The American Humanist Association sent a complaint letter on November 1 to the Birdville Independent School District in Texas, claiming that Birdville High School administrators violated the First Amendment rights of student Isaiah Smith, who was suspended for tearing Bible pages in school.
Smith, an African-American gay student at Birdville High School, states he was bullied by other students who repeatedly told Smith that “being gay is a sin” and “gays go to hell.” In protest, Smith tore pages of Leviticus from his copy of the Bible and was sent to the assistant principal’s office on the grounds that he was being disruptive in class. Smith reported the bullying and was allowed to continue to carry the Bible with him during school hours, as long as he didn’t further tear the pages. However, three days later, Smith was suspended for simply continuing to carry the ripped Bible.
“This is a clear violation of Isaiah’s First Amendment rights,” said Monica Miller, an attorney and legal consultant with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, the legal arm of the American Humanist Association. “The only explanation for this kind of punishment is that it was religiously motivated, because he expressed different beliefs on the Bible than those held by school officials. There’s no legal basis for that kind of reaction.”
Smith, a senior, has never before been suspended, and he has no known record of behavior which might warrant a harsh punishment from school officials. According to the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, the Bible he tore was his personal property and had torn it as an expression of protest, which was fully in accordance with his constitutional rights to free speech.
The letter calls for all records of the suspension to be expunged, for Smith’s torn Bible to be returned to him, and for the school to either allow Smith to carry his torn bible or to prohibit all students from carrying religious texts in school. If the school doesn’t comply, the Appignani Humanist Legal Center will file a lawsuit on behalf of the student.
The letter to the school district can be found here.