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VICTORY! School District Violated Former Substitute Teacher’s Religious Liberty Rights

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January 8, 2015

First Liberty Institute applauds the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s decision on behalf of our client Walt Tutka

 

After a grueling two-year legal fight, last month First Liberty Institute client Walt Tutka received the decision he deserved—a decision that not only advances his religious freedom, but could help other educators.

The victory came in the form of a Final Determination letter from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) finding that Tutka was discriminated against by his former employer—a school district in Warren County, New Jersey.

The school district fired Tutka for handing a Bible to a student who had requested it. On behalf of Tutka, First Liberty Institute filed a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC.

In his letter dated December 15, 2014, EEOC Area Director John Waldinger said the Commission determined there is reasonable cause to believe the Phillipsburg School District discriminated against Tutka “on the basis of religion and retaliation.”

“The EEOC thoroughly investigated this matter and found that Walt Tutka is a victim of religious discrimination and retaliation and should receive justice,” said Hiram Sasser, Director of Litigation for First Liberty Institute.

The EEOC is now seeking to reach a conciliation agreement with the school district, on behalf of Tutka, who said: “I am so thankful that the EEOC has sided with me after finally reviewing my case, and I look forward to positive resolutionwith the school district that allows me to return to serving our nation’s most valuable resource, our students.”

On this morning’s edition of FOX News’ Fox & Friends, Tutka was also interviewed along with Sasser and said of his experience about sharing with a student the origin of a Bible verse: This was strictly for academic purposes. The student approached me. . . . He wanted to know about this verse. We just dealt with that one verse.”

SIMPLY DOING WHAT TEACHERS DO:  EDUCATING STUDENTS

The EEOC’s review of Tutka’s case is a long time coming since the fall of 2012 when, as a substitute teacher employed by the Phillipsburg School, Tutka handed a student a Bible on request. 

While holding open the door for a student one day, Tutka commented to the student that “the first shall be last, but the last shall be first.” The curious student asked Tutka several times for the source of the quote, and eventually Tutka showed the student the quote in his pocket Bible and simply did what teachers are called to do:  educate students. Then, upon the student’s request and after further questioning, Tutka generously gave the student his Bible.

On October 15, 2012, Phillipsburg School District abruptly terminated Tutka’s employment for giving the student his Bible. On January 14, 2013, the school board officially dismissed Tutka.

Another facet of the case is that Tutka is also member of Gideons International, a religious society that distributes Bibles and has a long history of providing Bibles to public school students. FOX News’ Todd Starnes reported in a column about a copy of an email from Phillipsburg Middle School Assistant Principal, John Stillo, instructing school staff to make sure that when Gideons are nearby, they “DO NOT step foot onto our campus”—and promising “added police and security presence at dismissal.” At that time, Sasser said: “The reason we believe Walt was fired is because he was a member of the Gideons.”

A VERY REAL AND GROWING THREAT

What happened to Walt Tutka could happen to any teacher in our nation today—especially as organizations like the ACLU and Freedom From Religion Foundation continue to spread misinformation throughout public schools about the so-called “separation of church and state.”  

These entities are creating a culture of fear through demand letters and threats of lawsuits—and government school officials have become so afraid of being targeted by these groups and are now infringing upon the religious freedom of teachers and students.

That’s why First Liberty Institute is ramping up efforts to defend more people of faith like Walt Tutka and educating teachers like himabout their First Amendment Rights in the classroom.

HELP PREPARE FOR THE NEXT BATTLE IN OUR NATION’S SCHOOLS

The Supreme Court clearly states that teachers—and students—maintain their First Amendment rights (including freedoms of religion and speech) in schools: 

“It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.  This has been the unmistakable holding of this Court for almost 50 years.” (Tinker v. Des Moines)

But as we continue to see more and more attacks against people of faith like Walt Tutka, it means First Liberty Institute must be ready to defend these everyday Americans—whether they work in a public school classroom or not—so that their rights to express what they believe, wherever they work, are protected and restored.

 

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About First Liberty Institute
First Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit www.FirstLiberty.org.

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