When William Paterson University employee Jihad Daniel, 63, checked his student e-mail on March 8, he did not know his name would appear in newspapers across the country.
“I thought I was expressing my opinion and that’s about it—two or three little lines,” said Daniel, who works in Information Systems and is a Communications Media graduate student.
Dr. Arlene Holpp Scala, Chair of WPU’s Department of Women’s Studies, had sent out an e-mail announcement about an upcoming film at WPU titled, “Ruth and Connie: Every Room in the House.” According to the e-mail, the lesbian relationship movie was being shown in the library and was sponsored by the Women’s Studies Department during Women’s History Month. Scala gave her contact information at the bottom of the e-mail because she was the contact person for the film event.
Daniel read the e-mail and, he said, “that kind of lifestyle is against what I believe…this is a Christian nation.” Daniel believes it is “healthy to have all ideas and thoughts on the table” and this is why he responded to Scala’s email.
“Do not send me any mail about ‘Connie and Sally’ and ‘Adam and Steve,’” he wrote. “These are perversions. The absence of God in higher education brings on confusion. That is why in these classes the Creator of the heavens and the earth is never mentioned.”
She forwarded Daniel’s email to Dr. Arnold Speert, the university’s president, because she thought Daniel’s remarks constituted an infraction of school policy.
Daniel then received a letter of reprimand from Director of Employment Equity and Diversity John I. Sims. According to thefire.org, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, “Sims concluded Daniel’s response to Scala violated university policies and would be placed in his permanent employee file.”
“‘Connie and Sally’ and ‘Adam and Steve’ are metaphors for homosexuals. Mr. Daniel referred to homosexuality as a perversion, which I believe is a violation of our school policy,” Scala wrote in her letter to Speert. “A policy is only valuable if it is implemented.”
As a student and employee of this university, Daniel said he feels as though he knows a lot of people on campus and, according to Daniel, “people are shocked by this [allegation].”
After reading the letter, Daniel found out about the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
According to its website, FIRE “unites leaders in the field of civil rights and civil liberties, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of liberty, legal equality, academic freedom, due process, and freedom of speech on America’s college campuses.”
“I feel as though God led me to FIRE’s website,” Daniel said.
He wanted to find someone who knew the legalities of higher education and according to Daniel, FIRE believes his rights have been violated.
Daniel chose to appeal the decision to have the incident placed in his permanent employee file in a letter to Speert and Sims. Speert then responded to Daniel in a June 24 letter: “The policy states you are not permitted to make remarks that are ‘derogatory or demeaning’ to the named protected groups. You did not merely respond by asking to not receive further e-mails of this type, rather you also expressed a sentiment derogatory and/or demeaning to a protected group.”
Daniel believes his rights, specifically his freedom of speech, have been violated.
“Just because I do not agree with the lifestyle does not mean that [comment] was a threat,” said Daniel. “My response wasn’t directed at anyone.”
The incident has captured the media’s attention, not only in New Jersey, but all over the country. Among media outlets that have reported the story are the New York Times, FOX News, the Associated Press, Chicago Free Press, the Washington Times, The Record, The Star-Ledger, the Daily Record, and The Daily Cougar (University of Houston).
Daniel has a hearing scheduled in the near future to determine whether the letter of reprimand will be placed in his permanent employee file. No details of the hearing have been confirmed at this time.
Scala, at this point, believes she is not involved in the situation. Neither she nor Daniel have been in contact since the initial e-mail announcement was sent.
“I have been committed to diversity, not only for myself, but others,” said Scala. “Hate speech is not permitted…all I wanted was the e-mail to be addressed.”