Teacher asked to change out of 'Just Pray' T-shirt because it broke dress code

Elise Solé
A teacher was sent home from school for wearing a “Just Pray” t-shirt. (Photo: Getty Images)

The governor of Alabama is rushing to the defense of a teacher in her state who was told to change out of her “Just Pray” t-shirt because it was against the school’s dress code.

“Religious liberty is a cornerstone of the freedoms we enjoy in our country,” Governor Kay Ivy said in a May 2nd statement. “For a teacher to be disallowed from wearing a shirt that exhorts others to pray, especially for a child suffering from terminal cancer, is simply unacceptable. The right to express one’s religious beliefs, including prayer which was often invoked by George Washington himself, is not lost when one enters the schoolhouse door. I am committed to protecting religious freedom for everyone, including our teachers and school children.

Chris Burrell, a third-grade teacher at Pearl Haskew Elementary School in Mobile, was sent home from school on Apr. 23rd for wearing a t-shirt that read “Just Pray.” According to Alabama Today, Burrell, in a now-deleted Facebook post, explained that she wore the shirt as a shoutout to Aubreigh’s Army, which exists to support an 11-year-old girl with brain cancer.

“Getting sent home from work today to change my ‘Just Pray’ shirt,” wrote Burrell, who declined Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment. “I purchased this shirt to raise money for #AubreighsArmy. I thought it was fitting to wear today since my kids were testing. I didn’t think twice about it. I wasn’t trying to promote religion, it was just my Monday feel good shirt. In my 15 years of teaching, this has never been an issue. My heart hurts.”

Join me in prayer today at 11:00 for Aubs MRI. We need good results! #webelieve #beatthismonster #justpray

Posted by Aubreigh's Army on Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Martha Peek, superintendent of Mobile County Public Schools, did not return Yahoo Lifestyle’s multiple requests for comment. But she did tell Fox10 TV, “So at the point of looking and seeing ‘pray’ on it, the principal said, ‘Can you put on a sweater or something?’ knowing that there are other people who object to that… we have to be cognizant of everyone’s beliefs or everyone’s thoughts in a public school.”

Peek added that students and teachers are not allowed to wear clothing that reflects their  religious beliefs, and that the principal who sent Burrell home was unaware of Aubreigh’s Army. “We’re totally supporting her,” said Peek, “I think that this was just an unfortunate connection there, but still the principal would have had to exercise her judgment.”

However, in the Mobile County Public School System handbook, there is no mention of clothing that promotes religion.

Yahoo Lifestyle could not reach a representative from the Alabama branch of the American Civil Liberties Union for comment, but the national organization often defends students who wish to express their faith at school. In Virginia, for example, the ACLU successfully forced two public middle schools to reverse a ban on wearing rosary beads, and in North Carolina it supported the case of a 6-year-old who wished to read a poem containing the word “God” at a school assembly celebrating Veterans Day. In New Jersey, the ACLU stepped in again to support a student who wanted to wear an armband that read “LIFE” due to her religious beliefs.  

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