NEWARK, N.J. (AP / WCBS 880 / CBS 2) — A former New Jersey Transit employee fired after publicly burning pages from the Koran on the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks filed a lawsuit Friday seeking reinstatement and monetary damages.

WCBS 880’s Levon Putney reports from Newark

Derek Fenton’s dismissal violated his constitutional right to free expression, the American Civil Liberties Union said in its lawsuit.

Fenton burned part of the Koran to protest plans to build an Islamic center several blocks from the World Trade Center site. Police ushered him from the scene, but he was not arrested. NJ Transit said it fired him two days later for violating its code of ethics.

Fenton “has the right to engage as a citizen in expressive activity about matters of public interest, including matters related to the proposed construction of an Islamic community center near Ground Zero,” the lawsuit alleges. “When he burned pages of the Koran on September 11, 2010, as a protest against the center, Fenton was exercising that right.”

NJ Transit’s code of ethics requires employees to give notice to an ethics liaison officer before participating in political activities. An employee can then participate so long as state or federal law or agency rules don’t explicitly prohibit them and “the activity doesn’t conflict with the employee’s official duties.”

It’s not known if Fenton gave notice of his plans. An NJ Transit spokeswoman said Thursday the agency wouldn’t comment on pending litigation. Fenton’s listed phone number was not in service.

Frank Corrado, an ACLU attorney handling the case, said the First Amendment doesn’t protect employees of private companies but it applies in Fenton’s case because NJ Transit is a quasi-public company created by state statute.

“The First Amendment protects you against governmental action,” Corrado said. “He’s speaking as a citizen on an issue of public importance, so what governs his ability to speak is the First Amendment and not some employment law.”

Fenton’s protest was one of many that arose out of the dispute between supporters of the New York mosque and opponents who believe its presence near ground zero is disrespectful to those who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The leader of a small Christian congregation in Gainesville, Fla., had planned to burn copies of the Islamic holy book to mark the Sept. 11 anniversary but called it off at the last minute.

Fenton, 39, had worked for NJ Transit for 11 years as a train conductor and most recently as a coordinator tasked with ensuring the right number of train cars are in service.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Comments (16)
  1. Omer says:

    May ALLAH show him the Right Path ( Ameen)

  2. Adam says:

    I really hope he dies ( this is of course my right of freedom of speech ) , so i really wish they dound him dead , a horrible death , like he goes back to work and fell under a train ( of course i am just practicing my right of freedom of speech )

  3. Mohammed says:

    This guy’s lucky he didnt get thrown in jail for a hate crime. Look at the greek cab driver in long island who got arrested for saying he wanted to kill jews?

    1. DanTe says:

      Muslimes are allowed to burn our Flag.
      But we’re not allowed to burn their toilet paper koran?
      Can we just burn mu-slimes instead?
      It’ll do the World a whole lot of Good.

      1. Sgeo says:

        Within the U.S., you’re allowed to burn the Koran, just as anyone in the U.S. is allowed to burn the flag. The amendment that protects your right to burn the Koran is the same one that protects Muslims’ rights to believe that what the Koran says is true. In case you haven’t read the article, the ACLU is, in fact, fighting for this person’s right to burn the Koran.

      2. samah says:

        we don’t burn your bible or torah!!!!

  4. joe k says:

    How about if he had burned the flag? How would you feel then?

  5. American says:

    I wonder if the Obama regime had anything to do with this one?

  6. fern says:

    Today they can fire you, tomorrow they’ll be able to send you to jail instead of firing you.
    In nazi Germany workers who complained about work condition were fired and if they were fired too often they were deemed unstable and sent to holiday resorts la the Dachau concentration camp.

  7. Steve M. says:

    Would the reaction have been the same if he’d burned the Bible?

  8. Jack Howison says:

    Wonder what would have happened had he burnt a Bible. My guess…..nothing

  9. CSI says:

    Wasn’t it said in the first news article that he was still on duty when he did this?

    1. jhonnyesells says:

      Oh does it matter if he was on duty or not?…. Are your civil rights suspended while you are at work? Get serious.

      1. Sgeo says:

        Suppose a governmental worker proclaims “Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life”… or, instead, “Allahu Ackbar”

        If he’s speaking his own personal beliefs, not in an official capacity, well, government workers are people too, who have rights.

        But if he’s making a proclamation of religion in an official capacity, attempting to state an official state religion, then we have a problem.

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