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Walter Tutka, New Jersey Teacher, Fired After Giving Student Bible, Sharing Verse

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WALTER TUTKA
Phillipsburg, NJ, December 10th, 2012. Walter Tutka, center, a substitute teacher who faces termination from the district for handing a Bible to a student, sits during a school board meeting Monday evening at Phillipsburg Middle School. Express-Times / Landov | Express-Times / Landov

A Phillipsburg, N.J. substitute teacher has been terminated for the year after sharing a Bible verse with a student and subsequently giving the child a Bible.

The school board's Monday decision follows an October incident in which Walter Tutka quoted the Bible saying, "So the last will be first, and the first will be last" to a student who was last in line to leave the classroom, WFMZ reports. The student reportedly inquired about the origin of the statement numerous times before Tutka produced his personal copy of the New Testament to show the student.

When the student mentioned he didn't own a Bible, Tutka offered his, Fox News reports. The student accepted the gift, but later returned it to Tutka, according to The Express-Times.

District officials say Tutka broke two district policies: one that prohibits employees from distributing religious literature on school grounds, and another that requires educators remain neutral while discussing religious materials.

Tutka's supporters, however, argue that the Bible exchange was a gift, and not "distribution," adding that the school board is violating its own religion policy by being hostile toward a particular religion through terminating Tutka. Linda Hoyt, pastor of the 11th Hour Church in Hackettstown, told The Express-Times that Judeo-Christian beliefs were a key part of American history and the country's development.

"History will vindicate that he has a heart for these kids and he did the right thing," Hoyt said of Tutka.

Tutka's removal from the district's approved substitutes list is only for the remainder of the current school year. District officials declined to comment on whether Tutka could reapply next year.

The case in New Jersey comes as a Republican state senator in Indiana wants the state's public school students to begin each day by reciting the Lord's Prayer. Denise Kruse, chair of the Indiana Senate's education committee, introduced a bill earlier this month that would allow Indiana's school districts to require recitation of the prayer, "in order that each student recognize the importance of spiritual development in establishing character and becoming a good citizen."

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