Many people are under the (false) impression that the sharing of religion in some settings is unconstitutional. This myth has been propagated for so long that people have begun to believe it. However, even through this mass misunderstanding of what the First amendment protects and prohibits, there are even still periods of ignorance as to what is permissible and what is not.
(NBCLosAngeles) — A Southern California school district is under fire for preventing a first grader from handing out to his classmates candy canes with religious messages, a lawyer for the student said.
After conferring with the principal at Merced Elementary School in West Covina on Dec. 13, a teacher told the student, 6-year-old Isaiah Martinez, “Jesus is not allowed in school.”
“I was shocked,” he said. “I was like, ‘Wow, they really just said no.’”
He said the teacher then threw the messages in the trash before handing the candy back to him to pass out to his classmates.
What the school did was illegal. The teacher and principal violated 6 year-old Isaiah’s first amendment right to free speech and expression. No government entity, whether it is a school or an employer may censor speech based solely on its content being religious. In this case, the teacher would not have been permitted to pass out a religious message, but may not prevent students voluntarily doing so.
A school bus driver was recently fired for praying with and leading students in prayer during the bus ride.
(Washington Times) — A Minnesota man who’s a pastor by trade and bus driver by school day said he was fired for leading the students in his charge in Christian prayers
“To fire a bus driver for praying for the safety of the children” isn’t right, said George Nathaniel III, 49, who’s a pastor for two Minneapolis-area churches and who has driven a school bus for Durham School Services for two years, The Daily Mail reported.
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Durham said “the company does not have a specific policy on the subject of prayer,” the newspaper reported.
School administrators said they’ve warned Mr. Nathaniel via letters that his prayers aren’t welcome on the bus. And Teresa Nelson, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union in 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 Daily Mail reported.
Mr. Nathaniel described his school bus prayers as beginning “with a song. Then each person will pray if they want to pray. If they don’t want to pray, they don’t have to pray. Then I will pray and ask them if they want to join me in prayer. Just give them something constructive and positive to go to school with,” The Daily Mail said.
The school fired him, though. Yet, Mr. Nathaniel still stood defiant.
“I’m a preacher, and that’s what I do,” he said.
Mr. Nathaniel overstepped his role and was rightly terminated. As a school bus driver, Mr. Nathaniel is an acting representative of the government as commissioned by the school district. He may not lead the children in his care in any kind of prayer. Mr. Nathaniel was graciously given warnings which he openly stood in defiance of.
This is not a case of a war on Christianity, it is happening, but this isn’t an example. I understand the urge to push back against a concerted effort to silence the Christian message. I push back too. Mr. Nathaniel simply couldn’t separate his zeal for preaching and his responsibilities to his job as a bus driver.
It’s important to know what your rights are as a citizen, employee, employer, or student when it comes to religious speech. Tragically, there has been an institutionalized misinterpretation of the First Amendment, which only prevents Congress from making a law establishing a religion. However, we still have to navigate the waters of constitutional ignorance.