PHILLIPSBURG, N.J. — A substitute teacher that was fired for giving a middle school student his Bible during his lunch period is appealing the dismissal of his complaint before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
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 one day in October, while the students he was overseeing lined up at the door to be dismissed for lunch, 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.
In January, the board again addressed the matter during its monthly meeting and decided to go much further than the 90-day suspension — it fired Tutka.
Tutka then filed a complaint with the EEOC, but last month, it was dismissed due to lack of evidence. Tutka’s attorney believes the decision was unfair.
“The EEOC asked for additional information so they could consider the claim brought by Walt,” Hiram Sasser of the Texas-based Liberty Institute told reporters. “They gave him 30 days to deliver the information.”
However, Sasser says that while Tutka had until May 15th to provide evidence, which he submitted on May 14th, the former substitute teacher later received a letter from the EEOC dated May 10th, dismissing his claim over a lack of information.
“They predetermined that they were going to reject this claim even though they went through the exercise of asking for the additional information,” Sasser asserted. “The EEOC had no intention of enforcing the protection for religious liberty found in Title VII that Congress requires them to enforce.”
The Liberty Institute also contends that Tutka was fired because the school has animosity toward the Gideons, a historic organization that distributes copies of the New Testament around the world.
“It has been brought to the administration’s attention that Gideon’s may be near our campus to distribute literature to our students,” an email obtained by FOX states. “Please make sure they DO NOT step foot onto our campus at anytime. There will be added police and security presence at dismissal.”
“The EEOC document and decision can speak for itself,” Superintendent George Chando told the Express-Times when asked for comment. “Beyond that I don’t have any other comment.”
Tutka and his attorneys will now appeal the EEOC dismissal in an effort to regain his employment.