Nicholas Sparks, the prolific author of romance novels, is facing renewed allegations that he discriminated against gay students at his Christian school in North Carolina.
The allegations were first leveled by Saul Benjamin, the former headmaster of the Epiphany School of Global Studies, in a wrongful termination suit he filed in 2014. Benjamin’s suit alleged that Sparks banned an LGBT club at the school, and faulted Benjamin for pursuing an “agenda that strives to make homosexuality open and accepted.”
Though Benjamin’s claims have been reported before, the Daily Beast published a story on Thursday that included substantial new detail, including emails Sparks sent to Benjamin chastising him for his focus on diversity and on the school’s anti-discrimination policy.
On diversity, Sparks wrote that “our lack of diversity has NOTHING to do with the school, or anyone at the school. It’s not because of what we as a school has or hasn’t done. It has nothing to do with racism or vestiges of Jim Crow. It comes down to 1) Money and 2) Culture.”
Sparks also upbraided Benjamin for changing the school’s chapel program to teach the “Christian equivalence of Islam and Judaism.” Sparks faulted Benjamin for adding “sexual orientation” to the list of protected groups in the school’s non-discrimination policy.
“About the non-discrimination policy you keep bringing up: please remember that sexual orientation was NOT in there originally, and that the only reason it was added was that YOU insisted it be specifically be [sic] added,” Sparks wrote. “Frankly, no one but you wanted it in there… Please stop implying it was something the [Board Of Trustees] wanted to do, it’s the law…. If possible, we might be able to change it back to what it was before.”
Sparks said he had never heard a word about the policy from other headmasters.
“The reason I never heard it was because the school does NOT, nor has it EVER, discriminated,” he said. “Not allowing them admittance is discrimination. Not allowing them to have a club is NOT discrimination.”
Sparks’ suit alleged that he was fired in part because he spoke up against the school’s discriminatory practices. However, in a ruling last October, U.S. District Judge James Dever threw out that portion of the case.
A trial is set to be held in August on the remaining issues, including whether Benjamin was defamed or discriminated against due to a perception that he had a mental illness. Sparks told the board that Benjamin had “dementia or Alzheimer’s or something along those lines.”
In a statement to Variety, Sparks said the Daily Beast story recycles old allegations which have been proven false.
“The article appearing in today’s The Daily Beast is not news, and repeats false accusations and claims made against Epiphany and me, and largely ignores the overwhelming evidence we have submitted to the Court,” he said. “I am pleased that the Court has dismissed nearly every claim against me, my Foundation and Epiphany. Very importantly, the Court has dismissed all claims of discrimination or harassment against me. While there will be a trial on a few remaining issues, I am confident that a jury will evaluate these claims fairly and decide those claims in our favor as well.”
On Nov. 17, 2013, Sparks wrote a lengthy email to Benjamin saying he was “angry and frustrated” with how he had handled his first few months on the job. He said that Benjamin had ignored the board’s advice not to “rock the boat” on the diversity issue. He said that continually bringing up the issue “seems to imply that it’s the school’s fault.”
“Understand that many people now perceive you as having an agenda with which they disagree,” he wrote.
Benjamin responded to another email later that day, saying he had persuaded two lesbian students not to stage a protest during chapel. Sparks responded the following day saying that he would soon propose a board policy banning all protests on campus.
“We’ve spent way, way too much time in the first few months talking about ‘tolerance, diversity, non-discrimination, and LGBT,” he wrote. “There was no simmering, hidden problem with any of these issues, at least as far as the school, or school personnel, or school policy was concerned: Nor was there a simmering problem within the student body.”