The Augusta School District has announced they will no longer pursue a reprimand against Toni Richardson, who is a functional skills technician who works with students with special needs.
In September of 2016, Richardson was questioned by school administrators as to whether she had made any "faith-based statements" on the school campus. She was specifically asked whether she had told a fellow employee that he would be in her prayers.
Richardson acknowledged that she had offered words of encouragement to a co-worker who is a fellow member of the church she attends, and had promised to pray for him.
School officials scolded her, saying that using the words "I will pray for you" was "unprofessional" and not acceptable. She was advised that she could face formal disciplinary action and even termination if she did so again.
Richardson was later provided with a "coaching memorandum" that informed her that "it is imperative that you do not use phrases that integrate public and private belief systems when in the public schools."
The Christian legal interest firm First Liberty filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Richardson's behalf.
The complaint alleged that the school district was engaged in unconstitutional hostility to religion and "viewpoint discrimination" in violation of the First Amendment and the U.S. Civil Rights Act.
Now the leadership of the Augusta School District has furnished Richardson with a revised "coaching memorandum" which recognizes that she has the right "to express religious beliefs or use faith-based language at school."
The "updated" memo also states that comments such as "God bless you" or "I am praying for you" are acceptable when they are made to co-workers, but only when they are not made in the presence of students.
Richardson says she is relieved that the controversy is over. "I love my job helping special needs students succeed, and I'm glad that I don't have to sacrifice my First Amendment rights in order to be here."
"Because my faith is an integral part of who I am, my religious beliefs influence how I see the world and the words and phrases I use. I pray often for people and sincerely believe in the power of prayer."
Jeremy Dys, attorney for First Liberty, commended Richardson for taking a stand for her faith. "This has been a hard year for Toni. She's even had to refrain from wearing jewelry that has a cross on it."
"Now others like her can be reminded that school employees are not required to hide their faith from each other while on campus."