School-Bus-Driving Pastor Who Prayed With Captive Kids Is Shocked To Be Out of a Job

“A violation of my freedom of speech.”

That’s how school bus driver George Nathaniel, who is also a pastor for two Minneapolis churches, sees his firing.

Nathaniel was in his second year of bus driving. Despite an earlier warning from the transportation company that employed him, he never stopped inviting kids to pray with him on the way to school.

After receiving a complaint from the district about the prayers, the bus company, Durham School Services, gave Nathaniel a warning and assigned him two new bus routes. …

That didn’t dissuade Nathaniel. “I let them know I am a pastor and I am going to pray,” he said.

Praying is fine, of course. However, if you’re an authority figure to children and you represent the school, as Nathaniel did, it’s against the law to do it out loud, invitation-style, on a school bus — a vehicle on which public-school kids are your captive audience. The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause says so.

Nathaniel prayed during the seven-minute ride to school after the last child got on board. “We start out with a song,” he said. “Then each person will pray if they want to pray. If they don’t want to pray, they don’t have to pray. Then I will pray and ask them if they want to join me in prayer. Just give them something constructive and positive to go to school with.” … “To fire a bus driver for praying for the safety of the children” is not right, he said.

That’s a pretty disingenuous — no, a devious — way of putting it. The good reverend is entitled to pray for anything he pleases — on his own time. But since he felt it was his sacred duty to make kids (and their parents) uncomfortable with his in-your-face daily devotion, he forced the bus company’s hand.

When Nathaniel continued to lead prayers on his new routes, Durham sent him a separation letter dated Oct. 30, saying: “There have been more complaints of religious material on the bus as well as other complaints regarding performance. In accordance with the previous final written warning you received, your employment is hereby terminated.”

Nathaniel doesn’t understand it.

[He] said that he had driven school buses in Wisconsin and Georgia before coming to Minnesota and that he had always prayed with the kids. “We got to get Christians to be able to be Christians and not have to be closet Christians,” he said. “You have something good, you are going to share it with somebody.”

Happily, not all of his colleagues are that dim.

Gayla Colin, a bus driver for 13 years in the district, says she “absolutely” sees her time on the bus with kids as an extension of the school day. She said that though she is a Christian, she would never think of praying on the bus. “It’s not appropriate,” she said. “That belongs at home.”

One reason Colin is right should occur to the faithful if they swap imam for pastor.

School-Bus-Driving Minneapolis Imam Loves To Pray With His Child Passengers

Can you imagine the outrage among conservative Christians if they saw that headline?

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder and Main Mischief Maker of Moral Compass, a site that pokes fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.

  • Brian Westley

    “To fire a bus driver for praying for the safety of the children” is not right, he said.

    Ironically, Rob Sherman, a well-known Chicago area atheist, has been advocating seat belts in school buses for years now, something that would actually help children’s safety.

    • C Peterson

      Actually, it’s not obvious that seat belts on school buses would improve safety. In fact, they might reduce it. Most critical examinations of the question have concluded that seat belts are not a good idea.

      • Gus

        I’m going to need several citations, full methodology, and conflict of interest statements before I accept that conclusion.

      • sparkygirlie .

        i’m on the same bus as Gus, citations please.

      • Brian Westley

        The only objections I’ve seen are cost, which doesn’t touch on how it affects safety. The 2006 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reads like a list of red herrings; after nearly every factoid you can ask “that statement is true, but is the same bus safer with seatbelts?”

        About the most ridiculous one is this:–+May+2006

        Over the past 30 years, some States have required new large school buses to come equipped with seat belts. There have been no documented injuries or fatalities resulting from use of the seat belts on school buses.[4] However, States should take into consideration the increased capital costs, reduced seating capacities, and other unintended consequences associated with seat belts that could result in more children seeking alternative means of traveling to and from school or school-related events.

        The NHTSA is actually cautioning states from buying school buses with seatbelts because that might, somehow, cause children to take some alternative mode of travel, which is presumably less safe than a school bus. Even though they have ZERO data on how many children would be dissuaded to ride the bus solely due to the seatbelts (my guess is 0%), and they likewise have ZERO data on how much safer a bus with seatbelts is — that is, they totally lack the two bits of information needed to make any intelligent comment on that particular scenario. Yet they do.

        The only real way to have a cost-benefit analysis is to compare accidents of buses with and without seatbelts, and they don’t have that. They have some data on specific types of crashes (head-on) that bus compartmentalization is quite good at surviving, but I don’t see anything on side collisions or rollovers, which I suspect would come out in favor of seatbelts.

        • C Peterson

          Not sure what you find ridiculous about that analysis. We looked at the matter when purchasing a school bus a few years back, and even the bus manufacturer, which offered seat belts as an option, recommended against them. So too did other districts we talked to, which had tried them. The buses are designed so that seat belts are only of limited value, and even aside from evacuation concerns, they were a management nightmare for those we talked to- kids playing with them, not wearing them properly, taking a long time to get in and out of. We decided against them, and it had nothing at all to do with cost.

          You will find a wide range of opinions on the subject. My point was simply that it’s far from certain that they increase safety.

          • Brian Westley

            Not sure what you find ridiculous about that analysis.

            Like I pointed out, that part tried to analyze a situation where they had no data at all.

            • 3lemenope

              What I find odd about the whole debate is a focus on fatalities. What about non-fatal injuries? Sure, hitting a bus with anything less than a Mack truck is not likely to do much other than muss the paint, but if a bus driver stops short or hits a bump too fast, in my personal experience kids become very acquainted with the aesthetic qualities of the seat cushion in front of them in a way they may not prefer. That experience occasionally is injurious, and while bloody noses and wrenched back muscles might not have the same parent-panic inducing cachet as a dead kid might, it still seems to me to be something that ought to be taken into account.

              • C Peterson

                What we were told by a nearby district that did a trial, kids got bruises and cuts regularly from the seat belts, apparently finding them irresistible to swing at each other. They advised us that we should not consider seat belts unless we were prepared to have a proctor on the bus to back up the driver.

                The seats on the bus are very close together, and designed to protect against impact. The testing they go through is extensive.

                • dandaman

                  Oh, here’s an idea, have teachers proctor on the bus.


                • C Peterson

                  That might work for some schools, but not for ours. We don’t have the resources. The kids are lucky to have a bus at all.

  • Rationalist1

    I used to think people like Mr. Nathaniel simply did not believe in freedom of religion or separation of church and state or in some distorted view of it. Now I think what they lack is empathy, the ability to understand the emotions and feelings of others.

    He doesn’t realize that there will be non believers on the bus, non Christians on the bus and even some Christians who didn’t share his prayers. In this later case how would he feel if his son or daughter was on a bus where a Catholic driver led them in a decade of the rosary each day, or a Muslim driver recited the Koran or a non believing driver played the God Delusion audio book.

    He would be furious and rightly so. But its curious of the examples given in the previous paragraph, I could imagine the first two happening but not the third. Maybe it’s atheist principle, but I think its we have the empathy that Mr. Nathaniel is lacking.

    • M.S.

      I think his lack of empathy is highly correlated with ignorance that comes from living in a bubble… he is a white, male Christian… when has he ever been the minority? When has he ever been the other? It’s not something he can even grasp…

      • David Kopp

        In his imagination he has. Can’t you see the Christianity in him being persecuted?

    • onamission5

      Oh, I think he understands quite well that there could be non believers on the bus. That’s the whole point of these sorts of captive audience public spectacles, to convert non believers by wearing them down and making them think they’re all alone in their non belief. It’s a kind of peer pressure through appearance of majority consensus thing. It also serves to remind the doubting believers that they can’t get away, so don’t even think about it, and also to reinforce their beliefs as the most right and most special and the only beliefs appropriate for public consumption.

      • Rationalist1

        True he does realize there would be non Christians on the bus. Any discomfort they might feel is, to him, more than compensated by the good feeling he gets by inflicting his faith. No empathy.

        • FTP_LTR

          Any discomfort is because they are finally seeing the Truth that he is bringing them. Even an innocent child will be uncomfortable realising that they have been living a LIE and that Our Lord has been denied them by their baby eating soul corrupting god hating pinko fascist communist homo loving satan worshipping demon spawned parents and all of that.

      • Mottfolly

        Intimidating nonbelievers into silence by peer pressure is one of the goals.

    • Don Gwinn

      He likely thinks there will be unbelievers, and even thinks he understands how distressing they may find his prayers, but also believes that once he has witnessed to them and the Lord Has Moved in Their Hearts and they’ve Accepted Jesus as Their Personal Lord and Savior, they’ll look back on him fondly and be *so* glad he had the courage to witness to them despite their protests at the time.
      In other words, they don’t know what’s good for them and they’ll be glad he pushed them when it’s all said and done.

      He probably also genuinely believes that there will be kids who would love to join him in the Lord’s Grace if only their parents weren’t caught up in so much evil and corruption that they won’t let their children find out the Good News. They just need to hear the Word.

    • WayPastDueToo

      I totally agree with you!!! But the thing is, as a Christian, he believes that without Jesus, these kids are hell bound and that his religion is the only one that will save them. So empathy for other religions doesn’t really play a part here. (I mean, I totally get what you’re saying and you’re right: It SHOULD play a part here… but it doesn’t. And that’s the problem.)

      Here’s an analogy: It’s a knuckleheaded one, but bear with me …

      It’s like being the one who sees that the bridge is out ahead. If the only way to save a car that’s barreling toward it is to wave a red flag and you believe that no other color of flag will stop the car, then you wave the red flag. You don’t worry one bit if the color red is offensive to the car riders. Maybe they hate red. Maybe they believe pink is the new red. But to you, a red flag believer, you know that how they ‘feel’ about red flags is irrelevant because the freakin’ bridge is out and they’re about to die if you don’t wave a RED flag!

      THAT is how most Christians think when it comes to imposing their religion on others. It’s completely justified because without their Jesus, the Muslim, the Jew, the non-believer … well … they’re all doomed to Hell.

      George Nathanial was just waving a red flag.

      And THAT is but ONE of the many reasons I am no longer a Christian, after 35+ years in the faith.

  • newenglandbob

    That pastor should be charged with harassment and child abuse too.

    • 3lemenope

      Why? He did neither of those things. He stepped over the bounds of his job and consequently lost it, which seems to me the perfectly calibrated reaction.

      • Anna

        Yes, and he was warned before he was actually fired, which I think is also reasonable and fair. One could chalk up the initial prayers to well-meaning cluelessness, but repeated violations make the loss of his job completely justified.

        • TnkAgn

          Ah, but that is the thing about evangelical Christians. They are compelled to share “The Good News.”

          • 3lemenope

            As a Methodist friend of mine once pointed out to me, there are usually far better ways of evangelizing than opening one’s mouth. Then again, he came from a social gospel tradition that argued that the true evidence of the reality of God was that people who are called into His service do good works and aren’t pricks about it, which serves as an attractive example and thus effective witness.

            While I disagree with his metaphysical conclusions, it almost goes without saying that such an approach to Christianity would be on balance more of a good thing. Unfortunately, in my (admittedly anecdotal and limited) experience, Christians who “get it” in this sense are few and far between.

            • C.L. Honeycutt

              I’ve noticed anecdotally that Methodists tend to be either really progressive and charitable Christians or else really judgmental, far more often the former.

            • wmdkitty

              Their St. Francis is alleged to have said to “preach the gospel always; use words if necessary.” (i.e. “walk the walk, dudes”). So many who didn’t pay attention.

              I don’t care about how often a person attends church, or which god they follow, or what have you. I’m judging your ass by how you treat others, especially those who are more vulnerable (such as children and animals). I have very little patience for those who harm children and animals.

      • 7Footpiper

        Exactly, I think we can leave the insane overreaction to the good Pastor.

  • LesterBallard

    Fucking Christians and their fucking Christian privilege.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause says so.

    Technically, the word “bus” does not appear in the text of the first amendment. But it’s a reasonable extrapolation.

    • Brian Westley

      Does anyone else see the vote scores above as NEGATIVE 2 and NEGATIVE 1? I’ve never seen them go negative…

      • Meg Sampson

        Yeppers, I surely do

      • allein

        Now they’re showing as 3 up and no downvotes…but I have seen them go negative before. Not sure how that happens…

  • katarn

    I would consider rewording the headline. It reads as if he and kids were being held hostage or trapped, and he prayed with them.

    • Timmah

      They ARE trapped. A captive audience if you will. They are on a school bus and not allowed off till either they get to school or back home. It’s not like they go “Yeah I don’t like this I’m getting off.”

    • TnkAgn

      What, were you never on a school bus in your youth?

    • “Rebecca”

      That’s what I expected to read as well.

    • Bob Becker

      I thought the same when I firstread the headline: that it was a hostage situation.

    • Katarn

      I mean trapped by someone else, not just by being on a bus. Like a madman with a gun took over the school bus. I understand how the kids as essentially captive on the bus after reading the context of the article but that’s not what the headline conveyed to me. I thought it meant a literal hostage situation where the bus driver was a victim along with the students.

    • JWH

      Definitely this. My first impression is that there was a gunman or something, and the driver prayed with the kids to help keep their spirits up during the hostage situation. That would be an entirely different animal from what actually happened..

  • Rain

    “We start out with a song,” he said.

    They start out with a song.

    “Then each person will pray if they want to pray. If they don’t want to pray, they don’t have to pray.

    Then the children spontaneously magically start praying.

    Then I will pray and ask them if they want to join me in prayer.

    Then he prays and asks everyone if they want to pray. Cool story bro.

  • katiehippie

    I was a church going kid but I wouldn’t have liked that at all. I always hated people that decided that ‘kids should be doing this’.

    • allein

      My parents took us to church but we never did anything churchy outside of actual church activities. Religion lived in its own box and the rest of our lives were pretty much unrelated.

  • Gus

    If he’s concerned about the children’s safety on the bus, maybe he should keep his attention on driving rather than distracting himself with efforts to lead prayers with his passengers.

  • Holytape

    If a bus driver needs to pray for the safety of the children, I think I want to have another bus driver. One that is a safe drive regardless whether an iron-age incantation is said.

  • AFabulousAtlantanAtheist

    Why do Christians always want to make sure everybody hears that they are praying. Why can’t they keep the voices in their heads to themselves.

    • LesterBallard

      They just ignore that go into a closet and pray shit that what’s his name said, Jesus, I think it was.

    • The Other Weirdo

      Because Christians are not known for knowing their own Holy Book™.

    • Jerry

      “Hey, teacher, leave them kids alone”, seems a bit appropriate here.

  • Amor DeCosmos

    “To fire a bus driver for praying for the safety of the children” is not right, he said.”

    You got it all wrong, mate. Priests and Ministers are supposed to pray for the safety of the children. Bus drivers drive the bus.

    • skyblue

      It’s also not at all why he was fired, and he doesn’t seem to get that. I’m sure plenty of bus drivers pray for the safety of the children, perhaps in the morning before they head to work, or silently before picking up the first child. Doesn’t look like he sees the difference between that and what he does, though.

    • Randay

      As prayer is the most useless ineffective habit invented by man, it is not surprising that is most associated with priests and ministers who serve no purpose whatsoever and contribute nothing to the community of humanity.

    • Matt Weems

      “Bus drivers drive the bus.” Fantastic.

      Reminded me of the scene in ‘The Burbs’, where Bruce Dern tells the garbage man that HE’s going to clean up the mess, because he’s a garbage man.

  • Timmah

    “Remember kids you don’t HAVE to pray but if you choose not to like Timmy over here you’ll know who to blame when God decides to wrap us around a tree!”

  • Holytape

    But I understand if shock. When I was a school bus driver, I would routinely sacrifice one of the kids to appease Ekchuah the atzec God of travel. I told my superiors that I was just doing simple math. Sacrifice 1 to save the other 45 kids. For some odd reason they didn’t appreciate it.

    • Don Gwinn

      I don’t know who you are, stranger, or where you came from. I don’t know where you’re going, and I don’t know whether I’ll ever encounter you again.
      But today you are my king and/or queen. I swear it.

      • FTP_LTR

        Another gem for the clip file. Thank you Don Gwinn for rising so far above a simple “+1″

      • Susan Ruffaner Gahagan

        What Don said.

  • TnkAgn

    Oh. So that’s where the word “JeeBUS” comes from.

  • TnkAgn

    I note that Nathaniel was also terminated for “performance.” Probably because every time he’d bow his head in prayer, the bus would run off the road.

    • AFabulousAtlantanAtheist

      He was just letting Jesus take the wheel

  • wtbusdriver

    I’m a school bus driver in NJ. The kids on my bus will never have to worry about me praying on the way to school or any other time.

  • R Bonwell parker

    The real thing to notice here is that he seems to think that praying should make him IMMUNE to termination, because he can use it as a straw man. He was fired for performance issues and a failure to listen to direction… but since it had to do with him praying, it was an assault on his freedom.

    That’s what atheists have a problem with. Not religion. Religious entitlement.

    • David Kopp

      No, I’ve got a problem with religion, too. But religious entitlement is the most important step, and the only one I’d bother suing about. I can argue with people about their religion being right or wrong, but I can’t do that when they get preferential treatment because of it.

  • sparkygirlie .

    I’m glad he was fired. Am i the only one who sees a correlation between using his authority to ‘lead the children in prayer’, believing he shares something good and not bad, to the same mindset pedophiles have?

  • sparkygirlie .

    That is an excellent point.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Reprimanded by whom? The reprimand itself would be a violation, no?

  • DesertSun59

    Matthew 6:5-6. 5″When
    you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand
    and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may
    be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6″But
    you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray
    to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done
    in secret will reward you.…

    It is quite clear that this pastor/bus driver has an agenda that is 100% the opposite of what Jesus taught. Thus, the man isn’t an actual Christian. He’s a ZEALOT.

    • Colin Harwood

      Matthew sounds like he’s giving tips on masturbating without getting caught.

      • quasibaka

        LOL … That was epic

  • Compuholic

    Wow. How obtuse can a person possibly be? He got at least one warning which I think is a nice try of the bus company to handle the situation in a friendly way. How can you possibly be surprised to be fired when you continue doing exactly the opposite?

  • skyblue

    Why is it that people seem to confuse freedom of speech with “freedom to say whatever I want to whoever I want, with no negative consequences whatsoever, including disagreement or dirty looks from others”?

    I don’t hear anyone suggesting this guy be arrested for what he did, just that what he did made him unsuitable to continue in this particular job. So I’d say his freedom of speech is still going strong.

    • Jerry

      Freedom of speech also means FREEDOM TO GET FIRED, especially after having been warned!

    • smrnda

      Yeah, freedom of speech doesn’t mean that while driving the bus, you can go on an obscenity laden rant or force people to listen to you read your poetry, nor does it mean you can force people to listen to you pray. His job is riding the bus, the bus company nor the school are giving him a forum to promote his private beliefs.

    • Colin Harwood

      Dead right. Maybe he should have used his ‘freedom to shut the fuck up’ prerogative. Better yet, he could view his termination as the children’s ‘freedom from listening to horseshit’ right being enacted.

  • Richard Thomas

    Maybe he can supplement the lost income by selling Ten Commandments statues to churches! YOUR MOVE ATHEISTS

  • Mark

    “Once the kids hear what I have to say, I will be forgiven for forcing it on them.”

  • Jerry

    Some people have got to learn to “DIAL IT DOWN A NOTCH!!”

    • wmdkitty

      Or three.

  • randomfactor

    He should celebrate. Now he has MUCH more free time to pray.

  • A3Kr0n

    I think the pastor should sue the school district. I’m sure that’s what Jesus would have done.

  • Cyrus Palmer

    Another dumbass brainwashed christian displaying his persecution complex to the world.

  • Alvindemartino

    Matthew 6:5-6

  • Randall

    Oh please my bus driver was a racist, redneck, atheistn loner/psycho that talked to himself, I would gladly take a prayer over his mumbling and those idiotic kid’s annoying, bullying statements and terrible singing. If I had to go back I would have put my fist in those bullies faces and slap those trashy, bitchy racists, bullying girls, and report all the driving offenses that bus driver committed and have him fired. Only good memory of him was throwing the stupid girls off the bus on a highway for messing with the emergency exit door/hatch. Vote up for prayers vote down for the complete hell that bus was.

    • Muddy Mudskipper

      So if you could go back you’d resort to violence instead of just filing a formal complaint like any other sane person?

      You know, the option that was available to you at all times.

  • Diego Garcia

    Matthew 6:5-8
    5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” NUFF SAID READ YOUR OWN STUPID BOOK YOU DUMMIES!

    • Miss_Beara

      A theist that posts here said that means you have to pray in public so everyone can see and hear you.


      • C.L. Honeycutt

        There’s only one? Man they do go on and on. It feels like three or four.

  • Sydney Carten

    nobody told the bus driver he couldn’t pray for the kids silently, or at home in his own time.

    but he has distorted the story deliberately because he knows that the truth makes his position unjustifiable

  • Phatchick

    “A violation of my freedom of speech.”

    OK, annddd what about the 1st amendment rights of the kids that YOU violated?

  • Madison Blane

    He’s trying to make this all about the prayers but it sounds to me like there was a LOT more going on:
    “There have been more complaints of religious material on the bus as well as other complaints regarding performance. “

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    So far my favorite comment from The Blaze. I couldn’t make this shit up if I was trying.

    First off, nobody was PREACHING to kids. The guy prayed for their safety. That’s not preaching. That’s asking God to protect the kids.

    If a Wiccan or Jew or Muslim or whatever wants to pray for kids to be safe, that’s fine by me. I’ve never heard of any Christian ever saying “I don’t want you praying for my kid’s safety because you’re a Muslim!” If a Muslim wants to pray for the safety of children, I’d be all for that.

    But as far as I’m aware, Muslims are not overly concerned with the safety of their own children, let alone Christian or Jewish children. If they were, they wouldn’t strap bombs to their kids and send them on suicide missions.

  • Brian Lee Bohnet

    He needs to brush up on his bible. Or maybe his bible is just more accurate than he even understands.

    Matthew 6:5-8
    5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

  • Gehennah

    At least Gayla is intelligent enough to understand that it’s a violation of the children’s rights.

  • Colin Harwood

    Only allowed to talk to your friends if they’re invisible.