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ACLJ Files Federal Lawsuit on Behalf of Teacher Ordered Not To Pray


Nathan Moelker

March 20

4 min read

Religious Liberty



The ACLJ has filed another lawsuit to protect the rights of participants in the public school system to express their faith. We’ve shared with you our lawsuit to protect the rights of students to pray before track meets. Now, it’s a teacher who has come under fire for praying. We recently told you how we were taking action to protect the right of a teacher to engage in prayer outside the school building before the school day begins. Because the school has failed to correct its unconstitutional policy, we have now filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of our client, Staci Barber.

Our client works in the Katy Independent School District near Houston, Texas. Every year millions of people gather at school flag poles to pray before the school day begins. The ACLJ is very proud to stand in support of See You At The Pole, a prayer rally for students and participating adults to lift up their schools in prayer. Our client has prayed at the pole every year on behalf of her students. This year she had gathered with two friends and fellow teachers to pray at the school flagpole. The school principal called these teachers into his office. He told them that they could not pray at the pole or in the presence of students because if they did so, students may see and join in. He told them that it was against the law for them to pray publicly where students could see them and then pointed them to a school policy that prohibited teachers from praying in the presence of students.

We took action to protect our client’s rights. The Constitution protects the rights of religious employees to pray, even publicly; they do not somehow lose their constitutional rights just by being government employees.  A school can prevent employees from getting distracted when they are supposed to be acting according to their official duties. But what it cannot do is prevent school employees from expressing their religious faith at all. A school cannot prohibit any religious expression where children might be present on the fear that children might participate or see the religious activity. The right of teachers to express their religious beliefs is too strong for that.

We sent a demand letter to our client’s school, demanding that they stop infringing upon her First Amendment rights. At first, Katy Independent School District responded in a way that seemed positive, acknowledging that they violated our client’s rights and agreeing that the policy needed to be changed. But then they sent us this new policy, which reads in part:

Board Policy makes it clear that employees will neither advance nor inhibit religion. Employees may not promote, lead or participate in religious activities of noncurriculum-related student groups. However, nothing prevents a teacher or other employee from praying or reading religious materials during a time when students are not present.

This new language is still blatantly unconstitutional. Particularly, the principal told our client that he considered Pray at the Pole to be a “student group,” and so under this new language, she is still barred from praying before the school day begins. Despite Katy Independent School District’s purported attempt to correct its policy, she is still unable to engage in any prayer in the presence of students or to pray publicly, even off the clock, when she is on school grounds.

When the school did not respond to our repeated attempts to get this policy further corrected and clarified, we filed this major lawsuit on our client’s behalf. The primary goal of this lawsuit is to ensure that the school amends its policy to reflect what the Constitution actually requires. This school policy strips teachers and school employees of their fundamental right to express their faith freely and must be struck down. We need your support in our legal battles for your right to pray.

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