Teacher Says No to Bible During 'Free Reading' Time

Monday, 05 May 2014 08:43 PM

By Jason Devaney

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A Florida schoolteacher is under fire after telling one of her students he was not allowed to read the Bible during "free reading" time.

Fifth-grader Giovanni Rubeo wanted to read his Bible during a 90-minute period in which students were allowed to read a book of their choice, reports the Liberty Institute, which has taken on the case.

When Swornia Thomas, Rubeo's teacher at Park Lakes Elementary School in Fort Lauderdale, noticed he was reading the Bible, she told him to stop reading it and put it away. Rubeo asked his teacher to call his father, Paul Rubeo, about what had taken place.

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"I noticed that he [Giovanni] has a book — a religious book — in the classroom. He's not permitted to read those books in my classroom," Thomas said on a voice mail left for Rubeo's father on the day of the April 8 incident.

"He said if I told him to put it away, you said not to do that," Thomas continued. "Please give me a call, I need to have some understanding on direction to him about the book he's reading as opposed to the curriculum for public school."

Paul Rubeo reached out to the principal at the school, Orinthia Dias, who then got the school's legal department involved. No one would say that Rubeo's son had the right to read the Bible in the classroom, so he contacted the Liberty Institute, an organization dedicated to defending religious freedom in America, about the situation.

The Liberty Institute has demanded that the school allow Rubeo to read his Bible in the classroom during open periods reserved for reading.

"Banning religious books like the Bible violates Giovanni's civil rights to religious free speech and free exercise and exemplifies the hostility to religion that the United States Supreme Court has condemned," the Liberty Institute wrote in a letter to Broward County Public Schools.

"We therefore demand that, within ten (10) days of this letter, Broward County Public Schools give Giovanni a written apology for these violations and agree to permit students to read religious books, including the Bible, during free reading times.

"Absent such written apology and assurance that students in Broward County Public Schools may read religious books like the Bible during free reading times, our client is prepared to take legal action against Broward County Public Schools seeking all appropriate and available relief in order to preserve Giovanni's constitutional and statutory rights under federal and Florida law."

Rubeo had apparently been told not to read his Bible during free reading time earlier this year, a rule with which he complied. But after his father researched the topic, he instructed his son to read his Bible if he wanted to and to have his teacher contact him if he was told to put it away.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin commented on the issue Monday, calling it an "epic failure."

"Epic failure on this one," Palin wrote on Facebook. "Hopefully concerned citizens will take a stand and tell you exactly that. I predict you'll be reminded that this is America, and your local taxpayers are sure getting ripped off if your teachers aren't teaching our Bill of Rights' guaranteed freedom, but in fact would violate a student's constitutional right.

"Your school families deserve much, much better. On the bright side, this may be the most valuable lesson your fifth-graders will learn all year."

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