MINNEAPOLIS — A pastor who works as a school bus driver during the week recently lost his job for praying with the children who ride his bus.
George Nathaniel, 49, is the pastor of both the Elite Church of the First Born and Grace Missionary Baptist Church in Minneapolis. He has worked for the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District for the past two years, and was hired by Durham School Services, which provides the drivers for the district.
As Nathaniel is a Christian, he says that he likes to give the opportunity for students to sing and pray to start off their day on a positive note.
“We start out with a song,” he told the StarTribune. “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.”
However, when an unidentified individual recently complained about Nathaniel’s prayers, Durham School Services issued him a warning and placed the pastor on a different route.
Nonetheless, the situation did not detour Nathaniel.
“I let them know I am a pastor and I am going to pray,” he said.
So, when it was discovered that Nathaniel was praying with the children who rode his new route, he was fired.
“There have been more complaints of religious material on the bus as well as other complaints regarding performance,” a letter from his employer read. “In accordance with the previous final written warning you received, your employment is hereby terminated.”
But Nathaniel says that his termination is unjust.
“To fire a bus driver for praying for the safety of the children [is wrong],” he told the StarTribune.
He said that as a Christian, he doesn’t feel that he needs to keep his faith in the closet.
“We got to get Christians to be able to be Christians and not have to be closet Christians,” Nathaniel told the publication. “You have something good; you are going to share it with somebody.”
Reaction to Nathaniel’s firing has been mixed.
“The school was correct in their termination as that man was forcing his opinion upon a group of children without the permission of the children’s parents,” one commenter wrote. “He was hired to drive a school bus. His job requires him to see to their safety, not to be a youth minister for his religion.”
“[T]his is not a violation of Church and State because the bus company is a private employer, not the school system,” another noted. “Can we say that a child is being abused [at school] because they are forced to learn about other religions and views, including evolution, the big bang theory, Muslims, Buddhism, Scientology, etc. because it’s part of the school’s curriculum regardless of the child’s (family’s) religion?”
Durham Services would not comment to reporters about the matter, but advised that it does not have a policy in regard to prayer.