Giovanni Rubeo, 12, was reportedly called to the front of his class at Park Lakes Elementary School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and publicly shamed for choosing to read the Bible during a 90-minute “free reading time” in class.
“When I was reading my Bible, she said, ‘Giovanni, what book is that?’ I was a little afraid. She told me to put it on her desk and I said no,” Giovanni said in a telephone conversation with a Fox News reporter.
According to the Rubeo family, via Fox News, Giovanni had been asked to stop reading the Bible in occurrences during February and March. Paul Rubeo, Giovanni’s father, looked into his son’s rights and told Giovanni to “politely ask to the teacher to call home” if anyone told him he couldn’t read the Bible again.
When Giovanni asked the teacher as his father instructed, the teacher complied, in front of the whole class.
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“I noticed that he has a book – a religious book – in the classroom,” she said on the recording. “He’s not permitted to read those books in my classroom.”
The Broward County Public Schools Code Book for Student Conduct says nothing on students not being able to read the Bible in class. The book does prohibit “hate crimes” which they define as “an attack or offense against an individual or his/her property in which the individual is intentionally selected based off of his/her race, color, religion…” and considers “intimidation” an offense. The book also insists that “students have the right to be treated with respect” and that “students have the right to privacy.”
Giovanni’s father wrote a letter to the school after reportedly receiving the unsettling message, dated April 10.
“This it to give you written notice to stop breaking the law & violating my son Giovanni Rubeo’s constitution first amendment right of free speech and religious expression,” the letter states. “Do NOT tell my son he cannot read his Bible during free reading hours during class or any time when students are allowed to read books of their choice,” Rubeo says in the letter
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On April 16 Principal Orinthia Dias plainly responded “your child is permitted to read the Bible before school, after school and during lunch, in accordance to the law.”
The Rubeo family is now being represented by the Liberty Institute, a legal firm that specializes in religious liberty issues.
“This is the most shocking piece of evidence I’ve seen in the 12 years of religious liberty work that I’ve been doing,” said Hiram Sasser, the Liberty Institute’s director of litigation.
The firm insists on a written letter of apology to the Rubeo family and that Giovanni be allowed to read his Bible during “free reading time.” They threaten legal action otherwise.
CBS Miami reports that Broward County School issued a statement today which clarified their position on the matter.
“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.”
There is no word on an apology to the Rubeo family.