Denton. Langhofer represented Young America’s Foundation and conservative commentator Ben Shapiro in a 2016 case which resulted in several policy changes at California State University, Los Angeles.
“Our goal is to advise him on what his options are to challenge any unconstitutional or improper application of these student policies,” Langhofer told the DCNF.
“Because the bottom line is students don’t give up their religious freedom when they step onto a public university campus.”
Denton, who is a rising senior studying political science, describes himself as a devout Roman Catholic. He sent the messages in question to a Catholic Student Union group chat where students usually send prayer requests or share their faith in other ways.
“BlackLivesMatter.com fosters ‘a queer affirming network’ and defends transgenderism. The ACLU defends laws protecting abortion facilities,” Denton said in the texts.
“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 just want to make it explicitly clear that black lives matter,” Denton told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “I think any decent human would agree with me on that point. However, Black Lives Matter, the organization, advocates for things that are explicitly anti-Catholic.”
But what began as text messages sent to a group of fellow Roman Catholic students soon devolved into something Denton said was completely unexpected.
One hour into a routine virtual Florida State University senate meeting over which Denton was presiding on June 3, another senator, Khundavi Gnanam, made a motion of no confidence in Denton as senate president. Gnanam was sent screenshots of Denton’s text messages by another person in the group chat.
Denton, who had not been forewarned of this motion, temporarily ceded his authority to Ahmad Daraldik, the president pro tempore of the senate. The meeting then went into an hour of debate.
“I just think these statements are unacceptable,” Deía Medley Neyra, a transgender senator, said. “Those sorts of opinions shouldn’t be shared in public chats with other students.”
However, some students spoke in defense of Denton.
“We may disagree with what he said or how he said it, but it is important to express that we protect people’s individual right to express their beliefs,” James Bateman said.
The senate failed to reach the required two-thirds majority to remove him from his position. Denton remained president.
Several student organizations rallied in the aftermath of the failed vote to remove Denton as president. The goal was to force another vote.
“Denton’s words send a dehumanizing message to womxn, trans, queer, and black students at FSU, and prove that he is unfit to hold the office of Senate President,” according to an editorial published in Spire Magazine, Florida State University’s student paper.
“Denton’s comments were explicitly racist, transphobic, and anti-choice, referring to the transgender community and the pro-choice movement as ‘grave evils,’” the Florida State University Pride Student Union said in a statement to the DCNF. “We as the Pride Student Union condemn these comments made by the Senate President as an act of blatant discrimination.”
The pressure from these groups led to the creation of a petition to call an emergency meeting. After more than 50 percent of the senate signed the petition, Denton scheduled an emergency meeting for June 5.
More than 700 people viewed the emergency meeting, according to Denton.
The meeting was public, meaning that Florida State University students were able to voice their opinions.
“I think it’s disgusting how you’re using religion to defend and uphold your hate and prejudices and biases,” student Gigi Cruz said.
“I don’t feel safe with you as president,” student Valentina Brown said. “You are condemning our identities, an integral part of our selves and our nature.”
The meeting, which mainly consisted of students condemning Denton, lasted about six hours.
“I don’t know how I got through that Friday night meeting without the grace of God, to put it quite bluntly,” Denton said.
“I could not have sat through six hours of people just spewing hate and telling me how terrible of a person that I am without the prayers and encouragement from dozens and dozens of people.”
“It was appalling to see the level of vitriol aimed at Jack for, again, just simply stating a fact about what Catholic views are,” Langhofer said.
Thirty-eight senators, or 86 percent, voted to oust Denton at the end of the meeting.
Florida State University declined to comment on the senate’s decision to remove Denton as president, calling it a student government matter.
Denton appealed the senate’s decision to the Florida State University Supreme Court on Thursday, according to Langhofer. He is alleging that there was a violation of senate policy, university policy, and his rights under the First Amendment.
Meanwhile, Denton’s replacement, Ahmad Daraldik — who had been president pro tempore of the senate — has faced criticism of his own.
Daraldik, who is Palestinian-American, allegedly said “F*** Israel” and “stupid Jews,” and compared Israeli government actions in Palestine to Nazi Germany’s genocide, according to a Change.org petition to remove him from the senate. More than 8,000 people signed that petition.
“These comments are revolting and separate comments made about Israel are absurd,” Republican State Rep. Mike Caruso wrote in a letter to Florida State University Student Governance & Advocacy director Dr. Danielle Acosta.
Students for Justice in Palestine at Florida State University penned a statement in support of Daraldik, which was co-sponsored by the Florida State University College Democrats, Spire Magazine editor-in-chief Emily Pacenti, and Hannah Llende, executive director of the Florida State University Pride Student Union.
“Ahmad, who has personally lived under Israeli military occupation, has the right to feel frustration and dissatisfaction with the state that illegally occupies his family’s home in the West Bank,” the statement said. “The coordinated smear campaign against Ahmad Daraldik is rooted in anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia.”
Several Jewish students spoke out against Daraldik during a senate meeting last Wednesday in which a vote of no confidence in Daraldik took place.
“It is not okay to discriminate, it is not okay to make anti-semitic comments, and it is also not okay to support one minority but not another,” Amanda Press, a Jewish student, said. “I believe that you should be removed because quite frankly the words that you have used upon my people, upon me, and just in general are not okay.”
Daraldik defended himself, saying that he made the comments when he was living in Palestine “under an oppressive occupation.”
The vote of no confidence in Daraldik failed.
“I am aware of a controversy involving the FSU Student Senate President who has posted offensive anti-Semitic rhetoric online,” Florida State University President John Thrasher said in a statement after the vote to remove Daraldik failed. “I want to take this opportunity to unequivocally state that we will not tolerate discrimination against groups or individuals.”
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