School Bus Driver Fired For Praying

-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger

440px-school busGeorge Nathaniel III, a pastor of a church in Minneapolis and school bus driver in Burnsville, Minnesota, was terminated from his school bus driving job. Nathaniel said: “To fire a bus driver for praying for the safety of the children” is not right. It is wrong to fire someone for praying for the safety of the children, but Nathaniel is misrepresenting the facts to portray himself as a victim of the War on Christianity.

Nathaniel related a typical bus ride: “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.” Nathaniel would lead the prayer.

The voluntary nature of the prayer has been addressed by the Supreme Court in Engel v. Vitale (1962). J. Black, wrote in the 6-1 opinion:

Neither the fact that the prayer may be denominationally neutral nor the fact that its observance on the part of the students is voluntary can serve to free it from the limitations of the Establishment Clause …

In his concurrence in Vitale, J. Douglas cited McGowan v. Maryland (1961), where J. Warren wrote: “The First Amendment commands government to have no interest in theology or ritual,” and that on “matters of this kind government must be neutral.” J. Douglas also noted:

The First Amendment leaves the Government in a position not of hostility to religion, but of neutrality.

Ruth Dunn, communications director for the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District, 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, noted that the bus driver has a “captive audience of kids on a school bus” and that Nathaniel’s actions would violate the Establishment Clause.

Operating a school bus should occupy the driver’s complete attention. A momentary lapse could be disastrous. Leading singing and prayers would distract even the most competent driver.

As Jeffrey Shulman notes: “at common law the parent had a “sacred right” to the custody of his or her child, that the parent’s right to control the upbringing of the child was almost absolute.” Nathaniel, in leading the children in prayer, had usurped their parent’s authority.

Nathaniel just couldn’t resist. He had a captive audience of children who were too young to object and lacked the education to offer reasoned counterarguments to his faith claims. If religious faith was anything more that imaginary, its adherents wouldn’t need to pick on the most gullible members of society.

“To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicine to the dead, or endeavoring to convert an atheist by scripture.” (Thomas Paine)

H/T: Austin Cline, Laurie Blake and Erin Adler, CBS Minnesota, Ed Brayton.

194 thoughts on “School Bus Driver Fired For Praying”

  1. David,
    The way any law works, whether a State or Federal statue, or the Constitution itself, is that over time the interpretation of that law is up to appellate courts. That is how case law (as opposed to statutory law) works. I know that a number of people on this blog have tried to explain that to you, but you steadfastly go back to look for whatever it was the original authors of the Constitution may have meant–as if you can get inside the heads of men who have been dead for two hundred years. The law means what appellate courts say it means, and by appellate courts, that includes the SCOTUS.

    1. OS wrote: “The law means what appellate courts say it means, and by appellate courts, that includes the SCOTUS.”

      You did not appeal to common law, but to the Establishment Clause of the Constitution which you said should not be ignored. The principles of Textualism and Originalism that I employed are well established methods of judicial interpretation used by the appellate courts. Rather than introduce rational arguments for where I might have gone wrong, you decide instead to patronize me and suggest instead that I do not understand that the meaning of the Constitution has been changed by the appellate courts.

      Please explain exactly where and how the appellate courts created the bizarre meaning that you have given it.

      As I pointed out in my previous post, the appellate courts have ruled contrary to your opinion. For example, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals opined: “the President is free to make appeals to the public based on many kinds of grounds, including political and religious, and that such requests do not obligate citizens to comply and do not encroach on citizens’ rights.”

      The primary job of the judiciary is to apply the law to specific circumstances. Ultimately, a clear reading of the text of law trumps all judicial decisions. The history of appellate courts shows that they meander around, back and forth, changing their emphasis according to the times and cultures in which they live. The deplorable Dred Scott case is a fine example of how that happens. We should rely upon the text of the Constitution and our understanding of its original meaning over any so-called “Lemon Tests” or other devices that the courts try to device as a form of pseudo-judicial legislation.

  2. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech; however, the Establishment Clause cannot be ignored.

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…..

    If a government agent promotes any religion on government time, it is a violation of the Establishment Clause. The apparent contradiction between the Establishment Clause and the clause about about freedom of speech are not in conflict. He can do whatever he wants on his own time. But when he is on the taxpayer’s payroll, he is not free to violate the Establishment Clause.

    There was good reason for the founders to put that clause in there. They were still smarting from the harm done to them by official state religions. My first ancestor to the colonies arrived in 1629. He was a Huguenot, and got out of France one jump ahead of Richelieu’s hangmen. Some of my Irish ancestors fled Ireland in the “Flight of the Wild Geese,” escaping Cromwell’s pogrom. Their experience was typical of many early settlers, and the founders were sensitive to those issues.

    When a government employee tries to tell me what I should believe, that is a violation of my own Constitutional rights to be left alone with regard to religion.

    1. OS wrote: “If a government agent promotes any religion on government time, it is a violation of the Establishment Clause.”

      I don’t deny that some of your thinking is in accord with popular modern legal interpretation over the last 50 years, but it is out of sync with the Constitution and the intention of the framers.

      At the time of ratification of the Establishment Clause, the Fourteenth Amendment did not exist. Some states had established state religions, yet they had no problem ratifying the First Amendment. The thinking was not as you say, that “a government agent cannot promote any religion on government time.” If the First Amendment were worded like this, it NEVER would have been ratified by the States and become part of our Constitution. We have to step back and realize that you are expressing your OPINION of what you want the First Amendment to mean.

      The truth is that the First Amendment only restricts the respecting of AN ESTABLISHMENT of religion. This means that government action should not favor one particular establishment of religion over another. For example, legislation should not favor the Baptists over the Presbyterians or vice versa.

      Government officials can acknowledge God and perform their official duty of office through acknowledging God, expressing thankfulness to God, and through praying. Congress does this every time they meet. President Obama has done this not only with his oath of office, but at every State of the Union address that I have heard him give. Congress can, and in fact has, decreed a day like Christmas with obvious religious implications to be a federal holiday. Congress has instituted through government action a National Day of Prayer. Every President of the United States of America since the law was passed has, in his capacity as a government agent, signed a proclamation every year encouraging all Americans to pray. The court ruled that the President is free to make many appeals to the public, both political and religious. So as the facts show, your interpretation of the Establishment Clause is entirely inaccurate. Government agents can and have promoted religion on government time.

      I might also note that because atheists do not consider themselves a religion, it could be argued that it is perfectly constitutional for the government to favor theism over atheism.

  3. David, you keep saying how this is a violation of a mans freedom of speech and is not allowing him freedom to follow his religion. He was not fired for being religious. He was fired because he was continuously pushing his religion upon other peoples children. I am not personally a religious person, and also not against people who are, but as a bus driver, I know just how easy it is to lose focus.
    The moment he stepped onto his bus, he was getting paid to safely transport children to and from school. In my training for driving a school bus, it was discouraged to have so much as a distracting conversation with the passengers, because a moments lapse in focus could result in a fatal traffic accident. Him leading children in song and prayer, voluntary or not, is completely irrelevant. Every moment you take your eyes or mind off of the road is the moment that the unthinkable can happen.
    If he wants to pray, then he can pray for the safety of the children before departing, and then he can thank whichever God he believes in for the safe delivery of the students upon returning. If he were not fired for leading children in religious prayers and songs, then he would probably be fired for endangering the students by not focusing on the road.

    1. Casey wrote: “He was fired because he was continuously pushing his religion upon other peoples children.”

      Advocating for one’s religion is exactly the kind of thing that the First Amendment protects. The question here hinges upon the venue being a private captive audience, and the fact that the audience is a group of minors.

      I certainly agree that there are limits to which he should be involved in any kind of advocacy. I would say that religious expression is okay, but religious advocacy is not, but the demarcation between these might be rather subjective. If he is just being his jovial self, expressing who he is as a person, encouraging jovial singing together from students who want to sing on the bus, and giving the green light to children that they can pray on the bus for the other children, then I don’t have a problem with it. In my opinion, it furthers the education of the children by exposing them to the man’s culture. I would support it no matter what religion the bus driver belonged to. I wish I had some Muslim bus drivers when I was a child to act in this manner so I could learn in a more personal way what Muslims are about.

      Casey wrote: “Every moment you take your eyes or mind off of the road is the moment that the unthinkable can happen.”

      Safety is a very fair point. It would be grounds for firing. I haven’t seen any evidence or even the accusation that he was endangering their safety. He apparently did his job properly and transported the children safely as he was expected to do.

      People can exaggerate and claim he was holding some kind of prayer meeting on the bus, but that is not at all the sense that I get for what was happening. I think he was fired because of religious discrimination. He was a religious man who believed his religion should be expressed publicly. People who do not like religion or who think religion should be a private matter would take offense at his religion. We live in a pluralistic society with tolerance toward religion, so I don’t think that should be grounds for firing him anymore than if he was talking politics from time to time and encouraging school children to recite the Gettysburg address.

  4. gbk:

    “Is your outlook stable, Bron? Or should we digress in time to a long thread where you claimed a philosophy has to be whole with no adaptations, no syncretism?

    Your arguments over time show no real conviction, which presents a paradox for me as you seem so sure in any given moment.”

    I am practicing pragmatism and utilitarianism. You guys showed me the errors of my ways. Why be a binary thinker when I can take a little bit of this and a little bit of that and use it where and how as is my want. It is really freeing, why be constrained by Ayn Rand and Objectivism when there are a plethora of ideas from which to imbibe and use as necessary.

    Free your mind gbk, I think I like pragmatism and utilitarianism and maybe even a little subjectivism. Why be in doubt about one thing when you can just think any old way you want about everything?

    You seem overly fixated on what I have to say, I am curious as to why? Dont get me wrong, I am flattered that you analyze my missives with such scrutiny. I do appreciate the feedback from someone with your obvious intelligence.

    If you take this as snark so be it but I am sincere about the last sentence, I do think you are brilliant. I wish you would post more, I imagine it would be very interesting to read.

  5. Natural Logarithm Not Accepted By Local School Board

    The local school board of Ignarus County decided by a 6-1 vote to disallow the teaching of the natural logarithm.

    When asked about this decision, board chairperson Oblivia Cuestión noted that the natural logarithm was based on irrational and transcendental concepts.

    “The board felt that it was not in the student’s best interests to teach irrational ideas, let alone transcendental,” stated Ms. Cuestión.

    “The board,” continued Ms. Cuestión, “felt it was better to leave transcendental concepts alone — especially if it leads to irrationalism; we feel this is best for all.”

  6. davidm2575
    1, November 20, 2013 at 8:19 pm
    Pete wrote: “that tells where everything else he writes comes from.”

    Yeah, I write from experience. I challenge you to study the case I mentioned in Santa Rosa County Florida. What the ACLU did there is despicable. You can start your study here:


    your link proves my point and you don’t realize it. i grew up with well intentioned people trying to share with me their religion in public school. it only works if you’re all part of the same club. public schools should not teach religion or religious conformity, period.

  7. Davidm,

    Do you intentionally misconstrue facts or do you not care? or don’t you know the difference….

  8. AY,

    There is nothing more depraved and desperate than a chicken in the depths of a crack binge.

  9. David is like a lot of so called Christians. He thinks you’ve got freedom of religion just so long as it is his religion of choice. The bus driver was a public employee proselytizing on the clock to a captive audience. That’s the very portrait of endorsement and fails the Lemon test on its face. He’s free to preach all he likes or drive a public school bus all he likes but he is not free to do both at the same time. His rights end where the rights of others begin. Their rights include a right to be free of governmental endorsement of a specific religion and that means from government employees on the clock.

    Why is that such a difficult concept for Libertarians (or Fundamentalists for that matter) to grasp?

  10. Gene,

    So true and then again they’d probably want them off the bus because they are a family of crackheads and should be tested for future benefits …..

  11. AY,

    The egg. Somewhere, somewhen, there was a very surprised mother biird who was probably accused by some father bird of some hanky panky. But what do you expect? Birds are poor students in genetics. Always pecking instead of hittin’ the books.

  12. How about the a methodist black preacher being suspended by the church because he performed a marriage for a same sex couple….. In which one of the participants was his son……

  13. Religion gets tax breaks that the rest of us don’t Bron….. Property and income is exempt….. Hmmmmm,…. What cha think …..

  14. Bron,

    “Religious people pay taxes to support public schools, or is it only a one way street?”

    Everyone pays taxes, Bron. Are you suggesting “religious people” should be excluded from this? Please see above for your exclusions of inclusiveness.

  15. Annie,

    That’d present problems…. Because then they’d want to know why the chicken crossed the road and which came first the chicken or the egg….

  16. Bron,

    Public school — by definition — is inclusive.

    If you desire exclusions to this inclusiveness, then there are other options.

    Not so surprisingly, these exclusions are arguments you’ve made over the years, yet, here you are claiming your concerns were excluded.

    Is your outlook stable, Bron? Or should we digress in time to a long thread where you claimed a philosophy has to be whole with no adaptations, no syncretism?

    Your arguments over time show no real conviction, which presents a paradox for me as you seem so sure in any given moment.

  17. AY, LOL. Bone rattling fun after the chicken has been eaten. The children would learn some anatomy and then get a lesson in home ec. as well as a lesson in Santerian sacrificial technique.

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