Phillipsburg, New Jersey — A substitute teacher that was fired earlier this year for giving a student a copy of the Bible has filed a complaint with the federal government.
As previously reported, Walter Tutka, a longtime substitute teacher for the Phillipsburg School District in New Jersey, was terminated in January after it was discovered months prior that he had given a pocket-size New Testament to a student at Phillipsburg Middle School.
Tutka acknowledged doing so, and explained 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 advised that over the next few weeks, the student asked several times where the saying originated. After approximately the seventh inquiry, 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.”
In the meantime, Tutka was removed from the substitute teacher’s list, putting him out of a job.
Despite public outcry, he was officially fired on January 14th following a final decision from the Phillipsburg School Board.
“Just because this guy gave a student a pocket New Testament on his lunch hour – that’s enough to throw you out of school,” lamented friend Joe Imhof, who was present at the hearing. “They have said tonight, ‘God, we don’t want you in this school.’”
This week, Tutka filed a complaint with the federal Equal Opportunity Commission.
“I believe that I have been discriminated against in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and retaliated against regarding same,” the document stated.
“It is shocking that the school district has forced Walt to file a complaint with the EEOC for religious discrimination,” said Hiram Sasser, director of litigation for Liberty Institute. “All Walt did was respond to a student’s intellectual curiosity and the school district suspended and then terminated him.”
Sasser outlined that officials with the Phillipsburg School District have not been forthright in their dealings with the matter, and have refused to provide copies of past email correspondence surrounding Tutka following a request pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act.
“We want to understand what their perspective is,” he stated. “For whatever reason, they don’t want to show it to us.”
Tutka is hoping to be reinstated as a substitute teacher and to do so without the need for a lawsuit.