Today, Fox News reporter Todd Starnes reported on a case of blatant religious discrimination in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. A fifth-grade teacher at Park Lakes Elementary humiliated a boy by calling his parents – while the rest of the class watched – and complained to his parents that their son, Giovanni Rubeo, was reading “a religious book” – the Bible! Starnes reported that as the other students watched, the teacher left a terse message on the family’s answering machine.
“I noticed that he has a book – a religious book – in the classroom,” she said on the recording. “He’s not permitted to read those books in my classroom.” (Listen to the voicemail she left)
It is frustrating that censorship of Bible reading in class persists when the U.S. Department of Education has clarified for the past 19 years that reading the Bible during free reading time is perfectly legal. Since 1995, the federal government has issued guidelines to all public school superintendents on three separate occasions (1995, 1998, and 2003) asking them to inform teachers and students of their religious rights. The guidelines specifically state:
“Among other things, students may read their Bibles or other scripture, say grace before meals, and pray or study religious materials with fellow students during recess, the lunch hour, or other non-instructional time to the same extent that they may engage in nonreligious activities.”
The law is clear about Giovanni’s freedom to read the Bible during free reading time. Sadly, even after 19 years and three nationwide publications, many teachers are not familiar with these federal guidelines.
Ironically, fifth-grade teachers in Florida are expected to teach about the influence of Christianity when it comes to people’s rights. In Gateways to Better Education’s report, “The Bible in State Academic Standards,” we highlight where the Bible and Christianity are expected to be taught in all 50 states. According to the Florida Department of Education, fifth grade students are to:
“Explain the definition and origin of rights. Examples are John Locke's ‘state of nature’ philosophy, natural rights: rights to life, liberty, property…” (Civics and Government, SS.5.C.1.3)
In our report’s introduction we point out John Locke’s biblical thinking in the late 17th century when he wrote:
“The state of Nature has a law of Nature to govern it, which obliges every one, and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions; for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent and infinitely wise Maker; all the servants of one sovereign Master, sent into the world by His order and about His business; they are His property, whose workmanship they are made to last during His, not one another's pleasure.” [Emphasis added]
John Locke would most likely shake his head in disbelief that an American teacher thinks she must suppress a child’s religious freedom while being expected to teach about natural rights that come from God.
Find out more about Gateways’ pamphlet, Free to Speak: What the U.S. Department of Education says about public school students’ religious liberties.