A longtime substitute teacher in Phillipsburg, NJ, has been fired after he shared a Bible verse with a student – and upon request gave the child a Bible.
The Phillipsburg School Board voted Monday night to terminate the employment of Walter Tutka. He was accused of breaking two policies – distributing religious literature on school grounds and another policy that directs teachers to be neutral when discussing religious material.
“It’s unfortunate the Phillipsburg School District chose the path of religious hostility and intolerance against a retired man serving his community and simply responding to a student’s intellectual curiosity,” Hiram Sasser, director of litigation at Liberty Institute, told Fox News. “What’s next – are they going to ban Shakespeare because his plays have Bible quotations?”
Joe Imhof, a close friend of Tutka, was at the school board meeting.
The school board, he told Fox News, was basically telling God to “go to hell.”
“Just because this guy gave a student a pocket New Testament on his lunch hour – that’s enough to throw you out of school,” Imhof said. “They have said tonight, ‘God, we don’t want you in this school.’”
Imhof and Tutka serve together in Gideons International – a ministry known for providing Bibles to school children across the world.
“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.”
Tutka’s trouble started in Octoboer when he 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.”
Tutka, who is a well-respected member of the community, is also a member of Gideons International. It’s a ministry known for providing Bibles to school children across the world.
The school superintendent did not return multiple calls seeking comment.
Sasser, who is providing Tutka with legal advice, said the board’s decision sends a clear message to Christians in New Jersey.
“I am sure the school would have celebrated if the issue was a Koran or Hindu text, but this school sent the message that anything associated with the Bible, even good, old-fashioned intellectual curiosity, must be squelched at the source,” Sasser told Fox News.
The district’s treatment of Tutka decision infuriated many residents of the New Jersey community.
“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.”
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.”