Did a High School Student Really Get Suspended for Responding to a Sneeze with “Bless You”?

Yesterday, Kendra Turner, a student at Dyer County High School in Tennessee, claimed on Facebook that she was sent out of the classroom for saying “Bless You” after a student sneezed:

In subsequent emails with bloggers online, she elaborated on what happened:

A girl sitting right next me sneezed in class. I said “Bless You!” My teacher, Mrs. Kindle, asked “Who said that?” I said “me.” She said “Why did you say that?” I said “Because it is courtesy.” She said “Says who?” I said “Says my pastor.” She said “Well we don’t say that in my class.”

I asked her why it was a big deal to her. She yelled at me and said “We will not have Godly speaking in my class!” That is when I stood up and said “My pastor said I have a constitutional right -1st amendment freedom of speech.” She said “Not in my class you don’t.”

I said “I will defend my religion.” She said “You will not in my class because I trump everyone.” Then another student stepped in and said “You don’t over trump God.” So she sent me to the office and the assistants principal said “if I didn’t want to respect my teachers rules then maybe My pastor should teach me because my freedom or speech and religion does not work at their school.

Then they sent me to ISS (in school suspension). After I left the class room all my class mates stood up and defended me the teacher had to call assistants principal to control the class.

That reads like a draft page from Todd Starnes‘ next book…

Obviously, there’s no recording of what happened, so this is inevitably the student’s word against the teacher’s, and the student got her side out before anyone else could respond.

So I called up Principal Peggy Dodds just a little while ago and got her side of the story before shit hits the fan in the conservative world.

According to Dodds, Turner was not given an in-school suspension. She wasn’t sent out of the classroom, either — she chose to walk out. And, most importantly, she wasn’t punished by the teacher for saying “God bless you” — however, the teacher did admonish her for “disrupting the classroom.”

Since I can’t verify the specifics of what was said (including the remarks about “Godly speaking”), let me offer this hypothetical:

The class was supposed to be quiet. Someone sneezed. Turner said *something* in response (it doesn’t matter what) and the teacher asked her to be quiet. Turner took that as a knock on her faith and felt the need to defend against it. The teacher only saw this as a further disruption and the situation escalated. The student, clearly frustrated, ran out of the classroom and, not long after that, posted something on Facebook.

I’m not saying that happened, but it’s plausible. There’s probably a lot of misunderstanding all around. Add to all of that the fact that the school year only began a few weeks ago, so teachers and students don’t know each other very well yet.

By the way, I left a phone message with Turner’s mother as well — but I haven’t heard back from her yet.

If Turner’s story is accurate, then sure, the teacher should be reprimanded. It’s not a crime to say “God bless you” and students have every right to practice their faith at school (without causing distractions).

But we’ve heard stories like this before, and they’re almost never accurate. It helps to hear what all sides have to say before jumping to any conclusions.

As always, I would remind all readers not to send any nasty messages to Turner or her teacher. You’re not helping.

(Thanks to Shannon for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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