If you were told the story of a woman who was questioned by a school official about her self-expression as a Christian, told she could not mention prayer at work—even in private conversations with fellow church attenders—and afraid to even say phrases as innocuous as “Praise the Lord,” you might suspect her story took place in a communist country like the former Soviet Union or an Islamic theocracy like Saudi Arabia.
These things, after all, shouldn’t happen in the United States of America, famous for its guarantees of religious liberty and freedom of speech. Yet America is exactly where this story takes place. It’s a good of example of how unlawful hostility to religious expression—when left unchallenged—can chill religious speech and lead to an environment of fear for people of faith. It can lead to the slow death of religious freedom.
This is the story of Toni Richardson, a First Liberty client and a school employee in Augusta, Maine, who works with special needs students. Toni is also a devout Christian, and in a private conversation, she had sought to encourage a coworker—who was also a fellow church attender—by telling him that she would pray for him.
INTERROGATED, THREATENED, “COACHED”
However, a school official later questioned Toni about whether she had ever identified as a Christian to others, told people that she would pray for them, or made any “faith-based statement[s]”—including phrases like “That’s a blessing.” The school official banned Toni from mentioning prayer on school property—even in private conversations with fellow church attendees.