EEOC’s Rush to Judgement on Religious Liberty

By The Liberty Institute, Special for USDR.

The Obama Administration’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) prematurely dismissed a religious discrimination claim from substitute teacher Walt Tutka, whom his Liberty Institute attorneys believe was fired because he’s a member of Gideons International, an international religious organization that distributes Bibles. Phillipsburg School District in New Jersey terminated Tutka from his position after he handed a student a Bible in October 2012.

In a letter today, Liberty Institute accused the EEOC of unfairly dismissing Tutka’s religious discrimination complaint without even reviewing the information he submitted after the federal agency asked for it. To review the EEOC complaint online, visit:http://www.libertyinstitute.org/document.doc?id=86.

Mr. Tutka said, “I was shocked and surprised the EEOC did not even consider the information they specifically requested. At the very least, I should get a fair shake.”

Among the evidence the EEOC did not bother to consider was an email from Phillipsburg Middle School Assistant PrincipalJohn Stillo indicating the school district had an issue with the well-known religious group, Gideons International. “It has been brought to the administration’s attention that Gideon’s may be near our campus to distribute literature to our students,” Stillo wrote in a memo to the school’s staff. “Please make sure they DO NOT step foot onto our campus at anytime. There will be added police and security presence at dismissal.”

On April 10, Mr. Tutka filed a charge of religious discrimination with EEOC relating to his termination by Phillipsburg School District. On April 15, the EEOC asked Mr. Tutka to fill out a questionnaire and requested he provide the EEOC with additional information, giving him 30 days to comply.  On May 14, Mr. Tutka hand delivered the report to the EEOC Newark Area Office, one day before the 30-day deadline. Just a short time later, Mr. Tutka received a letter from Amparo Soto, Acting Director of the EEOC Newark Area Office, dated May 10 – five days before the 30-day deadline – informing him that his charge had been dismissed due to lack of information.

Hiram Sasser, Director of Litigation for the Liberty Institute, said, “I have never seen the EEOC ask for additional information and then dismiss the religious discrimination claim before it received the information or the information was due.  The EEOC appears to have made up its mind before it reviewed any evidence at all.”

This dismissal of Mr. Tutka’s claim, along with the Supreme Court’s recent unanimous decision rejecting the EEOC’s hostility to religious liberty in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 132 S. Ct. 694 (2012), evidence a trend of discrimination against religious liberty by the EEOC. In Hosanna-Tabor, the Supreme Court called the EEOC’s view of the First Amendment and religious freedom “remarkable” and “extreme.”

“Despite being recently rebuffed by a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court, by all appearances, the EEOC continues to hold its remarkable and extreme views on religious rights,” said Sasser.

On January 14, the Phillipsburg School District terminated substitute teacher Walt Tutka after he handed a Bible to a student. Mr. Tutka told a student in line, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” When the student repeatedly asked Mr. Tutka where the phrase was from, he pulled out his pocket Bible and showed the student the text. The student proceeded to state that he did not own a Bible. Mr. Tutka gave the student his own copy on Oct. 15, 2012, and his last day to substitute in Phillipsburg School District was three days later.

Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our Founding Fathers. For information, visit www.LibertyInstitute.org.

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