Thursday, March 28, 2013

Florida Governor Intervenes in Jesus “Stomping” Incident


On Monday, Liberty Institute declared victory on behalf of our client, Ryan Rotela, a junior at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) who refused to take part in a “lesson” that involved writing the name “Jesus” on a piece of paper, putting the paper on the floor…and stomping on it.

The university brought Ryan up on academic charges and suspended from class out of retaliation for reporting his professor and the incident to university authorities.

Monday, Liberty Institute Director of Litigation Hiram Sasser traveled to Florida to attend a closed-door meeting with Rotela and university officials. In the meeting, the officials apologized in person, agreed not to take any further disciplinary action and to expunge all academic charges from his student records, and to allow him to take the course under the supervision of an alternate professor.

“We are thankful that the university has conceded and done the right thing, so that our client can continue pursuing his education without distraction,” said Sasser. “Decades ago, the Supreme Court ruled that students do not leave their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse gate…that is still true today.”

Monday morning, Liberty Institute distributed thousands of emails asking for prayers and support for Rotela and our efforts to defend his religious freedoms. The response was overwhelming. Liberty’s inbox was flooded with emails from people of all faiths – and even some atheists – who offered their support of Liberty Institute and Ryan Rotela’s First Amendment rights. Here is just a sampling of those messages:

“I am a mother with two young boys, so it makes me feel secure knowing organizations such as yours are active for our country and our future generations…I also would like to thank the young man, Ryan, for his courageous act, even when he was the only person who did not follow along with many others.”

“It is comforting to know you and your organization are in the trenches, fighting against colleges and their aggressive actions toward people who think differently than they do.”

“I am an atheist and I just signed your petition protesting the reprehensible act against Ryan Rotela, in violation of his constitutionally protected right of free expression. As much as anyone else, I am an advocate of individual rights.”

On Tuesday, FAU released a video statement from Senior Vice President of Student Affairs Charles Brown, in which he says the lesson would no longer be used and that “it was insensitive and deeply hurtful.”

That same day, unsatisfied with the apology, Florida Governor Rick Scott became involved in the issue. Scott sent a letter to Chancellor Frank Brogan of the State University System of Florida, requesting “a report of the incident, how it was handled and a statement of the university’s policies to ensure this type of ‘lesson’ will not occur again.”

It is because of generous supporters like you that Liberty was able to act so quickly to defend Ryan’s religious freedoms, and bring attention to such a serious issue. This incident is a perfect example of the great things that can happen when students are bold enough to stand for their religious rights. While several other students in the class were also upset by the “lesson,” only one was brave enough to say “no.” Through your help, we can empower other students across the country to follow suit.

Please share Ryan Rotela’s story with your friends and family, and if you know of any student facing religious hostility in their school or college, have them contact Liberty Institute at 972-941-4444, or through email at

We also need your financial support to help us continue to defend students like Ryan across the country. Every gift is critical in our continued effort to defend and restore religious freedom in America.

About Liberty Institute
Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit