A Florida family is demanding an apology from Broward County Public Schools after a teacher repeatedly told their fifth-grader he could not read the Bible during his "free reading" time.
12-year old Giovanni Rubeo frequently brought his Bible to school to read in his free time, but complied with his teacher, Swornia Thomas' requests in February and March to put the book away. On April 8, however, he refused.
Rubeo's father, Paul, had instructed his son that if Ms. Thomas or anyone else at the school told him he couldn't read his Bible during the 90-minute free reading period, Giovanni should politely ask that they call his father.
Ms. Thomas called Paul Rubeo and left him a voicemail message.
"Giovanni called you because I asked him to," Thomas said on the recording. "I noticed that he has a book—a religious book—in the classroom. He's not permitted to read those books in my classroom.
"He said, if I told him to put it away, you said not to do that. So, please give me a call. I need to have some understanding on direction to him about the book he's reading as opposed to the curriculum for public school."
When Rubeo contacted Park Lakes Elementary School Principal Cynthia Diaz, she sent him a letter stating that Giovanni "is permitted to read the Bible before school, after school and during lunch, in accordance to the law."
Dissatisfied with that response, Rubeo retained Christian advocacy and legal defense organization the Liberty Institute.
Liberty Institute Director of Litigation Hiram Sasser was appalled by the voicemail recording.
"This is the most shocking piece of evidence I've seen in the 12 years of religious liberty work that I've been doing," Sasser told Fox News.
In a May 5 statement, the school district conceded that Thomas was wrong for taking Giovanni's Bible away.
"Broward County Public Schools respects and upholds the rights of students to bring personal religious materials to school, including the Bible, and to read these items before school, after school or during any 'free reading' time during the school day. This information has been communicated to the parents of the student involved in this situation," the district told NBC 6.
Giovanni told reporters that that is not enough.
"I want the school to send me an apology and let me read my bible during free reading time," he said.