Media Frenzy Erupts After FAU Student Told To ‘Stomp On Jesus’

By March 29, 2013

by Allison Goodman



Sometimes people stand up for their beliefs by refusing to stand on them.

Ryan Rotela, a junior at Florida Atlantic University and devout Mormon, claims he was thrown out of class by his instructor after refusing to step on the name of Jesus as part of a classroom exercise.

Then the governor heard about it, according to the News Service of Florida:

Gov. Rick Scott wants a detailed report from state university system Chancellor Frank Brogan regarding an incident in which a Florida Atlantic University student claimed he was suspended from class for refusing to stomp on a piece of paper bearing the word “Jesus.” “Whether the student was reprimanded or whether an apology was given is in many ways (inconsequential) to the larger issue of a professor’s poor judgment,” Scott stated in a letter to Brogan. “The professor’s lesson was offensive, and even intolerant, to Christians and those of all faiths who deserve to be respected as Americans entitled to religious freedom.”

The instructor, Deandre Poole, is the vice chairman of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party and was born and raised in West Palm Beach. Poole teaches various courses in communications at FAU and according to the party’s website, “prides himself in being actively engaged in civic affairs.”

The incident with Rotela reportedly happened while Poole was teaching a class on the power of symbols.

More from News Service of Florida:

The school, while denying any student had been disciplined, has issued an apology and instructed its intercultural communications class to no longer conduct the exercise. The class, taught by Deandre Poole, vice chairman of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party, was reportedly following an exercise in the instructors manual that had students write the name “Jesus” in large letters on a piece of paper, put the paper on the floor, face up, and after a brief period, tell them to step on the paper. “Most will hesitate,” the manual says, according to news reports. “Ask why they can’t step on the paper. Discuss the importance of symbols in culture.”

Rotela told CBS12 in West Palm Beach that stepping on the name of Jesus would have been disrespectful.

“Anytime you stomp on something it shows that you believe that something has no value,” he said. “So if you were to stomp (on the name of) Jesus, it says that (the name) has no value.”

FAU quickly moved to put out the fire but the incident triggered a national frenzy online. Critics descended on the university, pointing fingers and accusing school administrators of intolerance.

Blogger “Dave” from Fellowship of the Minds: Conservatives who love America, rejected FAU’s apology:

From where I am sitting, it is immaterial how profusely FAU apologizes to Mr. Rotela at this point, as any apology from the school would ring hollow now.

It is the mentality of the instructor involved, the offensive nature of the assignment in question, and the willingness of those in a position of authority to initially rush to its defense that I find troubling.

I cannot say whether Gov. Scott’s actions are merely political theater, or that he genuinely plans to get to the bottom of the heinous actions on the part of the FAU faculty.

Personally, I hope these people are made examples of, because this sort of thing is becoming far too common on the campuses of American colleges and universities.

The Church of All Nations in Boca Raton said it was planning to rally on the FAU campus.

In an op-ed for Forbes, Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), offered legal precedent as a reason for coming to Rotela’s defense:

Students do not have a right not to be offended by classroom speech, including assignments. Yet what precisely happened in Rotela’s class matters in determining what rights and principles are at stake. The idea of students at a public institution being required to stomp on the word Jesus evokes the 1943 decision in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, where the Supreme Court found that students could not be compelled to salute the American flag against their will. In the case, brought by Jehovah’s Witnesses who believed the salute was blasphemy, the Supreme Court staked out a broader moral argument defending the right of private conscience in rousing language. The Court held that students in a free society could not be compelled to engage in an act that amounted to a rejection of their most deeply held beliefs.

According to The Sun-Sentinel, FAU is no stranger to religious controversy:

Last year, some Jewish students received “eviction notices” on the doors of their dorms, which were posted by a group called Students for Justice in Palestine. In 2001, the university staged the play Corpus Christi, which depicted Jesus as gay, outraging many conservative lawmakers in the Legislature. The show went on despite the complaints.

For its part, FAU removed the “insensitive and unacceptable” exercise from the content of Poole’s course and has distanced itself from any threat of disciplinary action against Rotela.

View this article at WLRN.

Schools: Florida Atlantic University