Appeals Court Upholds Teacher’s Firing Over Holocaust Denial, 9/11 Conspiracy Lessons

April 26, 2020 Updated: April 27, 2020

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit has upheld a New Jersey school district’s decision to fire a teacher, who allegedly taught his high school history students Holocaust denial and conspiracy theories claiming the U.S. government played a role in the 9/11 attacks.

Jason Mostafa Ali, a history teacher at Woodbridge High, was fired in 2016 after complaints of him instructing students to question the veracity of the Holocaust history, and requiring students to read articles from Egypt and Saudi Arabia that suggested the United States “planned and carried out” the 9/11 attacks and was planning a similar one to blame on ISIS.

Ali, a Muslim man of Egyptian descent, sued Woodbridge school district, alleging he had been discriminated against for years by the school administrators as well as other staff members. A federal district court dismissed Ali’s lawsuit, saying he failed to provide evidence showing that the firing was motivated by race- or religion- based discrimination. The 3rd Circuit upheld that decision with its ruling this week.

“Jason Mostafa Ali…alleges he was wrongfully terminated from his high school teaching position on the basis of his race, ethnicity, and religion,” Judge Joseph A. Greenaway Jr.wrote in an opinion (pdf). “Although Ali’s deposition testimony states that his supervisor made some disparaging remarks about Ali’s race, Ali is not able to show that his teaching anti-Semitic views to his students was a pretext for discrimination that led to his termination.”

Greenaway also held that Ali’s allowing and encouraging controversial views in his class gave the school district legitimate reasons to fire him.

“Evidence such as the students’ assignments and emails to Ali and Ali’s deposition testimony show that Ali permitted conspiracy-theorist and Hitler-apologist presentations in his class and encouraged students to develop these opinions,” he wrote, noting that Ali defended his choice of teaching material and the results.

Ali said in his testimony (pdf) that he taught his students “to question everything.” One of Ali’s students wrote in an essay that “what they claim happened in the concentration camps did not really happen” and that “Jews…had a much easier and more enjoyable life in the camps.”

When asked in the deposition whether he “encouraged” his students to “come to different views than the traditional understanding of what World War II and the Holocaust and Hitler were about,” Ali responded, “Yeah, it’s called debate.”

The 3rd Circuit also rejected Ali’s claim that asking students to read articles containing “alternative views” on the 9/11 attacks was protected by the First Amendment.

“Based on our case law, Ali did not have a right to decide what would be taught in the classroom,” the court said.