The former Florida Atlantic University professor who lost his tenured job earlier this year after calling the Sandy Hook massacre a hoax on his personal blog sued the school on Monday for wrongful termination and violation of his right to free speech.
Attorneys filed the 49-page complaint in federal court this week on behalf of James Tracy, a former FAU professor who was fired in January amid a scandal surrounding his theories concerning the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut that claimed the lives 20 young children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.
Mr. Tracy began raising questions regarding the Sandy Hook shooting on his personal website, Memory Hole, less than a week after the massacre unfolded, and to date has posted dozens of articles on the topic, including those that claim the incident was invented by the U.S. government in order to effect gun reform.
He agreed to refrain from mentioning his affiliation with FAU in late 2013 amid concerns from university officials, and continued to blog about his theories while maintaining his full-time job until the parents of a Sandy Hook victim renewed calls for his resignation late last year.
“Tracy is among those who have personally sought to cause our family pain and anguish by publicly demonizing our attempts to keep cherished photos of our slain son from falling into the hands of conspiracy theorists,” the parents of Sandy Hook victim Noah Pozner, 6, wrote in an op-ed published in South Florida’s Sun-Sentinel newspaper last December. “Tracy even sent us a certified letter demanding proof that Noah once lived, that we were his parents, and that we were the rightful owner of his photographic image. We found this so outrageous and unsettling that we filed a police report for harassment.”
FAU announced within days that it would be seeking Mr. Tracy’s termination as a result of his apparent failure to timely submit an “Outside Activities” form where he was expected to list Memory Hole, and officially lost his tenured job on January 8. Yet while educators said their decision was not rendered due to the content posted on Mr. Tracy’s blog, but rather his inability to submit a form when requested, he alleged in the federal lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court this week that FAU’s demands were “unconstitutionally overbroad and vague” and “restricts faculty expression and freedom of speech”.”
“At all times material to the Complaint, Professor Tracy’s academic freedom and constitutionally protected speech included reporting about the incomplete national media coverage of the Newtown incident and how it has and continues to be used by politicians, legislators, lobbyists and others to misappropriate massive amounts of public tax dollars and charitable donations from sympathizers and unsuspecting Americans, and to promote and install irrational and unconstitutional reforms upon the American public,” the suit states.
“Both Florida Atlantic University administrators and representatives from FAU’s faculty union say they are committed to protecting constitutional rights, as well as principles of academic freedom, but their actions speak loud and clear,” Louis Leo IV of the Florida Civil Rights Coalition, which represents Mr. Tracy, said in a statement. “Tenure, free speech, due process and academic freedom are under attack. Without judicial intervention, employees and faculty at Florida Atlantic University and other universities around the United States, will continue to be censored, deterred or chilled from sharing unpopular information or opinions for fear that they will be disciplined on a pretext.”
The Boca Raton-based university, its board of trustees members, president and other administrators are among those named as defendants in the suit filed in the Southern District of Florida. Representatives with the school told reporters this week that they would not weigh in on active litigation.
Adam Lanza, 20, killed 20 children and six adults before committing suicide at Sandy Hook Elementary on the morning of December 14, 2012. He shot and killed his mother in their nearby Newtown home earlier in the day.