A kindergartner praying over her lunchtime meal drew the attention of a school lunch monitor, who allegedly forced the 5-year-old to stop. The kindergartner’s story is now going viral, with one possible caution – it may be simply a misunderstanding, or as some have suggested, completely fabricated.
According to Yahoo! News on Tuesday, kindergartner Gabriella Perez and her family from Oviedo, Florida, are accusing a staff member at Carillon Elementary School of preventing Gabriella from saying a prayer in the cafeteria before she ate her school-bought lunch.
Marcos Perez, Gabriella’s father, posted a YouTube video of his 5-year-old talking about the incident, seen above.
In the video, Gabriella recounts the conversation: “The lunch teacher said, ‘You’re not allowed to pray,’ I said, ‘It’s good to pray.’ She said, ‘It’s not good.’” Gabriella later says that she tried to pray again but “got caught.”
Perez wrote the following on his YouTube upload:
My wife and I were shocked when our 5-year-old daughter began to tell us that someone on staff at her school saw her praying – told her to stop – and said “it is not good.” This is Kindergarten. She was praying to herself for her food, following the biblical values we are working hard to instill in our children. We are so proud of our little princess and as you can see, we continue to affirm her that prayer IS GOOD and that NO ONE can tell her she can't pray. No doubt we will homeschool going forward.
We live in the United States of America, the land of the free, yet our traditional values and religious freedoms are under assault. This is just a small example.
WebProNews picks up a different angle on this story:
But here’s the thing: Staff members at the school say none of this ever happened and no one in the cafeteria recalls any of this taking place.
A spokesperson for the Seminole County School System believes Gabriella misunderstood what was told to her, and he’s confused why her father would make a video instead of coming to the school.
Carillon Elementary’s principal, AnaLynn Jones, said she personally spoke to her cafeteria staff who were working on March 10, the day of the alleged incident, and that all of them deny this ever occurring.
Michael Lawrence, the communications officer for Seminole County Schools, issued the following statement:
The situation as stated by the parent has not occurred according to the school's investigation…We're dealing with very young children here so there's quite a bit of an opportunity for miscommunication to occur. The timing and the issues were very odd considering that the first thing that happened was that a video was done, it was on YouTube.
We don't have a policy against student prayer at all.
Perez and his wife deny that claim, saying they sent several emails to the school prior to posting the video on March 25 to YouTube.
“She wanted to pray, but she's a rule-follower,” said Kathy Perez, Gabriella's mother, during a news conference this week with local television crews outside of her daughter's school. “I told her she did the right thing. I don't doubt for a minute that my daughter is telling the truth.”
The Orlando Sentinel also uncovered this fact – Marcos Perez is “vice president of sales at Charisma House, a Lake Mary-based Christian book publisher. The company is currently promoting the book “God Less America: Real Stories From the Front Lines of the Attack on Traditional Values,” by Fox News host Todd Starnes. Starnes reported on the lunch prayer controversy for Fox News Radio."
The Perez’s story is now being championed by the Liberty Institute – a “legal organization dedicated solely to defending and restoring religious liberty in America,” says their website.
The firm contacted the Perez family and is now representing them. The Institute is calling for a formal letter of apology that acknowledges the confrontation and for the firing of the staffer that allegedly made the remark to Gabriella.
“The principal has pretty much dismissed this,” said Jeremiah Dys, the Liberty Institute lawyer overseeing the incident. “Saying a 5-year-old cannot pray over her chicken nuggets and mac and cheese isn't in line with the Constitution.”
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