BOCA RATON (CBS4) – Florida Governor Rick Scott has gotten involved in a religious firestorm brewing at Florida Atlantic University after a student said he was unfairly suspended from his Intercultural Communications class because he refused to step on Jesus.
Gov. Scott sent a letter to University System Chancellor Frank Brogan saying he was “deeply disappointed” in allegations Dr. Deandre Poole asked students in the class to write the word “Jesus” on a piece of paper, fold it up, and step on it.
“As we enter the week memorializing the events of Christ’s passion, this incident gave me great concern over the lessons we are teaching our students,” Scott wrote in the letter.
Student Ryan Rotella, a deeply religious Mormon, told CBS12 that he was offended and refused to participate in the exercise.
“Anytime you stomp on something it shows that you believe that something has no value. So if you were to stomp on the word Jesus, it says that the word has no value,” said Rotella.
Rotella said he voiced his concerns to his teacher’s supervisor and later learned he was suspended from the class.
FAU said Dr. Poole was conducting a classroom exercise from a textbook entitled “Intercultural Communication: A Contextual Approach, 5th Edition” and released this statement to CBS12: “Faculty and students at academic institutions pursue knowledge and engage in open discourse. While at times the topics discussed may be sensitive, a university environment is a venue for such dialogue and debate.”
Governor Scott inquired about the allegations because it raised questions about “the lessons being taught in our classrooms.” He said he wanted a report on the incident and how it was handled, as well as a statement of the university’s policies to ensure such “lessons” don’t occur again.
State University System spokeswoman Kim Wilmath said officials would work closely with FAU in preparing a response to the governor’s concerns.
“The State University System prides itself not only on its commitment to academic freedom, but at the same time, its awesome responsibility to the people it serves,” she said in a written statement. “We are gratified to know that FAU has apologized for any offense the exercise has caused and has pledged never to use this exercise again. Clearly, there were things the university could have done differently by its own acknowledgement.”
The governor didn’t seem satisfied with the apology, saying it was “in many ways inconsequential to the larger issue of a professor’s poor judgment.”
“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,” Scott said in his letter. “Our public higher educational institutions are designed to shape the minds of Florida’s future leaders. We should provide educational leadership that is respectful of religious freedom of all people.”
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