Author Nicholas Sparks slams another report on religious school emails

The romance writer reacts angrily after the emails, which have been reported since 2015, are brought back to public attention.
Nicholas Sparks
Nicholas Sparks at the premiere of "The Best of Me" on Oct. 7, 2014, in Los Angeles.Chris Pizzello / Invision/AP file

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By Alex Johnson

The romance author Nicholas Sparks again publicly defended himself Thursday against allegations in a long-running lawsuit that alleges he defamed the former headmaster of his private Christian school in North Carolina by telling people the man had dementia.

The suit was first brought by Saul Hillel Benjamin in 2014, a little more than a year after he was hired to run The Epiphany School of Global Studies in New Bern, near the North Carolina coast. It alleged that Benjamin was forced out of the job because he is a Jewish follower of Quakerism who worked "to recruit black students and faculty" and "supported a bullied group of gay students."

Most of the suit was dismissed in 2016 and was later refiled in amended form. Among materials included in the litigation were emails apparently sent from Sparks' account in 2013, saying parents were complaining about a "homosexual agenda" regarding Benjamin's efforts to expand the school's diversity, including welcoming students of different sexual orientations.

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Benjamin alleged the complaints were a pretext for his firing, which he said violated federal law. Sparks and the school deny the allegations.

A federal judge last year dismissed all the counts in the amended lawsuit related to allegations of religious discrimination against Benjamin and to alleged retaliation for his attempts to diversify the school.

The remaining counts are focused more narrowly on allegations the school forced Benjamin to resign involuntarily, and that Sparks and others defamed him by spreading rumors he had dementia and Alzheimer's disease, which he said wasn't true.

The emails and their content have been the subject of news reports going back to 2015, but attention to them was revived Thursday by The Daily Beast.

"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," Sparks, the author of numerous bestsellers that have sold more than 100 million copies, said in a statement Thursday.

"I am pleased that the Court has dismissed nearly every claim against me, my Foundation and Epiphany," he said. "Very importantly, the Court has dismissed all claims of discrimination or harassment against me."

After efforts to settle the case failed, trial on the remaining counts is set for Aug. 14 in U.S. District Court in Raleigh, North Carolina.