Minnesota resident Edward Nathaniel III (pictured), a pastor of two churches who moonlighted as a school bus driver, was allegedly fired last week, after leading children in Christian prayer while driving, according to CBS Minnesota.
The 49-year-old minister worked for the Burnsville School District for two years as a driver and argues that he never force fed his praying ritual to his captive audience of elementary and junior high school students. Instead, he gave them a choice, “I ask[ed] the students would they like to pray, and if they like to pray, then they can lead prayer themselves and then I will pray,” he said. “[On] a couple of routes, I had children that chose not to pray and that was fine.”
Nathaniel’s spiritual routine would last about seven minutes after the last child boarded the bus, “We start out with a song,” he told Gawker. “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.”
Unfortunately for the pastor, his firing allegedly stemmed from the complaints the district received; Nathaniel’s bus route is primarily made up of Muslim families.
Apparently, Nathaniel was previously warned about his evangelizing ways by the district. “The company gave me a written warning that you cannot pray on the bus,” he said. “No parent complained to me, personally, so I just heard it from the district.”
The district warning fell on deaf ears, though, because Nathaniel still felt compelled to pray with his students. “They are trying to take away every right the Christian has to express our Christian belief in this supposed-to-have-been Christian nation,” he contends.
Does Nathaniel have a right to lead public prayer on a school bus?
According to ACLU legal director Teresa Nelson, who spoke to CBS Minnesota, the minister is in violation of the First Amendment and should absolutely not have led the children in prayer. “The school bus is a captive audience,” said Nelson. “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.”
Meanwhile, Nathaniel is not taking his firing sitting down; he plans on continuing to fight the good fight by enlisting other clergy members to join in his prayer on school buses crusade.
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