MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The governor of Alabama has weighed on a recent situation in Mobile in which a public school teacher had to go home to change out her “Just Pray” t-shirt, and says that it is “unacceptable” to disallow the teacher from wearing the message on her clothing just because it encourages prayer.
“Religious liberty is a cornerstone of the freedoms we enjoy in our country. For a teacher to be disallowed from wearing a shirt that exhorts others to pray, especially for a child suffering from terminal cancer, is simply unacceptable,” said Gov. Kay Ivey in a statement.
“The right to express one’s religious beliefs, including prayer which was often invoked by George Washington himself, is not lost when one enters the schoolhouse door,” she declared. “I am committed to protecting religious freedom for everyone, including our teachers and school children.”
As previously reported, Chris Burrell, a third grade teacher at Pearl Haskew Elementary School in Irvington, says that she wore the shirt on April 23 not thinking that it would pose an issue. She had purchased it last year in a fundraiser for 11-year-old Aubreigh Nicholas, who was diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma in September.
“I purchased this shirt to raise money for #AubreighsArmy. I thought it was fitting to wear today since my kids were testing,” she said in a social media post. “I didn’t think twice about it. I wasn’t trying to promote religion; it was just my Monday feel good shirt.”
However, when the principal saw Burrell wearing a shirt with the word “pray” on it, she asked the teacher if she could put a sweater on to cover the wording.
“[T]he principal said, ‘Can you put on a sweater or something,’ knowing that there are other people who object to that,” Mobile County Public School Superintendent Martha Peek told WALA-TV. “We have to be cognizant of everyone’s beliefs or everyone’s thoughts [in a public school].”
She said that the principal was following district policy, which states that teachers should refrain from wearing clothing that promotes any particular religion.
Burrell took to social media over the matter, posting a photo of herself and writing, “Getting sent home from work today to change my Just Pray shirt. … In my 15 years of teaching, this has never been an issue. My heart hurts.”
As noted by Yahoo News, the Mobile County Public Schools policy handbook makes no mention of religious sayings or symbols on clothing. It rather prohibits “[c]lothing which promotes alcoholic beverages, tobacco, or the use of controlled substances by words or symbols” and “[c]lothing that contains profanity or nudity, depicts violence, or is sexual in nature by words or symbols.”
It also bans “any item of clothing or jewelry that creates a disruption of the school environment/learning activities or that poses a threat to the safety and well-being of students or staff.”
As previously reported, throughout America’s early history, a number of the Founding Fathers issued proclamations calling inhabitants to prayer, including in 1798, when President John Adams proclaimed a national day of humiliation, prayer and fasting.
“As the safety and prosperity of nations ultimately and essentially depend on the protection and blessing of Almighty God, and the national acknowledgment of this truth is not only an indispensable duty which the people owe to Him,” he wrote, “…this duty, at all times incumbent, is so especially in seasons of difficulty and of danger, when existing or threatening calamities—the just judgments of God against prevalent iniquity—are a loud call to repentance and reformation.”
President Abraham Lincoln also proclaimed a National Fast Day in 1863.
“[I]t is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord,” his proclamation read.
“[I]nsomuch we know that by His Divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people,” Lincoln said.