Teachers once wrote words on the classroom’s whiteboard that students were encouraged to learn and repeat. But in the recent case of Liberty Institute client, Kendra Turner—a student at Dyer County High School in Dyersburg, Tennessee—we now know that times have changed. Kendra was kicked out of class last week for saying “bless you,” a banned phrase written by the teacher on the classroom white board.
Earlier this week, Liberty Institute sent a demand letter, on behalf of Shannon Tankersley—the mother of Kendra Turner—to the Dyer County School District. The letter seeks an apology within seven business days from Dyer County High School for unlawfully disciplining Ms. Turner for expressing her protected religious speech, and for the removal of any prohibitions against protected speech.
“It is unlawful for a school official to kick a student out of class for quietly blessing another student after she sneezes,” said Liberty Institute Senior Counsel Jeremy Dys. “Ms. Turner’s simple utterance is an expression of what she has been taught by her faith. The Constitution affirms her non-disruptive freedom of such simple an expression of her faith.”
“it’s my freedom of religion and freedom of speech”
Turner respectfully said, “Bless you,” after a fellow student sneezed in her computer class on August 18. “I just simply said, ‘bless you,’” the high school senior shared in a Fox & Friends interview last week, along with Dys.
“Bless you” is one of the words Turner’s teacher had written out on the classroom’s white board and banned the students from saying, as part of the class rule. Turner’s fellow students took a picture of the other phrases which include: stupid, dumb, boring, stuff, I don’t know, other peer expressions, hang out, my bad.
After Turner said “bless you,” she said the teacher stood up in her classroom and asked who had spoken. “I said that I did,” Turner explained. When the teacher confronted her by asking why she had said it, the student said that her parents, as well as her pastor, had taught her to say it. For many, as with Kendra, saying “bless you” is a way of showing the type of hospitality of which Christianity teaches.
“After that,” Turner continued, “one of the classmates asked [the teacher] what she had against the words, ‘bless you.’ And [the teacher] said that there will be no ‘godly speaking’ in the class. That’s when I said my pastor told me that I have a constitutional right, and it’s my freedom of religion and freedom of speech.” Then, Turner said, she was kicked out of her class and sent to the office of the vice-principal, who affirmed the teacher’s hostile action, stating no religious language is permitted in the classroom. Turner was sentenced to in-school suspension (ISS) for the remainder of the block period.
“If you review cases like these that Liberty Institute has defended over the years,” added Dys, “you’ll see how often this is a constant refrain that students can’t have any kind of religious speech at school whatsoever . . . but while our students are expected to obey the rules of the classroom, we expect our teachers and school officials to obey the rules of this country and the Constitution.”
SHOW SUPPORT . . . TAKE THE “BLESS YOU” CHALLENGE
Liberty Institute is defending Turner in what is an outrageous, unlawful violation of this brave young woman’s rights. Even her fellow classmates have recognized the blatant attempt to violate Turner’s right and have hand made “Bless You” T-shirts in her support.
We’re also asking friends and supporters of Liberty Institute to take this farther—in the support of freedom. Through Liberty Institute’s “Bless You” Challenge, we’re asking Americans who believe in freedom of religion and freedom of speech to add their names to our petition and to show support for this student and for religious liberty as school begins. The “Bless You” Challenge reads:
“YES! I am outraged that a school would harshly punish a polite and courageous young woman for saying “bless you” to a fellow student who sneezed. I stand with Kendra Turner. I call upon Dyer County High School to apologize, and for educators across America to allow our children their lawful freedom of speech and religion.”
STAND WITH US AND EMPOWER STUDENTS
Liberty Institute is committed to educating students about their First Amendment rights in the classroom—because the America being formed today in the public school system is a nation of eroding moral values, social breakdown, and weakened faith.
But we can’t do this alone. And through your ongoing prayer and financial support—which helps to make possible our FREE, easy-to-understand religious rights resourcesfor students and teachers—you can help rapidly reverse what secularism has down in our schools, to our children, and to our country!
About Liberty Institute
Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit www.LibertyInstitute.org.