Praying school bus driver George Nathaniel III was fired by his bus company for praying and singing with students. Nathaniel, a 49 year old pastor of two Minneapolis churches, was serving in his second year as a school bus driver for the Durham School Services bus company under contract to the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage district.
The praying school bus driver admitted that he had been warned on several occasions by the bus company to stop praying with students. But Nathaniel told a local CBS news affiliate, “I’m a preacher and that’s what I do.” Unfortunately, others did not see it the same way.
Upon receiving several complaints about Nathaniel praying with students, the bus company assigned him two new routes with new schools. After continuing to lead students in prayer, Nathaniel was sent a letter of dismissal on October 30 that read, “There have been more complaints of religious material on the bus as well as other complaints regarding performance. In accordance with the previous final written warning you received, your employment is hereby terminated.”
Nathaniel took to the media, feeling that his first amendment rights had been violated. This is not the only recent issue addressing first amendment rights and religion in the news. In Texas, a gay teen was suspended for ripping a Bible in protest against bullies who said he was going to hell.
Nathaniel said he wants to fight for prayer on school buses.
“They are trying to take away every right the Christian has to express our Christian belief in this supposed to have been Christian nation.”
Not everyone agrees that Nathaniel does have the right to express religious freedom on a school bus. In 1962 the Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional for public schools to encourage or lead students in prayer. Since then a series of court decisions have further solidified the official ban on school prayer to include prayers led by any representative of a school. In 2000, the court found that student-led prayers over the school loudspeakers would be unconstitutional. Even this week the Supreme Court was deciding whether prayer should be allowed in government meetings.
Teresa Nelson, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Minnesota, said “the school bus driver has the right to pray on his own time, but when he has a captive audience of kids on a school bus, that would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”
The praying school bus driver is looking to get other local ministers on board with his complaint. He believes that this is an issue worth fighting for. “We got to get Christians to be able to be Christians and not have to be closet Christians,” he said. “You have something good, you are going to share it with somebody.” Do you think the praying school bus driver had his rights violated? Or did he deserve to be fired?