Prayers on a bus. No, it’s not the sequel to Snakes on a Plane. It’s literally something that happened on a school bus in Minnesota. A pastor named George Nathaniel was fired from the school district where he was a bus driver for prayers on his bus. Star Tribune:
A bus driver for the Burnsville school district was fired last week for leading kids in Christian prayers on his bus, even after he was warned to stop — a move he considers a violation of his freedom of speech.
George Nathaniel, 49, of Richfield, who is also a pastor for a pair of Minneapolis churches, was in his second year as a school bus driver for a company under contract to the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage district.
After receiving a complaint from the district about the prayers, the bus company, Durham School Services, gave Nathaniel a warning and assigned him two new bus routes serving Edward D. Neill Elementary School and Metcalf Junior High School in Burnsville, he said.
That didn’t dissuade Nathaniel. “I let them know I am a pastor and I am going to pray,” he said.
Nathaniel prayed during the seven-minute ride to school after the last child got on board.
“We start out with a song,” he said. “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.”
Nathaniel said that he’s a pastor at the Elite Church of the First Born and for Grace Missionary Baptist Church, both in Minneapolis, and that he prayed on the route all last year, as well.
Ruth Dunn, communications director for the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District, declined to comment on the prayers but said, “We do consider the school bus to be an extension of the school day when it pertains to student behavior and support.”
Teresa Nelson, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union 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.”
Ok, let’s talk about this.
Full disclosure: I’m Christian and I pray.
I’m also a parent and as those of you who have followed my blog know very well that I am fiercely defensive of my children. Most parents are. As a mom, I don’t like outside influences I may or may not agree with like this being placed on my kids during school or in a school related setting.
Do I consider prayer to be a negative influence? No. Do I think it is appropriate for a figure of authority such as a bus driver to be busting out in prayer with ‘voluntary’ participation on the bus? No. Does the pastor have a right to pray on his own before getting on the bus? Yep. Does he have the right to announce his intention to pray and which would allow anyone to join him prior to getting on the bus? I’d say ‘Yep’ again. That’s a fine line, but I think a an argument could be made that is the driver exercising his religious freedom prior to engaging in his duties. A good litmus test would be to see how would the district react to a bus driver wearing the hijab?
I’m sure there is someone out there reading this asking, ‘what about the Pledge of Allegiance, that mentions God?’ To that I’d answer that saying the pledge is not voluntary nor led by a religious figure, or really any figure for that matter. It’s an oath to our nation and yes, it gives a nod to our nation’s Christian foundations. That’s not proselytizing.
I’d say that same voluntary principle applies to the opening of government meetings by saying a prayer with the application that these are adults, not children and have the wherewithall to participate or abstain. If they are insulted simply by the act of it, then I maintain the problem is not with the prayer but the adult objectors. The ACLU sued in North Carolina over this very issue of prayer at the beginning of meetings and a judge ruled in their favor – sort of. The judge ruled they couldn’t open with prayer to a specific group. Rowan county commissioners held their prayer anyway. Another such case is going on that involves the town of Greece, NY. That case is being heard by the Supreme Court right now. From 13 WHAM with emphasis added:
WASHINGTON (AP) – The Supreme Court wrestled Wednesday with the appropriate role for religion in government in a case involving mainly Christian prayers at the start of a New York town’s council meetings.
The justices began their day with the marshal’s customary plea that “God save the United States and this honorable court.” They then plunged into a lively give-and-take that highlighted the sensitive nature of offering religious invocations in public proceedings that don’t appeal to everyone and governments’ efforts to police the practice.
The court is weighing a federal appeals court ruling that said the Rochester suburb of Greece, N.Y., violated the Constitution because nearly every prayer in an 11-year span was overtly Christian.
The tenor of the argument indicated the justices would not agree with the appellate ruling. But it was not clear what decision they might come to instead.
Justice Elena Kagan summed up the difficult task before the court when she noted that “every time the court gets involved in things like this, it seems to make the problem worse rather than better.”
The justices tried out several approaches to the issue, including one suggested by the two Greece residents who sued over the prayers to eliminate explicit references to any religion.
Justice Samuel Alito pointed to the country’s religious diversity to voice his skepticism about the call for only nonsectarian prayer. “I just don’t see how it is possible to compose anything that you could call a prayer that is acceptable to all of these groups,” Alito said.
Read More at 13WHAM.com
If the highest court in the land opens their day up this way and Congress itself opens up sessions with prayer, how is it not ok for local jurisdictions to do the same? Just a question to consider..
Voluntary and Involuntary Audiences
These kids on this bus were indeed a captive audience and whether or not this prayer was voluntary or not is not the question. It’s not an appropriate setting. The school district made the right call here. One bus driver in the article said that these teachings belong at home and I concur with that:
Gayla Colin, a bus driver for 13 years in the district, says she “absolutely” sees her time on the bus with kids as an extension of the school day. She said that though she is a Christian, she would never think of praying on the bus. “It’s not appropriate,” she said. “That belongs at home, the teachings.”
The article notes some parents were fine with it:
“I think if someone is praying, they can either be included in it or not,” Williams said. “If they don’t like it, they can just ignore it.”
I agree in theory here, but these are elementary and middle school kids. I would argue a high school kid can make up their own mind if they want to engage. A child of a younger age set is very impressionable and often engage approval seeking behavior. Participating in something because they are asked to is a patterned behavior in classrooms everywhere. These younger kids, whether they are of a similar faith or not, would not have the same decision-making processes an older child would have as to whether or not they should engage in this situation.
The argument surrounding whether he is employed by a contract bus group or not makes little difference. This agency is hired by the school system and therefore makes this pastor/bus driver an agent of the state. I don’t think anyone can argue that a school bus driver is not a position of authority and to employ prayer services (voluntary or not) in such a capacity is a no-no.
The US News article also notes that the district has a high Muslim population. One might infer this prayer also might have been about activism or conversion on the pastor’s part. An intervention, if you will. I think you will see more of that kind of activity as conditions in the Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan area begin to deteriorate. By deteriorate, I mean the imposition of sharia zones like the UK is now seeing. [Related: Sharia is coming, Baby! ] It’s also worth noting that if this type of activity had taken place in a sharia compliant nation, this pastor would be dead by now after being deemed guilty of proselytizing.
So while we are protecting one set of citizens Constitutional rights with the firing of this pastor/bus driver, we should also be aware of the violation of another citizen’s Constitutional rights. Controversial Pastor Terry Jones was arrested this past September before he could burn 2,998 kerosene soaked Korans on the 12th anniversary of 9/11. Some experts say this violated his Constitutional right to free speech. Police say he was ‘transporting fuel’ in an illegal manner.
I think Jones has had a target on his back for a while now. I don’t agree with burning books of any kind personally, but whether you disagree with his methods or not, his right to do so is not the question. I’ve noted in past articles that freedom of religion and free speech are under assault under the current administration, the police watching Jones to cut him off at the pass should remind you of Nakoula and his YouTube video getting blamed for Benghazi. If it doesn’t you’re not paying close enough attention to the ‘shutuppery’ narrative there. [Related: Freedom of Speech In Obama's America]