A Minneapolis, Minnesota-based Christian pastor and school bus driver was terminated last week after he violated two warnings issued by the school district and the subcontractor company that he worked for in which he was asked to refrain from leading students in prayer.
George Nathaniel, who pastors the Elite Church of the First Born and Grace Missionary Baptist Church, received separate complaint letters from the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage district and Durham School Services, a school bus operating company, in addition to his reassignment for different bus routes. However, Nathaniel dismissed their reprimands and continued his daily prayers during the children's school ride.
"I let them know I am a pastor and I am going to pray," Nathaniel said, according to StarTribune.com. "To fire a bus driver for praying for the safety of the children is not right."
The termination letter that Nathaniel received from Durham School Services addressed the increase of complaints regarding "religious material" on the bus as well as complaints about his performance. In their last warning to him, they also forewarned him of possible termination if he did not comply.
Although Durham does not have a specific policy regarding prayer, the company's contract with the school district states that an employee can be let go if they are deemed "unsuitable" for their job.
Nathaniel was in his second year as a bus driver for the district and during his tenure, he initiated prayer during the entire ride to school which would begin with a song each day as his way of giving students "something constructive and positive to go to school with." He also said he did not force students to pray but he welcomed anyone that was open to the idea.
According to Teresa Nelson, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, school bus drivers are indistinguishable from any other school district employee when it comes to their responsibility to avoid endorsement of religion since busses are operated by the school district, either directly or indirectly through a contract with a private company.
"His conduct was particularly troubling because students on a school bus are a captive audience. Students who did not wish to participate in the prayer would undoubtedly feel pressure to participate in that setting," Nelson said to The Christian Post.
She added, "The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits school officials from endorsing or promoting religion. This includes school officials leading students in prayers on school grounds or during school-related activities."
However, according to Nathaniel, his prayer sessions were of no "harm" because he said he spoke with a few parents who were in agreement with him about praying while transporting their children. He also said he has led prayer while being employed as a bus driver in Wisconsin and Georgia in previous years.
"We got to get Christians to be able to be Christians and not have to be closet Christians," said Nathaniel. "You have something good, you are going to share it with somebody."