In-Depth: Texas teacher questions if she was fired for promoting Christianity to students

District says firing wasn't related to her faith.
Posted at 7:32 AM, May 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-13 02:04:57-04

ABILENE, Texas — “I should never have to apologize for Christ,” said Nellie Parrish, a fourth-grade teacher at Wylie Independent School District.

Now, the 20-year veteran teacher is questioning why she won't be in a classroom next year.

“I had two complaints that were brought up to me from the principal, one was over prayer,” Parrish said.

Parrish went on to say she received another complaint about playing Christian music in her class.

"These claims have been investigated and were unfounded," said Joey Light, superintendent of Wylie ISD.

Meanwile, Parrish told the school board that she plays a variety of music in the classroom.

“April 14, Ricky Bacon informed me that my contract would not be renewed,” Parrish said.

The teacher went in front of the school board this week.

She used the time to speak about teachers and lack of support.

She also expressed her disappointment in the lack of transparency for her firing.

“I’ve asked repeatedly why I’m being let go," said Parrish.

"The principal will not answer me."

Parrish said the school would play Christian music in the cafeteria alongside holding a prayer before football games.

Adding that Light, the district's superintendent, is known to lead a prayer on the first day of school.

“What has happened to us?" Parrish said.

"We use to stand for our faith,”

People across the community have since come to the defense of the fired teacher, taking to both social media and the school board meeting.

One teacher told the school board members she felt led to pray and read scripture.

"I ask for a fresh lens tonight and that the truth would be seen," the teacher said.

Prayer in school has been a recent debate in the Supreme Court.

The case involves Joe Kennedy, a former high school football coach who was fired for allegedly pressuring students to perform Christian prayers.

Back in 1962, the Supreme Court ruled that New York state public schools could not begin school days with a state-composed prayer.

The court's opinion was that the practice violated the First Amendment’s establishment clause since it amounted to government-sponsored religious instruction.

Joe Kennedy, a former assistant high school football coach in Bremerton, Washington, stands outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on April 5, 2022. The court has agreed to hear a case he brought against the Bremerton School District that put him on leave after he refused to cease his practice of kneeling on the field for a post-game prayer.

T.J. Kirkpatrick, for the Deseret News

The Supreme Court now leads with more conservative judges and seems to be searching April 25 to rule in favor of a former coach who was fired for praying.

But there was a problem, existing disputes over the coaches' conduct.

In the United States, Pew research shows a recent sharp decline in Christianity.

  • 65 percent of American adults describe themselves as Christians when asked about their religion, down 12 percentage points over the past decade.
  • Americans now describe their religion as “nothing in particular,” up from 12 percent in 2009. Members of non-Christian religions also have grown modestly as a share of the adult population

So what's next for the Wylie ISD teacher?
She has since refused to resign and says this can go on her record.

It was also expressed that one Wylie teacher retired early because of a threatened lawsuit.

“We need to stand firm in our principles and faith,” Parrish said.

Since news broke of her firing, Parrish said she feels "blessed" by the response she's gotten in the following statement:

"Thank you so much to everyone who has reached out. You have no idea how much it means to me and my family. Being a teacher and coach is one of my greatest blessings. I'm so thankful to God for the special amazing students and athletes that he placed in my life. You all have blessed me more than you'll ever know. Our family appreciates your continued prayers. Blessings to you."
Nellie Parrish

The Wylie ISD superintendent has since responded, disputing her claims:

"Nellie Parrish’s contract termination was not because of prayer or Christianity," said Light.

"This is false information and district personnel matters will not be discussed due to privacy,

"District termination policies were followed."