Public School Employee Threatened With Discipline After Offering to Pray for Coworkers

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Private expression of religious faith is under attack in public schools.

Toni Richardson, who works with special needs children at a Maine high school, was approached by school officials for allegedly violating the First Amendment and the “separation of church and state.”

What misdeeds had she committed? She had told a Christian coworker that she was praying for him or her and used phrases including “That’s such a blessing.”

After learning of these supposedly grave violations, school officials told Richardson that telling other teachers “‘I will pray for you’, and ‘you were in my prayers’ is not acceptable—even if that other person attends the same church as you.” She was informed that continuing to “use phrases that integrate private and public beliefs when in public schools” would result in “discipline or dismissal in the future.”

Thankfully, our friends at First Liberty accepted Richardson’s case and filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on her behalf. School officials have since backed off their original claim that Richardson must give up her First Amendment right to free religious expression when she enters school each morning. In an updated memo, they now affirm that “comments such as ‘God Bless You’ or ‘I am praying for you’ are permissible when made to co-workers outside of the hearing of students.”

The Constitution protects a person’s right to express their faith. Public school teachers shouldn’t be forced to pretend as if they aren’t Christians at their workplace. Unfortunately, more and more Christians are finding themselves in the crosshairs of school officials who are armed with a dangerous misinterpretation of the First Amendment and ignorance of the true meaning of “separation of church and state.”

The founding fathers who framed the U.S. Constitution believed that our nation’s schools should teach the Bible and Christian morality. Prayer and Bible classes were once common in public schools. Yet our school system, aided by the Supreme Court, has strayed from this founding conviction.

We’ve not only forgotten the central importance of teaching the Bible and Christian morality to the next generation so that they may faithfully fulfill their obligations as free citizens, but we’ve also begun targeting Christians within the public school system.

Fortunately, Richardson is no longer at risk of losing her job for showing Christian love and care to her coworkers, a privilege many other Christians in public schools currently lack.


This article was originally written for the Indiana Family Institute.


 

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