Claiming that school districts are well within their rights to fire staff who chose to distribute religious materials to students, a “religious liberty watchdog group” said that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was wrong to side with Walt Tutka in his discrimination case against Phillipsburg School District.
In December 2014, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that Phillipsburg School District appears to have violated the law when it fired the substitute teacher who gave a student a copy of the Bible, but the district has contested this claim.
The legal battle stems from a 2012 incident in which Tutka claims that the Bible was given as an academic gift to satisfy a student’s curiosity, but just a few days after doing so, he served his last day at Phillipsburg High School, and in January 2013, he was terminated.
Following the EEOC’s ruling, attorney Howard Mankoff, representing Phillipsburg, said the school district has the option to appeal.
If the district settles, Tutka, represented by the Liberty Institute, is asking for reinstatement as a substitute teacher and restitution based on the amount of days estimated to be worked based on employment history.
Whether or not the district will challenge the federal ruling in court remains unknown at this time.
Lawsuit possible in case of Phillipsburg teacher who gave student a Bible
In a letter submitted to the EEOC’s New York District Office this week, Americans United argued that the Phillipsburg School District could legally terminate Tutka’s employment “if the school acted for the purposes of avoiding a church-state violation.”
“I’m shocked that the EEOC doesn’t know that public schools are required to abide by the separation of church and state,” Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United said in a press release. “The school district in this case did what the law requires. The EEOC needs to back off.”
Additionally, the organization believes that Tutka’s actions violate first amendment rights of students and the establishment clause, according to the release.
“Even if the EEOC believes that the School District acted harshly when it fired Mr. Tutka, the nature of the School District’s adverse action would not give rise to a right that does not otherwise exist,” the letter to the EEOC adds.
The letter urges the EEOC to consider existing law as it resolves Tutka’s complaint.
Founded in 1947, Americans United “educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.”