Kendra Turner, a 17-year-old student at Dyer County High School in Tennessee, was suspended from school after saying “bless you” to a student who had just sneezed.
She claims that an unnamed teacher had forbidden her and her classmates from using what the teacher termed “Church Speech” in the classroom. Kendra did not consider that the standard remark made to a sneezing person had any significant religious element to it.
Turner told WMC that the teacher had said, “We’re not going to have godly speaking in her class, and that’s when I said we have a constitutional right.” The teacher was markedly unconcerned with Kendra’s “constitutional right” and sent her to the office of the Principal. Kendra was given a one-day suspension, which was actually a detention as she was not allowed to leave the school grounds.
Beck Binegardner, Kendra’s pastor, explained that these were not the only words that had been banned. Other banned words included:
- I don’t know
- Hang out
- My bad
Kendra’s parents met with the school managers and the teacher involved. The teacher alleged that Kendra had been “disruptive” and “aggressive” in class. She explained that Kendra had shouted the phrase from the other side of the classroom and then argued with her when the teacher called her out for breaking the rules.
Students at the school have shown their support for Kendra by making their own “Bless You” T-shirts as shown above.
Kendra insists that she didn’t set out to get the teacher into trouble but was simply standing up for her “rights.” She added “It’s our constitutional right because we have a freedom of religion and freedom of speech, and it’s alright to defend God.”
The question of “constitutional right” regarding the First Amendment to the Constitution, which deals with the separation of Church and State, has occupied the minds of scholars and lawyers ever since it was drafted.
The Courts have not always interpreted the constitutional principle as absolute, and the proper extent of separation between government and religion in the U.S. remains an ongoing subject of impassioned debate.
Even at Dyer County High School, Tennessee.