Teacher Forbids Reading Bible in Free Time

A Florida fifth grade school teacher humiliated a 12-year-old boy in front of the entire class after she caught him reading his Bible during a free reading time.

The teacher, Swornia D. Thomas, at Park Lakes Elementary School in Fort Lauderdale reprimanded student Giovanni Rubeo for reading his Bible and then proceeded to call his parents as other shocked students observed. Since Giovanni’s parents were not home at the time, the teacher left a blunt message on the family’s answering machine.

Fifth Grade Teacher Swornia Thomas

“Good morning, Mr. Rubeo. Giovanni called you because I asked him to. I noticed that he had a book — a religious book — in the classroom,” Thomas said on the recording. “He’s not permitted to read those books in my classroom. He said if I told him to put it away, you said not to do that. So 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. Ms. S. Thomas. Thank you. Have a wonderful day. Bye, bye.”

Giovanni reportedly received the Bible from his church last year as a Christmas gift. He cherished his new Bible, and it quickly became of one his favorite books to read.

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Last February and March, Thomas refused to allow Giovanni to read his Bible in her classroom. Originally, the boy complied with his teacher’s demands — until his father discovered what was happening. When Mr. Rubeo determined that the school was violating his son’s Constitutional First Amendment rights, he instructed Giovanni to politely ask the teacher to call his parents the next time he was told that he could not read his Bible during the free reading session.

When the children pulled out their books on April 8, the teacher immediately targeted Giovanni and demanded that he put the book on her desk. Little Giovanni bravely refused to comply, and that’s when the recorded phone call took place.

When the boy’s father contacted the school, the principal said that the matter would have to be turned over to the school’s legal department. Mr. Rubeo then wrote a letter to the school ordering them to cease and desist the harassment of his son.

“This it to give you written notice to stop breaking the law & violating my son Giovanni Rubeo’s constitution first amendment right of free speech and religious expression,” the letter states. “Do NOT tell my son he cannot read his Bible during free reading hours during class or any time when students are allowed to read books of their choice.”

Eventually, the school’s principle Cynthia Dias did respond via letter to the family. “Your child is permitted to read the Bible before school, after school and during lunch, in accordance to the law,” she wrote. But Dias noticeably, and conveniently, avoided mentioning the free reading time. So, the family is demanding an apology and that the school permit their son to read his Bible during the daily 90-minute free reading session.

The Liberty Institute, an organization specializing in religious liberty issues, is now representing the Rubeo family in their dispute with the school. “This is the most shocking piece of evidence I’ve seen in the 12 years of religious liberty work that I’ve been doing,” said Hiram Sasser, the Liberty Institute’s director of litigation, “I reached out to the superintendent of Broward County Schools as well as the chairman of the school board. Neither returned my messages.”

“I don’t understand why a school would want to keep a child from reading his Bible during free reading time,” the father told FOX News’ Todd Starnes. “And I’ve never gotten an answer to that question.”

As proof that the young student’s legal and religious rights were violated, the Liberty Institute’s Hiram Sasser cited U.S. Department of Education guidance, which reads in part, “…students may read their Bibles or other scriptures, 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.”

As this incident clearly indicates, our public school system has become an increasingly hostile environment to our children’s religious expressions of faith. And if we are not willing to stand up for our Constitutional rights, we will lose them.

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

Jeff Allen is both a senior editor and columnist for BarbWire. He also serves as senior pastor in a mainline Christian church in Indiana. He is an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene. Jeff is involved in several community ministries.
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