Honorable Subcommittee: My name is April Fiore, and I am here today to share with you my d

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Honorable Subcommittee: My name is April Fiore, and I am here today to share with you my daughter's experience at Middleton Middle School of Technology in Tampa, Florida. My daughter Rebecca carried her Bible to school regularly for two years and read the Bible with her friends at lunch. Reading her Bible in school never seemed to be a problem until she made an appointment with the principal, David Best, and requested permission to hold prayer sessions at the flag pole. It is my belief that her request irritated the school administrators, for later that day Rebecca and two of her friends were approached by the assistant principal and told to put their Bibles away. If they disobeyed this order, the assistant principal told them, they would face a ten-day suspension--the same penalty for students who bring drugs to school. The girls chose to openly carry their Bibles on the next day of school because they knew they had a constitutional right to do so. The assistant principal saw the girls carrying their Bibles along with their other books in the school hallway. She told them to keep the Bibles in their lockers or book bags until they returned home. Later she saw them again with their Bibles in the hall, and then told them to report to the student affairs office because she was going to suspend them. These girls were not interrupting any school activity--they were merely carrying Bibles. Rebecca told Mrs. Hoffman that I had told her she had a constitutional right to carry a Bible. Mrs. Hoffman replied that she didn't care about Rebecca's constitutional rights. Once the girls entered the office their files were pulled--this was the beginning of the administrators' intimidation. The girls were told that they were less than average students, and that they probably didn't deserve the privilege of attending Middleton, a magnet school emphasizing computers and technology. They were told that if they wanted to make a stand for their rights, they were more than welcome to do so in a regular neighborhood school. After this, the assistant principal, Mrs. Hoffman, notified my husband and the other girls' parents of the suspensions. One parent was unable to pick his daughter up, so she was placed in in-school suspension for the remainder of the day. When I spoke to Mrs. Hoffman, she told me that the girls alienated other students by sitting in the lunch room reading their Bibles. She further said that their actions were unnatural, and that the school did not approve of cliques. She also said that Rebecca, my daughter, had a major problem with defiance because she refused to hide her Bible. Mrs. Hoffman informed me that the administration was ready to remove Rebecca from the school. The other girls were both admitted back into school the following day after their parents agreed to insure they would not bring their Bibles back to school. Rebecca did not wish to make that concession, so we contacted the Rutherford Institute, who faxed a letter to the school that morning. We also contacted local lawyer David Gibbs, who joined us in our meeting with the school principal, Mr. Best. During this meeting Mr. Best assured us that Rebecca was a fine student, that her grades were not below average, and that the entire episode had been a misunderstanding. Adolescence is a difficult time of life. Our children are searching for their identity. These girls were very much in tune with who they were and what they believed, but the school told them they were less than adequate and that they did not have the right to question authority--at least not in that particular school. These girls, including my daughter, took away the lesson that they were wrong to stand up for their beliefs, that they should be like everyone else, that they should not make waves. Although many teachers supported Rebecca, one teacher told my daughter's friends that they should not hang around her because she was a trouble maker. My daughter and her friends heard this unspoken message loud and clear. Soon after this incident they stopped carrying their Bibles to school and seemed to lose their desire to go to church. Why? Because they learned that being a religious person made them different and unnatural. Though we won a battle when we met with the school administrator and our lawyer, I fear we are losing the war. I urge you to support the proposed amendment before you. This amendment could put an end to the confusion over the separation of church and state. School officials seem to fear even the mention of religion in school lest they cross over the line. With this amendment, all misunderstandings could be laid to rest and others will not have to go through the trials that my daughter and many others have endured. Our country has imprinted our money, even the lowliest penny, with the motto "In God We Trust." Our children are the future leaders of this country Will we send the message that our foundational values are nothing but vain talk? That choice, honored subcommittee, rests in your hands.

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