RICHLAND HILLS, Texas — The American Humanist Association, an atheist rights advocacy organization, has sent a complaint letter to a Texas school district, claiming that administrators violated a student’s First Amendment rights when they suspended him for tearing Bible pages in school.
Isaiah Smith, a gay, African American student at Birdville High School in Richland Hills, Texas, said he was bullied by other students who repeatedly told him 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.
“At my high school, some kids like to say that being gay is a sin and that you can’t be gay and Christian,” Smith told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I wanted to bring my Bible to school and interpret the books of Leviticus and Romans, because they are often used to bully gay people.”
Smith, 18, said he 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 alleges he 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,” she said.
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 said it plans to file a lawsuit on behalf of the student.