The former headmaster of the North Carolina private school founded by best-selling author Nicholas Sparks filed a lawsuit saying that “The Notebook” writer responded to his efforts to recruit black students and faculty and support gays with racist and homophobic comments. He also alleged that Sparks locked him in a room until he agreed to a resignation letter.
Sparks’s lawyer, Theresa Sprain, was quoted by the Associated Press as denying the allegations. AP also quoted entertainment attorney Scott Schwimer as saying, “As a gay, Jewish man who has represented Nick for almost 20 years I find these allegations completely ludicrous and offensive.”
The lawsuit says that Saul Hillel Benjamin was hired in February 2013 to run The Epiphany School of Global Studies in North Carolina, founded by Sparks in his home town of New Bern. The school’s Web site says:
Our History is rooted in the pioneering ideals of our founders Nicholas and Catherine Sparks, who envisioned a school with an extraordinary college-preparatory program and global focus, where the Judeo-Christian commitment to Love God and Your Neighbor as Yourself is an ethical commitment, significant Christian traditions are celebrated, for example, Lent, Advent and Epiphany. Students and faculty of all faiths and indeed no particular faith are welcomed with an open spirit.
Benjamin says in his suit that he tried to recruit African American faculty and students to the school and gave support to a group of gay students who had been bullied. He alleges that Sparks and members of the Board of Trustees harassed him for doing so, and attacked him for attending a meeting of the NAACP. The AP reported:
During one meeting, “Sparks insisted that Mr. Benjamin stop talking about Islam, Judaism, or any other non-Christian religion” at school functions, the lawsuit said. “That’s not what our parents like to hear,” the lawsuit quoted Sparks as saying.
Sparks also criticized Benjamin for attending an NAACP event, according to the lawsuit. Benjamin said he attended to introduce himself to black parents whose children might apply for admission to the school if they were made to feel welcome. Sparks “indicated that Mr. Benjamin should utilize less public and visible means if he sought to meet with African-Americans,” the lawsuit said.
School trustees pressed Benjamin to stop supporting students who had been bullied after forming a club where they could discuss their sexual identities, the lawsuit said. One said Benjamin was “promoting a homosexual culture and agenda.” Benjamin also said in the lawsuit that Sparks and a few trustees of the school locked him in a room last November and shouted at him until he agreed to sign a resignation letter.
According to the Daily Beast:
Benjamin’s own faith was put on trial at a forum event where he was ordered by the Board to stand in front of “hundreds of students, parents, faculty and staff” and give an account of his religion — which went against his beliefs as a Quaker, since Quakers “view faith as a private matter and characteristically refrain from involuntary public declarations of faith.” Audience members were invited to air their grievances against the headmaster, which yielded such enlightened responses as “That man, Benjamin, is unfit to be around young people” and “You don’t belong here with us!” Meanwhile, Benjamin says, the Board watched, applauded the parents, and barred the headmaster from responding.