It has been over 50 years since the Supreme Court ruled in the 1962 case Engel v. Vitale that voluntary, non-denominational prayer in public schools was unconstitutional under the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. Now, a high school in Augusta, Maine, is taking the prohibition of prayer in public schools to a new level.
Last September, Cony High School informed an employee, Toni Richardson, that she could no longer tell her co-workers that she would pray for them. The Augusta School Department has even begun an investigation of Richardson for saying things like “I will pray for you” and “You were in my prayers” to a colleague and fellow Christian who was going through a rough time.
The school sent Richardson a coaching memorandum accusing her of imposing “some strong religious/spiritual belief system” on her co-worker who, ironically, attended her same church. Referring to Everson v. Board of Education — which incorporated, or applied, the Establishment Clause to the states — the school commanded Richardson to “not use phrases that integrate public and private belief systems when in the public schools.” They deemed that doing so would be a violation of the “separation of church and state.”
At a press conference earlier this week, Richardson announced that she had filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She is being assisted by an attorney from First Liberty Institute.
This whole affair is yet another example of the excessive expansion of one of the Left’s favorite concepts, that of the “separation of church and state.” The phrase, which interestingly does not even appear in the Constitution, is once again being used in an attempt to abridge a citizen’s exercise of free speech. It is a case religious school employees, and indeed all Americans who care about the First Amendment, ought to watch closely.