Nice to see

…a little justice.

Florida Atlantic University Officials Apologize and Drop Charges Against Student Ryan Rotela

BOCA RATON, FLA, March 25, 2013–Today, Liberty Institute declares victory on behalf of its client Ryan Rotela, the Florida Atlantic University student who was brought up on academic charges and suspended from class out of retaliation for reporting a lesson to University officials, which included an in-class assignment involving jumping on a sheet of paper bearing Jesus’ name. In addition to apologizing to Mr. Rotela on its website and following a closed-door meeting with Liberty Institute, University officials agreed not to take any further action against him, will expunge all academic charges from his student records, and will allow him to take the course under the supervision of an alternate professor.

“We are thankful that the University has conceded and done the right thing, so that our client Mr. Rotela can continue pursuing his education without distraction,” said Hiram Sasser, Liberty Institute Director of Litigation. “Decades ago, the Supreme Court ruled that students do not leave their First Amendment rights at the school house gate: That is still true today.”

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  • Jared

    Why was this even a lawsuit to begin with? O_o

  • Naomi Kietzke Young

    Jared, it wasn’t a lawsuit, but it was certainly headed that way. What it was, IMO, was an automatic knee-jerk reaction on the part of the university to protect a faculty member. As a faculty member in Florida, I can’t help feeling reassured by that. As a Christian, I am relieved that once a little time (and a fair bit of pressure) was applied to the situation, the University realized this was NOT a time to assume academic freedom trumps religious freedom.

  • Cinlef

    What course was he taking? and in a related query what was the profs rationale to make sacrilege a a required assignment?

    • deiseach

      It was an Intercultural Communications class, and the university first defended itself or the professor by saying this was an exercise out of the class textbook.

      The exercise is reported to be this one:

      “Have the students write the name JESUS in big letters on a piece of paper…Ask the students to stand up and put the paper on the floor in front of them with the name facing up. Ask the students to think about it for a moment. After a brief period of silence instruct them to step on the paper. Most will hesitate. Ask why they can’t step on the paper. Discuss the importance of symbols in culture.”

      I presume it uses the Holy Name because it is assuming that the classes will be mainly made up of Christians or Westerners. I think it’s silly and I can see no good reason why another name (insert decent person here) can’t be substituted. The point, however, is that when the student complained to the university, they charged him “with “an alleged violation of the student code of conduct, acts of verbal, written or physical abuse, threats, intimidation, harassment, coercion or other conduct which threaten the health, safety or welfare of any person” and ordered not to return to class.”

      That’s over-reaction on the university’s part, and I’m pretty darned sure if the professor had used the name of, say, a civil rights leader or a feminist, and a student complained, they wouldn’t have charged the student with the same thing or ordered him/her to leave the class.

      • kmk

        And he sure wouldn’t have them write “Muhammed!”

      • Maiki

        It is evil to put someone in the situation of feeling coerced or unknowningly performing grave evil. What a horrible assignment. Even if hesitation is the goal, it puts students in a horribly dangerous situation morally. Another person’s name on a paper is not equivalent — a random person’s name turns the assignment into something passably legitimate, while the name of God for most people in that room turns it into something evil, that frankly, students shouldn’t need to confront in a classroom they are paying to attend.

  • Mike in KC, MO

    Justice… ok….

    I am VERY happy the student didn’t get screwed over. However it seems that the teacher in question is still employed. Had the teacher been fired, or the student managed to tear away a LARGE cash fine out of the school (the only kind of pain they feel), then I would say THAT was justice.

    Put another way: If a couple of bad cops grabbed the kid for no reason, threw him down, searched him and planted a throw down piece on him, held him for illegal possession of a weapon, and then let him go with a ‘meh, sorry, I guess we thoughts you was somebody else…” That’s not really ‘justice’. That’s just ‘not getting TOTALLY screwed’. Justice would be if the cops also lost their jobs.

    Because, just like those bad cops, this professor will do it again.

  • MarBaby

    The “justice” is incomplete. What is the penance for the “professor?” …

  • Irenist

    This is good news. Of course, there is a larger scandal being unaddressed: gullible kids are racking up thousands in non-dischargeable student loan debt for bilge like “Intercultural Communications.”

    • George

      ‘This is good news. Of course, there is a larger scandal being unaddressed: gullible kids are racking up thousands in non-dischargeable student loan debt for bilge like “Intercultural Communications.” ‘

      Ha! (Thumbs Up!)

    • pgh mama

      Ugh, yes. Much of what I learned in college was incredibly valuable and I’m glad I learned it. Even if some of it wasn’t directly related to “The Job,” it was still “good stuff for an adult to know/think about/be able to do.” But some of it? Blech. Sometimes I would even think so during the class, but professors would assure me that it’s just because I was brainwashed by the institutional paradigms that had dominated my life until they came along to save me from myself.

      It would have really been great to find this out before I went to graduate school, but hey, some lessons are learned the hard way. The good thing is that I won’t soon forget it, and hopefully that will rub off on my kids a bit when it comes time for them to consider if and what kind of higher education is for them.

  • SJ Reidhead

    The very real problem here is that the professor is very active in his own church, The Lighthouse Worship Center Church of God in Christ, and is a member of the usher board. I think this changes the entire story. Also, he is a political activist – a Democrat – who is being targeted by the opposition. Looks to me like the Poole was NOT trying to denigrate anyone. I’ve been looking in to the story, and it appears that the hit is against Poole, who is an up and coming young Democrat with a very bright political future – or at least he had one until the minions of the right began attacking – without all the information – yet again. (And, I’m a life-long Republican who is saying this).

    The Pink Flamingo

    • Bella

      Wow. Step away from the bong. I did the research and am NOT seeing what you are seeing…..”the hit is against Poole?” The university attacked the STUDENT. (charged with “an alleged violation of the student code of conduct, acts of verbal, written or physical abuse, threats, intimidation, harassment, coercion or other conduct which threaten the health, safety or welfare of any person” and ordered not to return to class.)

      “Minions of the right” — EVERY decent person I know, left, right and center was horrified by this assignment.

  • RC

    A case that’s extra-relevant this week as radicals lay the groundwork for future punishments for Christians.

  • Caspar

    No matter what else was going on, this still sounds like Frost’s Objectivity Room training from That Hideous Strength.

    • Dante Aligheri

      That was my first thought, too. Actually, it’s almost exactly like that (except a piece of paper instead of a crucifix).

    • Irenist

      Indeed. I thought of that right away, too, Caspar.

    • Faramir

      I mostly lurk, but I’ve come out of hiding to mention that while I did think of “That Hideous Strength” when I heard about this, my first thought was to the real-world images of Jesus and Mary that the Japanese government required Christians to step on when they were arrested – it was their version of the pinch of incense to Caesar (cite: or the novel “Silence”). We live in a country where a professor can, with apparently no punishment, ask students to recreate almost the exact same activity that led to Japanese Christians being thrown alive into an active volcano or drowned in excrement.

      • Maiki

        yes, that was my thought, too.

  • Suburbanbanshee

    If it were really a linguistic exercise about nominalism versus realism and semantics versus reality, the professor would have asked everyone to use the professor’s name.

    Or the professor is the most naive Christian ever for going along with a really stupid textbook.

  • FW Ken

    It’s long settled that students don’t act freely in the school setting. Hence, public schools can’t have prayers from which specific students are excused. Now, perhaps college kids should have a class in learning to stand up for themselves against the crowd (embodied in the professor). Certainly Christians will have to get used to standing up for their beliefs eventually. But starting with three Holy as a training tool seems a bridge too far.

  • acilius

    Milgram, thou shouldst be living at this hour!