A Minnesota school bus driver who led students in Christian prayer on his route has been fired after he was warned to stop.
George Nathaniel III, 48, who is also a pastor of a Minneapolis church, lost his job after receiving complaints about religious material on his bus. He had received two warnings in the past, was assigned to two new bus routes for Edward D. Neill Elementary School and Metcalf Junior High School in Burnsville. But he continued to lead his student passengers in prayer on the bus, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports.
"I ask the students would they like to pray and if they like to pray they can lead prayer themselves and then I will pray," Nathaniel told CNN. "A couple of routes I had children that chose not to pray and that was fine."
Nathaniel would pray with students on the seven-minute ride to school after the last child boarded the bus.
“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 he asked some parents at bus stops whether they were comfortable with him praying with the children. “The parents I talked with, they were in agreement that I was doing fine,” he said.
When Nathaniel continued to lead students in prayer after being warned, Durham School Services sent him a letter: “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.”
Organized, administration-sponsored prayer in public school was deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1962. It was found to violate the First Amendment, which says the government can’t establish an official religion.
Durham School Services, which operates the buses Nathaniel drove, said the school district’s contract with the company allowed for an employee to be fired if they were deemed unsuitable for the job.
"In terms of the First Amendment, what he was doing violated the First Amendment in my opinion," said Teresa Nelson, ACLU legal director. "He has First Amendment rights to pray, he has a right to his own religion, but there is no constitutional right for school officials to pray with a captive audience of students."
Still, Nathaniel believes he did nothing wrong, adding that he led prayers in school buses he has driven in Wisconsin and Georgia.
"They are trying to take away every right the Christian has to express our Christian belief in this supposed-to-have-been Christian nation," Nathaniel said.