PERTH AMBOY, N.J. — A toll collector in New Jersey is alleging that she was told to stop saying ‘God bless you’ to drivers who passed by her booth because some might find it offensive.
Cynthia Fernandez, 34, worked as a temporary toll booth worker on the Garden State Parkway—that is, until she quit her job on Sunday.
Fernandez told CBS New York this week that she used to say “Have a good day” and “God bless you” to drivers as they left, but her employer, Henry Lee, asked her to stop mentioning God .
“[My boss] told me he wanted to talk to me, that I couldn’t say ‘God bless you’ anymore to customers because somebody might get offended,” she explained.
While Lee decline to speak with reporters, a spokesperson for Garden State Parkway told CBS that there is nothing in the company policy that prohibits Fernandez from using the phrase. Fernandez agreed.
“It does say, ‘Provide customer service, smile.’ It does say all that,” Fernandez concurred. “But it does not say in any line, ‘Do not say, ‘God bless you.’”
But David Muscato of the New Jersey-based American Atheists said that the toll worker’s speech might pose a constitutional issue.
“When a government employee says, ‘God bless you,’ they’re implying that that’s the government’s position,” he explained to the outlet. “And because of the First Amendment, because of the separation of religion and government, it’s necessary for the government to remain secular and neutral.”
Jeff Diminiski of local radio station NJ 101.5 made similar statements on the station website.
“These same people would have a meltdown if a different toll collector exercised their different belief by saying ‘Allah is great’ to passing drivers, or an atheist toll collector expressing their view by telling a parkway patron to ‘have a Godless day.’ They’d call for immediate firings.” he said. “Believe what you want, but there’s a time and a place and not everyone thinks like you think. Not every random thought and belief has to be expressed on the job to total strangers.”
But in a poll taken by NJ 101.5, as of press time, 57 percent of voters believed Fernandez should have the right to say “God bless you” to drivers, compared to 42 percent who took issue with the greeting.
The Garden State Parkway spokesperson said that Fernandez did not mention the discussion with Lee when she left the company, only that she would like a steady shift, and handed in a one-line resignation letter that indicated when she was leaving.
As previously reported, a bus driver for Rutgers University in New Brunswick was allegedly fired last year for praying with and laying hands on a handicapped woman that rode his bus.
“I prayed for the lady—put my hands on her and prayed,” Stanley McNeil said in an online video. “And they (First Transit) said, ‘We don’t want you to do that.’ They said, ‘We don’t need your services anymore because we don’t do that here.’”
He said that he had been told in the past to keep religion out of his job.
“[They told me], ‘You can motivate the students, but don’t talk about God,’” McNeil stated. “And then the students started coming to me talking about, ‘I need prayer. I need prayer for this. My family is going through some problems.’ [So], I said, ‘I’m going to pray.’”
He explained that he told his employer that he would not end his practice of prayer on the bus.
“I said, ‘I don’t regret none of it. This is who I am. I ain’t going to back down from what happened,’” McNeil recalled. “They think I’m going to compromise, [but] … I’m all about God, brother. I ain’t compromising one bit.”
First Transit denied the allegations and claimed that McNeil resigned after being confronted about not using enough belts for the woman’s wheelchair.
Photo: CBS New York/screenshot