MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minneapolis-area church pastor who also drives a school bus says his rights to free speech and to practice his religion were violated when he was taken off his route for leading students in prayer.
It is not the first time George Nathaniel, 54, has faced consequences for leading prayers. Nathaniel was fired from driving children to school in the town of Burnsville, Minnesota, four years ago for the same reason.
Quality Care Transportation removed Nathaniel from his route last week, the Star Tribune reported . He began working for the company in January 2017 and drove children to Nasha Shkola, a charter school in Brooklyn Park focused on Russian language and culture.
He started incorporating prayer into the bus ride this winter.
"The students would volunteer to lead the prayer," Nathaniel said.
Nathaniel said children need more prayer in their lives and he's determined to bring prayer back to public schools.
School officials received complaints that Nathaniel was forcing minors to pray, said Muk Musa, owner of Quality Care. While bus drivers are given time for personal prayer, leading children isn't part of the job, he said.
Nathaniel said he wants to turn people to Christianity, but he never forced students to pray. He said he's shocked parents complained because he'd discussed the issue with them.
"That's where the Constitution comes in," Nathaniel said. "You've got the freedom to exercise your religious beliefs."
Nathaniel isn't fired, but hasn't received a new route either, Musa said.
"He's not going to change," Musa said. "His main focus is to influence even one person in following what he worships."
Nathaniel is also a pastor of a Minneapolis congregation.
Nasha Shkola administrators didn't immediately respond to the newspaper's request for comment.