This has been a hard school year for Mrs. Judy Lawson, fourth grade teacher at Park Avenue Elementary in Mount Gilead, Ohio.
Her request to retire was recently accepted by the school board. But there’s more to the story. Lawson recently made an extended statement on her blog about this situation. She explains, “What will be missing [from the school board minutes] is that I was given the option to resign or be terminated because of my actions….”
What were her actions? She prayed at school.
Lawson has taught at Park Avenue Elementary for 25 years. She loves her job, the school, and especially the students. She says, “I believe with all my heart that God placed these children under my care, and I count that as a sacred trust. I am devastated to leave them – especially leaving this year’s students without the chance to say goodbye.”
What led to this unwanted decision?
On December 8, 2017, Lawson was placed on unpaid administrative leave. Her options were to stop praying and return to class or be terminated.
After discussions with her attorneys from the Christian Law Association and the school’s attorney, she agreed not to pray with the students. On January 2, 2018, Lawson returned to the classroom.
Determined to reach her students outside the classroom, she set up a Facebook group for live prayer.
About this decision she said, “To be honest, not praying with them was very hard – especially when we were going through the lockdowns and threats, but I had said that I wouldn’t, and so I didn’t. Doing live prayer on Facebook helped, but I knew that only a few students were exposed to that.”
This past spring, when testing time came, Lawson wanted to pray for the students. She came early to the classroom, prayed alone, and touched each desk with a drop of anointing oil. She did not pray with them or in front of them. Students became aware that she had prayed, and that was a problem to the administration.
And now Mrs. Lawson is no longer a teacher at Park Avenue Elementary.
After this most recent incident, Lawson faced a difficult choice. She said, “If I had felt that there was a chance to open the door to having prayer back in school by a lawsuit, that is a battle I would have been willing to fight. My attorneys helped me to understand that this would not be the case. And so, although my heart is broken, and I am sad beyond words, I agreed to retire rather than place the district in the position of having to terminate me.”
Lawson says her situation shows “…that it is possible, even in small town America, to lose your job as a direct result of your faith. We are a nation that has strayed so far from the faith on which we were founded.”
She’s absolutely right.
Of course, others will argue that prayer is illegal in schools and has been since Engle vs. Vitale, the Supreme Court case in 1962. They will say the Establishment Clause makes teacher-led prayer unconstitutional.
But we should be asking other questions. Why was prayer the norm in schools until 1962? Have schools improved or gotten worse since then? And how does a voluntary prayer establish a state sponsored religion? It hardly does that at all. Let’s not forget that the First Amendment also protects religion by not “…prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
The reality is most school districts are not free to make the best choice. Mount Gilead has lost an experienced and caring teacher in Mrs. Lawson. She’s exactly who kids need in the classroom.
They need someone who understands the true foundation of education as found in Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”