Thursday, June 27, 2013

Thanks to Liberty Institute’s Pressure, EEOC Reopens Fired Teacher’s Religious Discrimination Claim


New Jersey substitute teacher, Walt Tutka, was fired earlier this year by the Phillipsburg School District for handing a Bible to a student who requested it.

When the young man was last to enter through a door, Mr. Tutka told him, “The first shall be last, but the last shall be first.” The student repeatedly inquired, over the course of several days, as to the origin of the phrase. Finally, Tutka pulled out his pocket New Testament and showed the student the related verse in the book of Matthew. The student stated that he didn’t own a Bible—so Tutka offered his copy and the student accepted.

Within days, the Phillipsburg School District charged Walt Tutka with violating a rule against distributing religious literature. Then in January, the school board terminated him.

Walt Tutka decided to fight back for his religious liberty and contacted Liberty Institute for legal help.

He filed a charge of discrimination against the school district with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC requested that Tutka provide additional information to supplement his claim and gave him 30 days to comply. In advance of that deadline, which Tutka met, the EEOC sent him a letter denying his claim. Liberty Institute’s Director of Litigation, Hiram Sasser, criticized the action, telling reporters, “The EEOC had no intention of enforcing the protection for religious liberty found in Title VII that Congress requires them to enforce.”

FOX News’s Todd Starnes reported on another disturbing facet of this case. Read Starnes’ report here.

Walt Tutka is a member of Gideons International, a religious society that distributes Bibles. Gideons has a long history of providing Bibles to public school students. FOX News obtained a copy of an email from Phillipsburg Middle School Assistant Principal, John Stillo, instructing school staff to make sure that when Gideons are nearby, they “DO NOT step foot onto our campus” and promising “added police and security presence at dismissal.” Liberty Institute’s Sasser said, “The reason we believe Walt was fired is because he was a member of the Gideons.”

On June 19, 2013, Liberty Institute sent a complaint letter to the EEOC restating Tutka’s case and strongly suggesting that the EEOC’s extreme views concerning religious rights caused it to make a determination in the matter before even receiving the information it requested. Liberty’s letter requested that the EEOC “conduct a fair, thorough investigation of Mr. Tutka’s claim.”

Less than a week later, Walt Tutka received a “Notice of Intent to Reconsider.”

Liberty Institute is pleased that the EEOC is carrying out its responsibility to stop religious discrimination and to do the right thing by Walt Tutka. The discrimination he faced because of his religious beliefs is unconstitutional and unacceptable in a free society. Liberty Institute’s General Counsel, Jeff Mateer, voiced his approval of the EEOC’s reversal: “We look forward to the EEOC conducting a full and thorough investigation, and ultimately resolving this matter in Walt Tutka’s favor.”

Please pray for Liberty Institute’s team as we go the distance with Walt Tutka to assure his religious liberty. And we ask you to give generously to help us prepare for the battles to come. This reversal by the EEOC shows us that taking a tough stand against religious discrimination by government agencies is critical. We count on the prayers and financial support of friends like you so that we’re ready to stand strong against all opposition to religious freedom.

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