Phillipsburg, New Jersey – A school board in New Jersey has voted to fire a substitute teacher that gave a middle school student his Bible during lunch.
As previously reported, Walter Tutka, a longtime substitute teacher for the Phillipsburg School District, was placed under possible disciplinary action late last year after it was discovered that he had given his personal copy of the Bible to a student at Phillipsburg Middle School.
Tutka states that during the lunch period one day in October, while the students he was overseeing lined up at the door to be dismissed, he commented to the last student in line, “Remember, the last shall be first.” He explained that over the next few weeks, the student asked several times where the saying came from, and approximately the seventh time, Tutka pulled out his personal Bible and gave it to the student as a gift.
However, upon learning of the incident, the Phillipsburg School Board claimed that Tutka violated school policy. The matter was discussed during a board meeting last November, where a number of area residents showed up to support the substitute teacher.
Tutka acknowledged to reporters in December, however, that he had received a concerning letter from Superintendent George Chando, which outlined his recommendation that Tutka face a 90-day suspension beginning in January. The letter explained that the suspension was warranted as Tutka violated two school policies: one, that he not distribute any religious literature on school property, and two, the requirement that he “be neutral in [his] approach and avoid using [discussions about religion] to advance or inhibit religion in any way.”
Tutka’s name was also removed from the substitute teacher’s list because of the October incident.
On Monday, the board again addressed the matter during its monthly meeting and decided to go much further than the 90-day suspension — it fired Tutka.
One of Tutka’s friends, Joe Imhof, told reporters last night that he is extremely disappointed in the board’s decision, not only because it chose to fire Tutka, but also because its actions sent a message that God is not welcome on school property.
“Just because this guy gave a student a pocket New Testament on his lunch hour – that’s enough to throw you out of school,” Imhof lamented. “They have said tonight, ‘God, we don’t want you in this school.’”
Tutka’s legal representation agreed.
“It’s unfortunate the Phillipsburg School District chose the path of religious hostility and intolerance against a retired man serving his community and simply responding to a student’s intellectual curiosity,” Hiram Sasser, director of litigation at Liberty Institute, told reporters. “What’s next – are they going to ban Shakespeare because his plays have Bible quotations?”
“I am sure the school would have celebrated if the issue was a Koran or Hindu text,” he continued. “But this school sent the message that anything associated with the Bible, even good, old-fashioned intellectual curiosity, must be squelched at the source.”
Tutka’s pastor, Chris Hussey of Abundant Life Community Church, made similar remarks.
“I’ve never seen something so absurd in my life,” Hussey said. “It seems our government officials are afraid of Muslims and yet they capitulate to them and any other religious group. But when it comes to Christians – they are completely intolerant of Christians.”
Board members declined to comment on their reasons for firing Tutka, simply advising residents that “the board will not comment on personnel matters.”