The Broward school district should apologize to a fifth-grade boy at Park Lakes Elementary School in Lauderdale Lakes because a teacher prohibited him from reading the Bible during a free reading period, according to a Dallas-based legal group that advocates for religious freedom.
The Liberty Institute -- which represents Paul Rubeo, father of the Bible-reading boy, Giovanni Rubeo -- posted online a letter it wrote to Broward school officials.
The letter demands that Giovanni receive a written apology and that school officials guarantee that students be permitted to read religious books, including the Bible, during free-reading times.
Prohibiting the Bible during free-reading periods in school violates First Amendment rights as well as the guidelines by the U.S. Department of Education for receiving federal funding, according to Hiram Sasser, director of litigation for the Liberty Institute.
Sasser says he has proof of the dustup via a recorded voicemail from the teacher to the boy's father, which says:
"Good morning, Mr. Rubeo, Mrs. Thomas. Uh. Uh. 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. He said, if I told him to put it away you s -- ... 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. Mrs. S. Thomas. Thank you. Have a wonderful day. Bye-bye."
Here's a link to the recording, posted on the Liberty Institute website.
When reached by phone, a Park Lake Elementary School representative said all questions were referred to the Broward schools media representatives. When New Times called, they were all busy on the phone, apparently fielding questions about this.
The Liberty Institute website also displays previous written correspondence between Paul Rubeo and school officials regarding allowing his son to read the Bible.
A letter dated April 16 from Principal Orinthia Dias states, "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."
Sasser said the letter does not address free-reading sessions.
"It's a clear violation of the law," Sasser said. "They should just apologize and say they were wrong and movie on. That would be fine for us."
The Broward County School District has issued a statement, saying, "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. This information has been communicated to the parents of the student involved in this situation."