BURNSVILLE, Minn., Nov. 8 (UPI) — A bus driver for a Minneapolis-area school district who is also a Christian pastor says his rights were violated when he was fired for praying with students.
Durham School Services, which provides bus transport for the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage district, fired George Nathaniel last week, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported. In a letter to Nathaniel, the company said it had received more complaints after he got a final warning.
Nathaniel, who said he is a pastor at two Minneapolis churches, said no children were forced into anything. He said he would begin his prayers after the last child got on and continue during the 7-minute drive to school.
“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.”
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1962 that school prayers breached the First Amendment ban on an established church.
A spokeswoman for the school district would not comment on Nathaniel’s dismissal but said the district considers the bus ride an extension of the school day.
“The school bus driver has the right to pray on his own time, but when he has a captive audience of kids on a school bus, that would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” said Teresa Nelson, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Minnesota.