“Jesus Stomping” Sounds Bad, But It’s Not

A classroom exercise at a small Florida college makes national news.

Fueled by Fox News, the stomping of Jesus and the young man who tried to stop it has become a national story, a national outrage and a state investigation. Jesus stomping does sound bad.

It’s not.

Deandre Poole teaches Intercultural Communications at Florida Atlantic University. For the past few years, he has instructed his students to write the name “Jesus” on a piece of paper, place the paper on the floor, stand on it, and then stomp on it. Then students are asked to tell the class how they feel.

The exercise is meant to teach students that we give symbols their meaning. A piece of paper can become suddenly sacred with five letters. It is a deep and important lesson, although it could have been taught without the standing and stomping part. Still, the teacher did nothing wrong, especially since he told his students they didn’t have to take part in the exercise if they didn’t want to.

Junior Ryan Rotella, a devout Mormon, not only opted out of the exercise, he didn’t want anyone else to do it either, ever. Rotella complained to the university that the Jesus stomping was unprofessional, sacrilegious and offensive. He wasn’t wrong either, even though he took the story to the media.

So a classroom exercise at a small college in Florida became a national story. Florida Governor Rick Scott saw an opportunity to shore up his Republican base for a re-election bid by ordering a state investigation. Christian groups have threatened protests and lawsuits. They are all missing the point.

There is a strong anti-religion and anti-Christian movement in this country, and that’s repulsive in a country founded on tolerance and religious freedom. Many have argued that the professor never would have tried the same exercise with the name Mohammed, and that is probably true.

Still, I have a hard time believing that Poole is a Christ basher. That was not his intent. He was attempting to teach a meaningful lesson. The fact that his methods were clumsy should not cause a national uproar. The story was just too convenient for those who want to pander and incite.

Florida Atlantic University has apologized for the classroom exercise and says it will be discontinued. That was the right thing to do. But Ryan Rotella says he has been suspended over the incident. Assuming that the disciplinary action is truly about the incident and not some action by Rotella that we don’t know about, like sending a threatening or harassing email, then the University is dead wrong. This isn’t a freedom of religion issue; it is a freedom of speech issue.

And, of course, the ironic moral of the story is that this whole controversy just proves the point of Poole’s now banned exercise.