A concerned, Christian teacher offered to pray for her co-worker, a fellow teacher who had fallen down on hard times. Now, she is being punished by school officials for using religious language at her school.
The laws on this in the United States seem to be dismissive towards Christians only. While Muslim students are given “safe spaces” in schools to pray, a teacher can’t privately tell her Christian co-worker that she will pray for her.
Toni Richardson, a teacher in a Maine Public School, received a memo that said, “Stating, ‘I will pray for you’ and ‘you were in my prayers’ is not acceptable — even if the other person attends the same church as you,” the memorandum read, adding Richardson may face discipline or dismissal if she does it again.
Later, when she and the colleague had a falling out in which she alleges he acted “challenging/almost aggressive,” the male co-worker complained to school officials about her choice of words.
It caused the Augusta School Department to launch an investigation and then accuse Richardson of imposing “some strong religious/spiritual belief system” on her colleague, who attends the same church as she does.
“Going forward, I expect when you disagree with a staff member, you will address it in a discreet and professional manner with no reference to your spiritual or religious beliefs,” the memo consequently instructed Richardson.
Richardson says she was stunned by the school’s handling of the matter, Fox News reports.
“I was shocked that my employer punished me for privately telling a co-worker, ‘I will pray for you,'” she said.
In response, Richardson sought legal help from First Liberty Institute, a “religious liberty” law firm. The firm has since filed a complaint with the the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for religious discrimination and retaliation.
“No one should be threatened with losing their job for privately telling a co-worker that they are going to pray for them,” First Liberty attorney Jeremy Dys said.
The school says it is disappointed in the outcome. It says it was trying to work with Richardson to address her concerns when she suddenly resorted to legal action, Kennebec Journal reports.
“While they had promised to get back to us (and we were waiting to hear from them), they have instead chosen to litigate without any response to our proposal,” the school said.
Meanwhile, another law firm, which is dedicated to keeping religion out of public schools, takes a different view, arguing groups like First Liberty Institute are blindly motivated by ideology.
While Americans United for Separation of Church and State did not comment on the specifics of this case, it urged members of the public to be careful when they hear about incidents like this.
“There has been, in recent years, a growing number of cases where religious believers allege they’re being discriminated against by government bodies,” said Alex Luchenitser, associate legal director at Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
“They try to paint a picture of Christians as being persecuted by government whenever they learn of incidents like the one being alleged, when in fact Christians are the majority group in America,” he adds.