School bus driver George Nathaniel III was fired last week for inviting the children on his routes to pray with him each morning, despite being repeatedly asked by his company to stop, reports CBS Local.
He told media that “To fire a bus driver for praying for the safety of the children” is not right, according to the Star Tribune. He prayed on the bus as he is a pastor at Elite Church of the First Born and Grace Missionary Baptist Church in Minneapolis.
The school district of Burnsville, Minnesota complained to his employers, Durham School Services, who proceeded to give Nathaniel a warning and assign him two new bus routes serving Edward D. Neill Elementary School and Metcalf Junior High School. However, Nathaniel refused to comply with their direction and said, "I let them know I am a pastor and I am going to pray," reports the Star Tribune.
He explained the specific nature of the bus prayers and insisted that he was not coercing students into religious observance. “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.”
He was then sent a more formal letter on Oct. 30, which said, "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.”
Nathaniel sought to emphasize his right to freedom of religion, stating, "They are trying to take away every right the Christian has to express our Christian belief in this supposed to have been Christian nation."
However, ACLU legal director Teresa Nelson said that in her opinion, Nathaniel actually violated the First Amendment by having prayer on a public school bus. She told CBS Local, "The school bus is a captive audience. When he is driving the bus he is acting like a school official and he does not have the right to proselytize or promote religion in that context."