MARK D. BURTON
Before House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution
Field Hearing in Tampa, Florida
June 23, 1995
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. I am
grateful for this opportunity. My name is Mark Burton. I am
here today before this committee because in March of this
year my ten-year-old son Joshua was humiliated before his
classmates by his teacher and principal from his local
elementary school and both he and my daughter were kicked
out of school over the simple action of my son bringing his
Bible to class and reading it in his spare time. Joshua was
told by his teacher that there was a separation of church
and state and that it was not appropriate for him to bring
his Bible to school. "If you were in a private school it
would be different," the teacher explained, "but it's not.
This is a public school."
The next day he was pulled out of class and told by the
principal of the school that he could bring his Bible to
school but he was absolutely not to let anyone hear him
reading it and he was not allowed to talk about it or share
his faith. The very next day he brought this Bible to school
and was reading it out on the courtyard before school time.
Two children threatened to turn him in because according to
what they had heard the principal say, what Joshua was doing
When Joshua got to class, he was told by his teacher that he
had been reported for reading his Bible outside and that he
would have to go to the office. My son was sent to the
office and was made to sit facing the wall, where he stayed
all day, not
being allowed to attend his regular classes and not allowed
to eat lunch with his classmates.
I called the school and set an appointment to talk to
the principal. I impressed on my son that there was nothing
wrong with his Bible and that he could take his Bible to
school if he wanted. As soon as he took his Bible back to
school, it was confiscated from him by the school principal
who came into the classroom during class time and demanded
that Joshua relinquish his Bible to her. This was so
upsetting and humiliating to my son that he began to cry. A
child should never have to experience that kind of
degradation at the hands of an adult. My son did nothing
wrong. He only wanted to bring to school and read the
cherished writing of his faith. He was made to feel like he
was a terrible person for doing so, and the Bible was a
terrible book. The kids in his class gathered around him to
comfort him because he was so upset he was crying after the
principal took his Bible. The teacher, expressing no
sympathy at all, sent him out of the class and back to the
office, where he stayed in detention for the rest of the
day. For an hour and a half, Joshua was interrogated by the
principal and four other adults. During that time, he was
not allowed to call his parents, nor did the school attempt
to call us.
Joshua's mother and I arrived home that evening over
two hours after Joshua had been dismissed from school, only
to find our son extremely emotionally distraught and still
crying. He was so unsettled by the events that had taken
place that he was shaking all over and his mother and I had
a difficult time calming him down.
I spoke to the school principal after these events,
only to encounter extreme hostility. She told me that she
was in charge of the kids from the time they got on the bus
in the morning until they got off the bus in the afternoon
and that she had full authority to determine what they could
and could not do. She told me she didn't care if it was the
Bible, the Koran, or whatever, students cannot read that
kind of material at school. By her actions, she has created
a very hostile environment for children of any faith.
Children of faith should not have to go to school looking
over their shoulder living in fear that they will be turned
in and punished simply for expressing their faith or for
reading material sacred to them. What I find the most
disturbing is that this principal felt she was on very
comfortable ground legally to do what she did.
Personally I know this is not an isolated incident.
When I was in high school, Christian kids from the school
would meet together before class on the campus like many of
the other social clubs would do. I faced ridicule from the
principal and teachers because of my faith. At one point I
was called into the office by the assistant principal who
told me that we would have to give up meeting so much
because, and I quote, "I do not want it to get around the
community that I am allowing a 'prayer meeting' to go on on
It seems to me that in this age where children are
taught by the state school system that they must be tolerant
of racial differences, tolerant of homosexuality, tolerant
of political differences, and tolerant of cultural and
language diversity, that this same system should be tolerant
when it comes to religious freedom.
So Mr. Chairman, on behalf of many people such as
Joshua and myself, I urge you to do whatever is within your
power to secure for us a future tolerant to the people of
faith, to ensure that the protection of our Constitution and
the Bill of Rights is extended to include "we the people."
Instead of an environment hostile to people of faith, we can
create a society encompassing and embracing people and
allowing them to express their beliefs without fear of
reprisal. Thank you.