Victory for Free Speech and Religious Liberty at William Paterson University

December 7, 2005

WAYNE, N.J., December 7, 2005—A Muslim student employee at William Paterson University (WPU) in New Jersey has finally been cleared of baseless sexual harassment charges. With the help of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Jihad Daniel forced the public university to officially revoke the punishment it inflicted on him after he expressed his religious opinion of homosexuality in a private e-mail to a professor.
“This is a great day for religious and expressive freedom on campus,” said FIRE President David French. “WPU has finally come to its senses and recognized that the First Amendment’s protection for expressing religious views trumps petty state or university policies.”
WPU’s shameful attack on the 63-year-old Daniel’s rights began after he privately replied to an unsolicited March 7 mass e-mail from Professor Arlene Holpp Scala promoting a viewing and discussion of a film described as “a lesbian relationship story.” Daniel’s March 8 e-mail to Professor Scala requested that he not be sent “any mail about ‘Connie and Sally’ and ‘Adam and Steve.’” Daniel went on, “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.”
By June 15, Daniel had received a letter of reprimand in his permanent file saying that since the word “perversion” was “derogatory or demeaning,” he was guilty of violating state discrimination and harassment regulations. Daniel appealed to WPU President Arnold Speert, arguing that the First Amendment protected his speech, only to be told that such an argument was “beyond the scope” of the finding.
“Honoring the Constitution is not beyond the scope of any public official’s duty,” noted FIRE’s French, “and to call an e-mail like this ‘sexual harassment’ dangerously trivializes real harassment.”
Daniel contacted FIRE, which on July 5 wrote Speert in protest and reminded him that state college administrators “cannot simply choose to ignore the First Amendment when it becomes inconvenient.” New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey’s office responded to FIRE, absurdly asserting that “speech which violates a non-discrimination policy is not protected.” FIRE then took the case public, resulting in national condemnation of the university, while Daniel appealed the finding through a union grievance process.
On November 16, Daniel’s hearing took place with able representation from the Communication Workers of America Local 1031. Yesterday, Daniel received notification that the hearing officer had determined that the sexual harassment charge was “not supported” and that the letter would be removed from his personnel file. Moreover, the hearing officer clearly stated that Daniel’s one-time expression of a personal religious belief was not “harassment.” Daniel did receive a purely verbal reprimand for sending the e-mail while at work.
“Nobody should have to go through what Mr. Daniel did merely for expressing religious beliefs in a nonviolent and non-threatening way,” remarked FIRE’s French. “The harassment charge was ridiculous from the beginning, and the many attempts to pass the buck on upholding the First Amendment were deplorable.”
French concluded, “We hope that WPU and the state of New Jersey will make the policy changes necessary to ensure that this does not happen again to another person—because if it does, it’s more than likely to end up in court.”
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty at William Paterson University can be viewed at thefire.org/wpunj.
CONTACT:
David French, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; david@thefire.org
Arnold Speert, President, William Paterson University: 973-720-2222; speerta@wpunj.edu

Peter C. Harvey, Attorney General, State of New Jersey: 609-292-4930; 609-777-4036 (fax)

Schools: William Paterson University Cases: William Paterson University: Punishment on Harassment Charges for Response to Mass E-Mail