A New Jersey Transit worker who was fired after burning some pages of the Koran at the site of a proposed Islamic Center near Ground Zero will be getting his job back. According to the Star-Ledger, Derek Fenton of Bloomingdale, NJ, will be reassigned to his $86,110-a-year job, receive $25,000 for pain and suffering, and also get back pay equal to $331.20 for every day since his firing. Fenton’s action — which occurred at a protest about the Islamic center on September 11, 2010, the ninth anniversary of 9/11 — “sparked a national firestorm” and condemnation from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Fenton, will be paid $25,000 in legal fees by the state of New Jersey.
Last September, Fenton was part of a 2,000-people-protest at the Ground Zero site in lower Manhattan; participants said that building the proposed Islamic center so close to the former World Trade Center site “makes its construction insensitive to 9/11 victims’ families.” Supporters of the site have defended it “on the basis of religion freedom.” Fenton burned about three pages of the Koran with a cigarette lighter before he was escorted from the site by New York police but not arrested. He was off-duty at the time of the incident and was not wearing his NJ Transit. He was fired, the New York Times says, for violating New Jersey Transit’s employee code of ethics.
The video below shows Fenton using a cigarette lighter to burn pages of the Koran that he has torn out of a book as people watch and take photos and videos.
The Star-Ledger notes that Christie publicly supported Fenton’s firing:
In February, Christie said he didn’t ask for the dismissal but called it appropriate because “that kind of intolerance is … unacceptable.”
“I knew he was going to be fired, and I had no problem with it,” Christie said at the time. “And I still don’t have a problem with it.”
As the ACLU’s lawsuit got underway, the governor and several ranking officials from his office were named as potential witnesses with knowledge of the firing.
“The governor’s thoughts are misguided and un-American,” [Deborah Jacobs, Executive Director of the NJ ACLU] said. “What makes us special as a nation is the First Amendment.”
The New York Times reports that Ibrahim Hooper, the spokesman for a Muslim civil rights group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that his group had not sought Fenton’s firing:
“We have always believed that somebody should not be punished in their employment for actions taken — no matter how reprehensible — in their private lives.”
Fenton, who has worked for NJ Transit for eleven years, also obtained an assurance that, in order to return to work, he will not have to undergo additional “cultural sensitivity” training beyond what other NJ Transit employees are required to do.
According to Fenton’s lawyer, Frank L. Corrado, it was not known “whether his action was prompted by the last-minute decision of a pastor, Terry Jones, to scrap plans to burn a Koran that day outside his Florida church.”
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Photo of the Koran by roel1943