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Florida teacher tells 12-year-old he can't read his Bible during free reading time

Published: Friday, May 16 2014 10:57 p.m. MDT

Last week, a fifth-grade student at Park Lakes Elementary School in Florida was called out in front of the class by his teacher and told he could not read his Bible during free reading time at school.

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Last week, a fifth-grade student at Park Lakes Elementary School in Florida was called out in front of the class by his teacher and told he could not read his Bible during free reading time at school.

Not only did his teacher, Swornia Thomas, make the comments at school, but she then called 12-year-old Giovanni Rubeo's father about the situation.

"I noticed that he has a book — a religious book — in the classroom," Thomas said in a message left for Giovanni's father. "He’s not permitted to read those books in my classroom."

Giovanni's father, Paul Rubio, was upset by the voicemail and reached out to the Liberty Institute, a legal firm that specializes in religious liberty issues, The Christian Post reported.

“This is the most shocking piece of evidence I’ve seen in the 12 years of religious liberty work that I’ve been doing,” Hiram Sasser, the Liberty Institute’s director of litigation, told Fox News.

Sasser referenced the U.S. Department of Education guidance that allows students to read their Bibles during non-instructional time.

"... Students may read their Bibles or other scriptures, say grace before meals, and pray or study religious materials with fellow students during recess, the lunch hour, or other noninstructional time to the same extent that they may engage in nonreligious activities."

A letter was then sent by the Liberty Institute to the Broward School District, requesting an apology be issued to the student and his family.

"Right now, all we want is a written apology," Paul Rubio said on Fox News Insider.

"If you've made a mistake, be diligent enough to admit it and everybody can move on and just allow my son and all the children in the entire school district to have that freedom to read their Bible if they choose to do so during free reading time."

The school district issued a statement expressing that the situation should have been handled differently; however, they explained that the Bible is not allowed to be read for the Accelerated Reader Program.

According to CBS Miami, the Liberty Institute sent another letter to the school district in response to its claims.

"Broward County Public Schools justified censoring the Bible because they thought it was not part of the Accelerated Reader Program, but, in fact, the Bible and other religious books about the Jewish, Buddhist and other faiths are included,” Jeremy Dys, Liberty Institute senior counsel told CBS Miami.

"According to their own website, they list 60 of the 66 books of the Bible are part of the accelerated reading program," Dys said.

Email: spetersen@deseretnews.com | Twitter: @Sarah_DNews

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