You Can’t Do It Here

A public school teacher from New Jersey has apparently lost his job for giving a Bible to and discussing religion with one of his students. Walter Tutka, a substitute middle school teacher, was dismissed for “distributing religious literature” and “not remaining neutral when discussing religion.” In other words, Tutka was fired for doing the very thing teachers are paid for—teaching.

When a student asked Tutka where a quotation was from that the student had heard him say, Tutka told him it was from the Bible. Later, the student asked again about the quotation and Tutka showed him where it was in his own pocket New Testament. Tutka then asked the student if he had a copy of the New Testament. When the student replied that he did not, Tutka gave the book to the student to keep. If this is all that actually transpired between Tutka and the student, there are no legal grounds for dismissal. The Liberty Institute agrees. They have filed a complaint with the EEOC and plan on fighting the school’s decision on Tutka’s behalf. As with most of these cases, it is unlikely that the school will stand by its initial decision. Instead, it will quietly reinstate Tutka to avoid the legal and public relations storm that would surely result.

Groups like Liberty Institute, the ACLJ (American Center for Law and Justice), and ADF (Alliance Defending Freedom) have been very successful in highlighting and defeating religious tyranny like the kind being experienced by Walter Tutka. Their tireless work (and generous donors) make it possible for Christians to not be bullied in the workplace by the ever-arbitrary interpretations of “separation between church and state.” Unfortunately, very few of their cases ever go to trial, which makes setting precedent difficult. Therefore, they are essentially fighting the same battle over and over and over again, eventually pressuring the state antagonist to cease their religious witch-hunt. However, with as much success as these groups have had, their clients always endure unnecessary pain and anguish in the process. The government employer can simply drop the case after a certain amount of time and act as if the issue never happened, but the employee cannot. The damage has been done and the message has been sent to any other employees: Keep your religion to yourself, even though we can’t legally force you to do so.

This strategy has been so effective that even when the Christian “wins” the case, he still loses his sense of freedom. As a Gideon, Tutka should know that handing Bibles to students is completely fine and legal, so long as it remains voluntary. Joe Imhof, a friend of Tutka’s and a fellow Gideon, is proof that this state strategy of firing and reinstating is working:

Imhof also highlighted the apparent restrictive nature of American schools towards freedom of religion, and claims it has a hostility to religion not seen in most other countries: “In most countries overseas we are allowed to go into public schools and give Bibles to students. But since this is America – you can’t do it here.”

No, actually you can do it here, Joe. That is just your pessimism talking. Despite what any state office or organization might say, the freedom to distribute religious literature to anyone who expresses interest is legal and constitutionally-protected. Just because some state-funded weasel principal or school board leader makes a big noise about it doesn’t mean that “you can’t do it here.” You most certainly can, and the Liberty Institute will back you up on that.