More than a year after controversy erupted over the firing of longtime wrestling coach Gerry Marszalek by Dearborn Fordson High School over allegations that one of his volunteer assistant coaches had converted one of the team members to Christianity and baptized him, Marszalek has filed a wrongful termination suit against the Dearborn Public Schools and Fordson Principal Imad Fadlallah.
The situation began in 2005, when a volunteer assistant coach named Trey Hancock, the father of one of the kids on the team and a Pentecostal minister, was fired by the school and ordered to have no contact with students after he baptized a Muslim student and converted him to Christianity at a private event before school started that fall.
Hancock told me last year that the young man he baptized was one of his son’s best friends and had been attending his church for two years when he decided to make his conversion to Christianity complete with a baptism. The young man was not a student at Fordson high school at the time as this took place in the summer before his freshman year.
The complaint (PDF) alleges that Principal Fadlallah’s reaction upon hearing of the student’s conversion was intolerant to the point of violence:
Subsequently, in full view of students and faculty, Defendant Fadlallah approached the young Fordson student who had chosen to be baptized a Christian at Hancock’s summer wrestling camp, punched the student, and advised the student that he had “disgraced his family” by converting to Christianity from Islam.
According to the complaint, Fadlallah then banned Hancock from even coming to the school, despite the fact that his son was a student there, and from having any contact with the wrestling team, despite the fact that his son was an all-state wrestler on the team. It continues:
On or about Thanksgiving Day 2007, Defendant Fadlallah verbally attacked Plaintiff Marszalek shouting “I thought I told you to keep Trey Hancock out of Fordson,” or words to that effect. Plaintiff Marszalek, unaware that Hancock had been in Fordson, questioned Defendant Fadlallah about the circumstances as well as his authority to ban the parent of a Fordson student from
Fordson High School. Defendant Fadlallah then threatened Plaintiff that if he failed to keep Hancock out of Fordson that: “I can get crazy if I have to!” “I get Crazy!” “You don’t know how crazy I can get!” Hancock had been in Fordson earlier that day to sign his student son up and pay for his participation in a Fordson “pay to play” sports program.
Defendant Fadlallah then expanded his mandate to Plaintiff Marszalek now barring him from mentioning Hancock, or his independent wrestling club “One On One,” and that despite Hancock’s son currently being an All State wrestler on Fordson’s team, Hancock’s existence was not to be acknowledged at wrestling meets. Defendant Fadlallah then banned the entire Hancock family from even helping out at school concession stands during events.
After the 2007/2008 school year, Marszalek was fired as the wrestling coach despite having been one of the most successful wrestling coaches in the entire country and being both a state and national hall of fame inductee in the sport.
The complaint alleges a number of constitutional violations, including violations of Marszalek’s First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion and freedom of association, as well as religious discrimination under Michigan state law.
If the allegations in the complaint are true — and based on my conversations with Hancock and Marszalek last year and the fact that the principal refused to discuss the issue with me, I have no reason to doubt that they are — I absolutely agree with this lawsuit. I tried to talk the ACLU into representing Marszalek last year and filing a suit, but they didn’t touch it.
Unfortunately, being a product of the Thomas More Law Center, the complaint is full of boilerplate rhetoric and armchair psychological analysis. But the legal issues are absolutely valid and the allegations are very serious. I’m going to watch this case closely as it proceeds.