A longtime substitute teacher in Phillipsburg, NJ, faces a 90-day suspension after he was accused of sharing a Bible verse with a student – and then giving the child a Bible.
The Phillipsburg School Board said Walter Tutka broke two policies – distributing religious literature on school grounds and another policy that directs teachers to be neutral when discussing religious material.
The controversy has generated outrage among the region’s religious community – with many claiming that Tutka is being “persecuted” for simply being a Christian. The electrical company retiree is a well-respected member of the community.
“It was appalling,” said Joe Imhof, a close friend of Tutka. “They read him the riot act. They used words like separation of church and state and inclusion. And then they sent him home for violating school district policy.”
Imhof and Tutka serve together in Gideons International – a ministry known for providing Bibles to school children across the world. He was one of several people to speak at a recent school board meeting about Tutka’s fate.
In October, Tutka was standing by a door waiting on middle school students to enter the building. One student trailed behind the rest.
“Just remember, son,” Tutka told the tardy student, “The first shall be last but the last shall be first.”
A few days later the student asked about the origins of the quote. Tutka told him it was in the Bible.
“Over the next few weeks, the young student asked about a half dozen times where the quote was from in the Bible,” Imhof told Fox News. “Walt kept forgetting to look it up.”
On Oct. 12th, Tutka was eating lunch in the cafeteria when the student approached and brought up the Bible verse. So Tutka took out his Bible and showed the student the verse.
At some point the student mentioned that he did not have a Bible.
“Walt basically said, ‘would you like mine?” Imhof said. “The student said yes and so Walt gave him his personal New Testament.”
It’s unclear who reported Tutka to administration officials. But several days later he was summoned to the front office and Tutka, who had subbed for 28 out of the last 30 days, was sent home. To date, he has not been called back.
The school superintendent did not return multiple calls seeking comment.
The Express-Times received a copy of a letter from the school district recommending Tutka’s suspension for violating district policy.
“The public schools are somewhat scared to death to face the issue that the answer to some of today’s problems is in Scripture,” Imhof told Fox News. “They are trying to be so politically correct that they are totally politically ignorant about what is needed to turn the country around.”
In this case, he said Tutka’s Bible was a gift – not the distribution of religious material.
“He’s been persecuted by the school board,” he said. “The teachers locally support him but are not willing to throw their hat into the ring lest they be intimidated and persecuted by the administration.”
Tutka’s future with the district is still in limbo after board members decided to table the issue at this week’s meeting. That decision infuriated more than 100 people who attended the meeting to show their support for the embattled teacher.
“It is so awful,” said Tutka’s pastor, Chris Hussey. “I’ve never seen something so absurd in my life.”
Hussey, the pastor of Abundant Life Community Church, told Fox News that he’s been disturbed by Tutka’s treatment.
“Walt is a spiritually strong guy,” he said. “He knows not to hold any animosity or bitterness – but it is emotionally taxing on him.”
The incident has already drawn the attention of religious liberty groups — like the Liberty Institute.
“A teacher answering a child’s question honestly about the origin of a commonly used phrase and then providing documentary evidence to support the answer is educationally appropriate and legal,” said Hiram Sasser, the Institute’s director of litigation.
”If the teacher had quoted Buddha saying ‘do not dwell in the past’ and given the student a book on Buddha the PC police would be praising the teacher for his enlightenment and tolerance. ”
Pastor Hussey said the incident should serve as a stark reminder to Christians that there is a war on the culture.
“Christianity is under attack in America,” he said. “It seems our government officials are afraid of Muslims and yet they capitulate to them and any other religious group. But when it comes to Christians – they are completely intolerant of Christians.”
Both Hussey and Imhof also shared what they considered to be a chilling wakeup call for American Christians.
“One of the Gideons in our local camp is from the Soviet Union,” Imhof said. “In most countries overseas we are allowed to go into public schools and give Bibles to students. But since this is America – you can’t do it here.”
“When the Soviet Union fells, Bibles were allowed in the schools, people could pray in the schools,” Hussey said. “It seems we have more persecution in America than they do in Russia.”