By Kenneth C. Zirkel (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Kenneth C. Zirkel (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Maine school threatens a teacher with termination for trying to “integrate private and public belief systems” at a public school.

In Augusta, Maine a High School teacher was threatened with termination of her job for saying “I will pray for you” and “you were in my prayers.” The teacher has filed a lawsuit against the school for religious discrimination, asserting that as a Christian, her freedom of speech to make religious references could not be attacked upon by the law.

The school issued a warning to Toni Richardson, mother of two, for making religious references in a publicly aided school. The administration pointed out it was a case of infringement of separation of church and state, and that Richardson’s usage of such phrases was indicative of an effort to impose her beliefs on other people. Following the memo she received was a lawsuit she filed with the help of America’s largest organization committed to fighting for religious freedom, the First Liberty Institute and law firm Eaton Peabody.

Richardson had apparently lodged a complaint against a male colleague who she said had used aggressive language with her over a disagreement they had. The school claims that upon investigation of the case, the management had discovered that Richardson had used phrases such as “you were in my prayers” and “I will pray for you,” during the disagreement. As a result, the school held her responsible for the incident and issued her a memo, which although they assured would not go into her personal file, should still be considered as a strict warning because the next step for the school would be to terminate her employment.

The memo pointed out at the Everson v. Board of Education case, where the court upheld that separation of church and state strictly applies at publicly-funded schools. Using this example, the management warned Richardson that she is not to “integrate public and private belief systems when in the public schools.”

However, Richardson said she used the aforementioned phrases in a private conversation and is “was shocked that my employer punished me for privately telling a coworker, 'I will pray for you. I am afraid that I will lose my job if someone hears me privately discussing my faith with a coworker.”

First Liberty Senior Counsel Jeremy Dys, said the action by the school is completely unwarranted and there is no reason why a person can threaten an employee with termination over such phrases used in a private conversation. A similar view was expressed by Timothy Woodcock from Eaton Peabody said it “is unconscionable.”

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