Dr. Michael Lehr, the principal at Manchester High School in Georgia, has claimed that he's been fired from his position after reading the Bible and praying with a group of students during a Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) meeting at the school.
Lehr was told two days after the meeting that he was being placed on administrative leave with pay. He has also been banned from school and campus activities.
“We're all kind of baffled by the decision,” Lehr told local news station WRBL. “The superintendent has heard me pray at meetings before. She's been beside me when I cite scripture at graduation. Her own board meetings begin with prayer.”
Meriwether County Superintendent Carol Lane refused to confirm the reason for her decision in an email response to WRBL.
“I never comment on personnel issues," Lane wrote. "I'm sorry that I cannot provide you with any information. Possibly at a later date. Thank you for your inquiry.”
“As a non-tenured employee, I'm not entitled to an explanation or hearing,” said Lehr, who has been principal for about three years.
Students and parents reacted to the announcement, with some unsure about the reason for the decision.
“He did our sermon and that was nice of him, but I didn't think he would be fired for it, if that was the reason he was let go,” a student athlete said.
"My son took it hard because he looks up to Dr. Lehr," parent Angila Waddell said. "He was always a mentor [to] the students, always good to the students."
Members of the FCA voluntarily meet before or after school to pray and read the Bible. But certain restrictions on staff participation have always existed.
The FCA Handbook states that it is a "qualified student club," meaning “one which is student initiated and student led. Faculty can be involved only to monitor, facilitate, or supervise, and non-school persons cannot be regularly and directly involved in the meetings.”
The handbook made reference to two legal cases that justified this position, both of which resulted in courts expressing two specific concerns about teacher participation: “The first is a concern that it will appear that the school endorses the teacher's religious views. Courts have held that, simply because of the teacher's position in the school, a teacher's speech can be taken as directly and deliberately representative of the school.
"The second concern is that because teachers give grades, and similarly, coaches evaluate athletes, when teachers and coaches share their religious beliefs, it could have a coercive effect on the students.”
The formal confirmation of Lehr’s dismissal is to be made May 12, at which point more details may become available.