LAUDERDALE LAKES, Fla. — A Christian legal group is demanding an apology after a fifth grade teacher in Florida recently banned a Christian student from reading his Bible during the class free reading period.
Giovanni Rubeo, who attends Park Lakes Elementary School in Lauderdale Lakes, says that he was recently reading his Bible during the designated reading period when his teacher—identified as Ms. Swornia Thomas—told him to put his Bible on her desk. She then told him to call his father so she could speak to him.
“Giovanni called you because I asked him to. I noticed that he has a book—a religious book—in the classroom. He’s not permitted to read those books in my classroom,” a voicemail message from Thomas stated that day. “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.”
Giovanni’s father, Paul, then contacted the both Thomas and Principal Cynthia Diaz to express concern. Diaz advised that the legal department would be consulted about the matter. A week later, Rubeo called Diaz to check in on the department’s response.
“As stated in our telephone conversation … your child is permitted to read the Bible before school, after school and during lunch, in accordance to the law,” Diaz wrote in a brief letter that day.
As Rubeo believed that the reply did not satisfy his question as to whether or not his son had the right to read the Bible during the free reading period, Rubeo then enlisted the Liberty Institute, a Christian legal organization based in Plano, Texas. The group sent a letter on Monday demanding an apology from the school about the matter and requesting that it affirm Giovanni’s right to read the Bible.
“Banning religious books like the Bible violates Giovanni’s civil rights to religious free speech and exercise, and exemplifies the hostility to religion that the United States Supreme Court has condemned,” the letter read.
In the meantime, the school district has released a statement affirming students’ rights to choose to read religious books during the free reading period.
“Broward County Public Schools respects and upholds the rights of students to bring personal religious materials to school, including the Bible, and to read these items before school, after school or during any ‘free reading’ time during the school day,” a statement published by NBC Miami reads. “This information has been communicated to the parents of the student involved in this situation.”
Rubeo states that he would still like the school itself to issue an apology following the district’s statement. His son agrees.
“I want the school to send me an apology and let me read my Bible during free reading time,” Giovanni told reporters.
Photo: The Liberty Institute