NORTH RICHLAND HILLS — Isaiah Smith is no stranger to crusades.He’s spoken out on gay rights before, last year appearing before the Keller City Council on the need for an anti-discrimination ordinance.But when the 18-year-old Birdville High School senior spoke out for gay rights in class this week after he said he was bullied — ripping apart his Bible to make a point — it earned him a three-day suspension.Smith said the suspension is unfair and that he intends to sue the district to remove the disciplinary action from his record. An attorney from the American Humanist Association has taken on his case for free.“At my high school, some kids like to say that being gay is a sin and that you can’t be gay and Christian,” Smith said. “I wanted to bring my Bible to school and interpret the books of Leviticus and Romans, because they are often used to bully gay people.”Mark Thomas, a spokesman for the Birdville School District initially said that, while federal law prevents him from talking specifically about what happened, any student who disrupts the learning environment will be disciplined according to the BISD Student Code of Conduct.But later Thomas added that Smith’s suspension had nothing to do with the passages in the Bible but with the student’s behavior.Thomas said that the district, after hearing about Smith’s claims that he was being bullied, has initiated an inquiry into his claims.“I can assure you that the district investigates and addresses all reports of bullying that it receives,” Thomas said.Bible protestThe incident began Monday when Smith said he brought his Bible to his first-period Spanish class after earlier being bullied for his sexual orientation.He described how a substitute teacher was overseeing the class that day when students began taunting him about how he was going to hell.Smith said he then started tearing out pages from the Book of Leviticus explaining that when he is bullied, other students often quote Leviticus.“I think the Bible was a tool for Christians to use to guide them spiritually, emotionally and mentally,” he said.Smith described how Vice Principal Glenn Serviente told him he could bring his Bible to school, but could not rip it apart in class. Serviente, when contacted by the Star-Telegram, referred all questions to Thomas.Smith said he carried around his ripped Bible the remainder of the day and Tuesday without incident, but on Wednesday was called to Serviente’s office and reprimanded.Smith said the assistant principal asked him how Muslims would feel if someone ripped the Quran. Smith responded they would not like it but that he tore up his own Bible, not something belonging to someone else.Smith said he was told of his suspension, and then described how Serviente “reached around” and confiscated the ripped Bible and put it in his desk.Smith provided his discipline slip to the Star-Telegram. It stated that the nature of the problem was “distraction and disruption in class by tearing up Bible in class.”First Amendment rightsBill Burgess, an attorney from the Washington, D.C, organization American Humanist Association wrote in an Oct. 31 letter that he wants the Birdville district to expunge Smith’s record of his suspension.He contends the district is violating Smith’s First Amendment rights.“Isaiah’s Bible was not the source of disruption, the bullying was. Instead of reprimanding the bullies, the school punished Isaiah for offering an alternative viewpoint on the Bible,” he wrote.Smith is to return to class Monday, according to his suspension slip.
Elizabeth Campbell, 817-390-7696 Twitter: @fwstliz