Florida Atlantic University has apologized for a controversial classroom lesson that led critics to accuse the school of religious intolerance. But that didn’t stop Gov. Rick Scott from stepping into the fray on Tuesday.
Scott penned a letter to State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan demanding an investigation. “I am requesting a report of the incident, how it was handled and a statement of the university’s policies to ensure this type of ‘lesson’ will not occur again,” Scott wrote.
Earlier this month, FAU instructor Deandre Poole told students in an intercultural communications class to write the word “Jesus” on a piece of paper, throw it on the floor and stomp on it. Ryan Rotela, a junior at FAU’s Davie campus, later complained he was thrown out of class when he refused to participate.
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“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,” Rotela told CBS12, a West Palm Beach television station.
Rotela, who describes himself as a devout Mormon, went to Poole’s supervisor two days later to discuss the incident.
FAU officials defended the professor last week, but Rotela told The Palm Beach Post that he and an attorney from the Texas-based Liberty Institute met with FAU Dean of Students Cory King at the school’s Boca Raton campus on Monday and received an apology and a pledge that the disciplinary charges against him would be dropped.
“He apologized in person for what happened and how everything went out of control,” Rotela, 21, who lives in Coral Springs, told the newspaper.
He takes classes part-time at FAU, while working for a landscaping service.
FAU officials did not respond to The Miami Herald about Scott’s letter, but had issued a statement about the incident to The Palm Beach Post.
“This exercise will not be used again,” the statement said. “The University holds dear its core values. We sincerely apologize for any offense this caused. Florida Atlantic University respects all religions and welcomes people of all faiths, backgrounds and beliefs.”
Said Kim Wilmath, a spokeswoman for the State University System of Florida: “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.
“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 incident became fodder on blogs and among conservatives who questioned whether such liberties would have been taken with other religions.
In his letter, Scott makes clear he wants more than merely an apology.
“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 wrote.
“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.”
Miami Herald reporter Erin Jester contributed to this report.