When Marcos and Kathy Perez heard the words coming from their 5-year-old daughter's mouth, they were flabbergasted.
In fact, so unheard of and blatantly out of step with American values was the incident they were hearing about that Marcos Perez pulled out his iPhone and started recording as they listened again to their kindergartner's story.
A story that soon would be posted online via a YouTube video and generate quite the groundswell of interest.
"I was at school, and I got my lunch, and I was about to pray and say something to Jesus," their daughter said.
Then this shocker: "My lunch teacher told me...'you're not allowed to pray.'"
According to the girl's video description, the staff member in question is a female; Marcos Perez told TheBlaze on Friday that the exchange occurred the week of March 10 at a public school near their Orlando-area home. Perez said he's not prepared to release any more identifying facts — including his daughter's first name — until the incident has shaken out.
But their daughter had plenty more to add on video, as did Mom and Dad.
After their girl reportedly got the big nix on bowing her head, closing her eyes, and talking to Jesus, she reportedly retorted to the teacher, "It's good to pray!" recounting the action with a huge smile.
The teacher allegedly came back with, "It's not good."
"It is good," the girl insisted.
Most heartbreaking of all (and maybe a little scary) is the girl's explanation of what happened later in the lunch period: "I was trying to pray, but I just couldn't — because they caught me again."
Indeed Perez and his wife were more than a little fumed over the alleged incident — but he saw the big picture, too: "No American should ever experience having their right to pray taken away," he told TheBlaze.
Perez — vice president of sales at Charisma House, a Christian book publisher — emailed and called the principal of his daughter's school, who in turn checked into the incident. "As expected, the staff denied everything," Perez told TheBlaze.
For now the Perezes are attempting to figure out he identity of the staff member in question by looking at photos online — and strongly considering homeschooling, quite apart from the difficult experience their little girl shared.
"We're concerned about Common Core," Perez said, adding that their daughter "doesn't need to be exposed to that and get harassed because of her faith."
Most of all, Perez and his wife told their daughter they're very proud her and encourage her to keep praying whenever she wants "because Jesus loves it when you pray, and God loves it."
Here's the video of Perez' daughter explaining what she said happened during lunch at her school (and below the clip is the text of the email exchange between Perez and the school principal, with indentifying data removed):
I'm am writing this email in shock and disbelief. Today, our daughter -----, a kindergarten student at -----, told us that during a recent lunch period at school, a staff person at (school name) saw her praying for her food — stopped her — and told her that she could not pray. Our daughter responded by saying "but it's good to pray," and she said the staff person said "it's not good." I asked her, "Did she just say 'No' or did she say 'it's not good'"? To which she responded with the same face and imitation of the staff person that said "it's not good." I asked her what she did next, and she said she tried praying but she couldn't because "they caught me again." At this point, we affirmed her courageous attempt to stand up for her beliefs and we encouraged her to ensure she understood that according to our views and our family values - she did nothing wrong.
To say this was disturbing is a gross understatement. What is the school's position on this?
I look forward to your prompt reply.
Mr. Perez, I received your email and your voice message this morning. I have spoken to each adult who was in the lunchroom at the time that your daughter had lunch yesterday. None of them recall having this conversation with your daughter.
Please know that students are permitted to pray during school. I will remind all staff members of this.
Thank you for your response. I'm pleased to know this is not a policy or position of the school. However, please note that this did not happen yesterday. As a matter of fact, my daughter was not at school yesterday as she is home with a stomach bug. This actually happened the week prior to Spring break, the week of March 10. She said something to my parents in passing on Friday, March 14 but we did not sit down and talk to her about it until last night in full detail.
So you are aware, during our discussion last night, I decided to whip out my iPhone and record my daughters story. I posted that video on social media for friends, family and other concerned parents to see what my daughter experienced. My 5-year old should not feel conflicted about prayer with respect to trying to follow rules or authority. We remain speechless that our daughter had to experience from an individual with an agenda. Please click on the following link so you can see for yourself:
There are two issues here. The first is the violation of my daughter's right to pray during lunch by the individual who said this to her and prevented her from praying. The second is the school's position on this, which is now settled and I'm clear on - and satisfied with. But the first issue — the violation of my daughters right to pray — by the rogue individual in authority at that time, is still a major concern.
Are the same staff in the lunch room every day? Could there have been someone else in her lunch period the week of March 10?
Thanks again for your help with this.
Typically the same staff members are in the cafeteria each day. I checked with any possible person who may have been there, as well our food service personnel. No one recalls having this conversation with your daughter the week prior to spring break or ever.
Again, I will reiterate to the entire staff, that students are permitted to pray.
At the end of it, it could be true that the incident in question truly didn't happen — or was recalled differently. Regardless we'll continue to update this developing story.
(H/T: BizPac Review)