By Lauren Roth, Orlando Sentinel
A Florida five-year-old who said she was stopped from praying over her school lunch has become a cause for a Texas-based religious liberty law firm.
Marcos Perez posted a video last week on YouTube showing his daughter, a kindergartner at Carillion Elementary in Oviedo, Fla., saying she was confronted when she bowed her head to pray at lunch.
“The lunch teacher said, ‘You’re not allowed to pray,’” said the girl, whose name has not been released by the family. “I said, ‘It’s good to pray.’ She said, ‘It’s not good.’”
The family said the incident happened during the week of March 10. Seminole County Public Schools officials say the principal, Analynn Jones, spoke to staff that could have been in the cafeteria at the time and could not find any evidence the incident occurred.
She was not contacted by Perez until late last Tuesday night, after the video had been posted, school officials said. She responded Wednesday.
Jones made it clear to staff that students do have the right to pray in school, said district spokesman Michael Lawrence.
“We don’t have a policy against student prayer at all,” he said. Both Lawrence and the parents’ lawyer said the staff member allegedly involved has not been identified to them.
After seeing the YouTube video, which was reported on by websites including theblaze.com, the Liberty Institute of Plano, Texas, contacted Perez and offered to represent the family.
The law firm is asking for an apology and a better investigation.
“The principal has pretty much dismissed this,” said Jeremiah Dys, a Liberty Institute lawyer working with the family. “The School Board really needs to take into consideration that students can pray over lunch in school.”
Lawrence said that because none of the adults recalled the incident occurring, the district must consider the possibility that “a child that age may have misinterpreted something.”
School officials have not interviewed the girl, who has been pulled from kindergarten at Carillon by her parents, who said they intend to home school her.
Her father is vice president of sales at Charisma House, a Lake Mary, Florida-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 Todd Starnes.
Dys said his law firm has not investigated the incident independently but has full faith in the child’s account.
“I don’t think a five-year-old girl is going to create or concoct a story like this,” he said.
Dow Constantine, King County Executive via Flickr