A New Jersey substitute teacher has been fired after quoting a Bible verse to a student and later giving the same child a Bible.
The dramatic decision was made by the Phillipsburg School Board on Monday after a protracted dispute that began last year.
In October 2012, substitute teacher Walter Tutka quoted the Bible saying, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last,” to a student who was last to leave the classroom, WFMZ reports.
The student reportedly then asked Tutka where the quote came from numerous times until eventually the teacher showed the student his personal copy of the New Testament bible.
On a separate occasion, the student told the educator that he didn’t own a bible, and it was at that point that Tutka offered the student his own copy. The student accepted the gift but later returned it to Tutka.
The dispute invoked two district policies, which the Phillipsburg school board insists were broken.
The first expressly says that employees cannot distribute religious literature on school grounds; the second says educators must remain neutral while discussing religious materials.
Tutka, who is a well-respected member of the community, is also a member of Gideons International — a ministry known for providing Bibles to school children across the world.
Tutka’s supporters argue that the Bible exchange was a gift and not “distribution,” adding that board is violating its own policy on religion by penalizing the Christian religion in their firing of Tutka.
The Huffington Post quotes Linda Hoyt, pastor of the 11th Hour Church in Hackettstown, as saying:
“History will vindicate that he has a heart for these kids and he did the right thing.”
Hiram Sasser, director of litigation at Liberty Institute who is also advising Tutka, told Fox News:
“I am sure the school would have celebrated if the issue was a Koran or Hindu text, but this school sent the message that anything associated with the Bible, even good, old-fashioned intellectual curiosity, must be squelched at the source.”
One possible silver lining — at least for Tutka — is that his removal from the district’s approved substitutes list is only for the remainder of the current school year.
However, district officials have declined to comment on whether or not Tutka could reapply to go on lists next year.
The New Jersey case comes amid news that a Republican state senator in Indiana is currently pushing for state’s public school students to begin each day by reciting the Lord’s Prayer, the Huffington Post notes.
Denise Kruse, chair of the Indiana Senate’s education committee, introduced a bill earlier this month that would allow Indiana’s school districts to require recitation of the prayer, “in order that each student recognize the importance of spiritual development in establishing character and becoming a good citizen.”