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School declares offering to pray for a colleague is unacceptable; we pray they get pummeled in the lawsuit

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A school district in Maine is facing a lawsuit from an employee who was told her language in communicating with a colleague was unacceptable.

Toni Richardson found herself in hot water when the Augusta School Department launched an investigation into her private conversation with a coworker, according to Fox News Channel’s Todd Starnes.

Richardson’s offense?

She told her colleague she would be praying for him after he confided, in a private conversation last year, that he was having a difficult time adjusting to his new job. The coworker even attended the same church as Richardson.

Surely, a Christian promising to pray for another Christian who happens to work at the same place and attend the same church, could not be cause for disciplinary action.

But, in an official memorandum, the school district alleged Richardson “imposed some strong religious/spiritual belief system” towards the other employee, who reportedly had a falling out with Richardson months after the conversation.

Starnes cited a copy of the “coaching memorandum” that school officials sent to Richardson, warning her that language like, “I will pray for you” and “You were in my prayers” is not acceptable, “even if that other person attends the same church as you.”

“In the context of the ‘separation of church and state,’ this case prohibits public school-sponsored religious expression,” the memo stated. “Therefore, in the future, it is imperative that you do not use phrases that integrate public and private belief systems when in the public schools.”

Richardson was also warned not to make any “reference to your spiritual or religious beliefs,” or even use the word “blessing,” threatening her with disciplinary action or dismissal, according to Starnes.

“I was shocked that my employer punished me for privately telling a coworker, ‘I will pray for you,’” Richardson said. “I’m afraid I will lose my job if someone hears me privately discussing my faith with a coworker.”

She turned to First Liberty Institute which filed a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claiming religious discrimination and retaliation by the school district.

“What Augusta Public Schools did by punishing Toni for discussing her faith in a private conversation with a coworker is unconscionable,” attorney Timothy Woodcock said. “The law is clear: employers cannot discriminate against employees who privately discuss their faith while at work.”

Starnes noted that it is now the school district that will be in need of prayer.

“We’ll just say a little prayer for you,” he said, “because First Liberty Institute is about to be on you like a pit bull on a pork chop.”

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Frieda Powers

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