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Putting Prayer in Public Schools: TX Teacher Sues District That Punished Her for Praying

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Putting Prayer in Public Schools: TX Teacher Sues District That Punished Her for Praying

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A Texas school teacher is suing her school district, claiming the school’s principal violated her First Amendment rights when he reprimanded her for praying on campus. 

Attorneys with the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) have filed a lawsuit on behalf of Staci Barber, a teacher at Cardiff Junior High in Katy, Texas. 

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As a born-again Christian, Barber had an interest in starting a campus chapter of Students for Christ, but was told by Principal Bryan Round that, “Katy does not have religious clubs and that Cardiff was not allowed to have any religious clubs per Katy ISD.”

Barber complied with the request but in September, she joined two friends and fellow teachers to pray at the school flagpole for “See You At The Pole,” a once-a-year event where students and teachers across the nation pray and engage in religious activity before the school day begins.

Barber had participated in the event over the last eight years since she had been teaching at Cardiff, but this time Round pulled her and the other teachers into his office to reprimand them for praying.

According to the lawsuit, Rounds “behaved in a hostile fashion,” and later told Barber in an email, “…employees CANNOT pray with or in the presence of students. You cannot have a student group AND staff group both praying at the pole as this would be a violation of Board policy.”

“Even though it is before the school day, you are on campus visible to students in your role as an employee,” his email added. 

The ACLJ initially filed a demand letter to the school district on behalf of the 26-year teacher veteran to ask the school to stop infringing on her First Amendment rights.

“Principal Rounds categorically forbade the teachers from praying in the presence of students,” the lawsuit explains. “He acknowledged that they have the right to pray privately, such as during break time, before school, or after school, but stated that they could not pray in any location where students would be present, even if this praying occurred before the school day began.” 

According to Nathan Moelker, Associate Counsel for the ACLJ, Katy Independent School District then “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 they later sent a policy, which states, “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.”

“This new language is still blatantly unconstitutional,” Moelker expressed. “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.”

“The Supreme Court has made it clear that student and teacher prayer, including prayer at SYATP events, is undisputedly a protected form of speech that school officials may not ban,” the lawsuit adds. 

The ACLJ is suing the district and Rounds for violating Barber’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights and violating the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“The primary goal of this lawsuit is to ensure that the school amends its policy to reflect what the Constitution actually requires,” Moelker said. “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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