-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger
George 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)