American Humanists Target Birdville ISD for Suspending Student Who Tore Pages From a Bible
Isaiah Smith isn't one to lay down in the face of injustice. When the Birdville High School student, who is gay, learned via a TV show that restaurants can legally refuse to serve gay people, he petitioned the Keller City Council to ban LGBT discrimination. When he decided that the Pledge of Allegiance violates the separation of church and state, and that its claim of "liberty and justice for all" was bull, he protested by refusing to join his peers in saying it. And when his classmates kept telling him that being gay is a sin, and that gays go to hell, he tore several pages of Leviticus from a Bible in class, then carried the Bible around the school after being warned not to.
He was eventually suspended, which is where the American Humanist Association stepped in. Their legal arm sent a letter to Birdville ISD officials on Thursday alleging that their decision to discipline Smith violated his right to free speech and demanding that his suspension be lifted "lest [Birdville ISD] face legal action."
The incident -- Smith's version of it at least -- is detailed in the letter.
The bullies repeatedly told Isaiah, a fellow Christian, that being gay is a sin, that gays go to hell, and that he too would go to hell. Isaiah brought his Bible to school to show the bullies why he did not believe it condemns gay persons. Isaiah believes that the Bible is a tool that Christians are suppose [sic] to use, so that they can be guided spiritually, physically, mentally and psychologically. As soon as Isaiah began getting bullied by classmates in his first period class on Monday, he reached for his Bible and tore out the pages containing the book of Leviticus among other scriptures. Moments later, the assistant principal, Glenn Serviente, told Isaiah to follow him to his office. Isaiah told the assistant principal about the bullying. Serviente, citing Tinker v. Des Moines School District, told Isaiah that tearing the Bible, but oddly not the bullying he had to endure, creates a disruption. Isaiah responded, stating he would not tear the Bible at school in the future but asked if he could carry it. Serviente said that he could carry the Bible, so long as he did not tear it. He made Isaiah stay in his office until the school bell rang.
Isaiah carried the torn Bible in his hand the remainder of the day without any disruption. He continued to carry the same Bible on Tuesday without any resulting disruption. However, when Isaiah brought the same book to school on Wednesday, also without any resulting disruption, the assistant principal called Isaiah into his office and immediately began to reprimand him. He asked Isaiah, "how would Muslims feel if a student was tearing up the Qur-an?" and then told him he was suspended. He then demanded Isaiah to give him the book. Isaiah said no, informing Serviente that he did not tear the Bible since being told on Monday that he could not do so. The assistant principal clarified that Isaiah was suspended for merely carrying a ripped Bible at school. He then reached for Isaiah's Bible without his permission and slammed it on his desk. First he said Isaiah was suspended from school for the remainder of the day, but then changed his mind and told Isaiah he was suspended for three days. He also confiscated Isaiah's Bible.
Federal student privacy laws prohibit Birdville ISD officials from commenting on individual student discipline. District spokesman Mark Thomas declined to address specifics but wrote in an email, "This is not related to the Bible."
"[A]ny recurring incident that disrupts the learning process is dealt with according to policy and appropriate disciplinary action is taken according to that policy," he wrote, adding, "I question the paper's reason for wanting to run a story on any general student discipline."