Fired for Praying?

by Alec Torres
A bus driver at Rutgers university says he was fired for praying over students; his bosses disagree.

At the end of October, Stan McNeil prayed over a wheelchair-bound girl on the bus he drove for Rutgers University. Within a week, he was asked to resign.

His employers say that they requested McNeil’s resignation because he did not follow safety procedures while securing the girl’s wheelchair. McNeil, well known for his motivational speeches and prayers of healing, says he was forced out of his job because of his prayer.

“They pulled me into the office and said, ‘You prayed for a student and you laid hands on her. We don’t do that here,’” McNeil tells me. “They said it was grounds for termination.”

For just over two years, McNeil drove a bus route for students at Rutgers University. Beloved by the students he met, he would make motivational speeches from the driver’s seat and offer prayers of healing to those in pain.

“I spoke on the bus as I would drive,” McNeil says. “People said they were uplifted and that it was a joy to ride my bus.” He spoke mostly about having a good life, being inspired, and studying hard, he says. He also prayed over students who had physical injuries, and said that after his prayers many students were healed. “They would have ankle injuries, different types of injuries, and I would pray,” McNeil says. “They would come back the next day and tell me, ‘I don’t have that injury anymore.’”

But after praying over a disabled girl in a wheelchair, McNeil was called to the office by his manager. “[My bosses] said, ‘We saw you on tape with a young lady in a wheelchair and you prayed for her and you laid hands on her,’” he says. “Then they said, ‘We don’t want to fire you because we don’t want that on your record. You’re a good guy, so can we put down that you resigned? It would look better.’” McNeil agreed.

But the bus company, First Transit of FirstGroup America, disagrees with his version of the events. “First Transit has long appreciated Mr. McNeil’s rapport with the students. . . . We respect his beliefs and the many positive messages he shared with the students,” Stephanie A. Creech, the communications director of FirstGroup America, said in a statement. “This case is about safety. . . . A full internal review revealed that Mr. McNeil failed to follow a critical safety protocol. . . . When advised of his violation, Mr. McNeil chose to resign.”

In securing wheelchair-bound students, bus operators for First Transit are required to attach four straps from the bus to the wheelchair. McNeil only attached two.

“I want to be truthful,” McNeil says. “What [First Transit] said about the straps, they’re right. I did use two. I’m not going to deny that.” Yet McNeil says that the safety violation was not the reason he was initially asked to resign. “They mentioned the straps, but they said I was fired because I prayed over somebody. . . . That was the only reason. . . . Later they changed it around and said it was the straps.”

When I asked McNeil if he thought he would have been fired for the safety violation alone had he not prayed, he wasn’t sure. “I really don’t know other people’s minds,” he says.

Students at Rutgers have rallied to McNeil’s cause, some circulating a petition to bring him back to the school. I spoke with Gene Isaacs, a senior film student at Rutgers, who recorded a YouTube video for McNeil to explain what happened and also plans to make a documentary about McNeil for a class. Isaacs says that he thinks the safety issue wasn’t the real cause for McNeil’s expulsion but just an excuse. “They were always telling [McNeil] to calm down about [his praying]. . . . They were pretty strong about him putting his hands on the girl in the wheelchair,” Isaacs tells me. “The whole safety part of it was just giving them the reason to terminate him.”

McNeil tells me that now that he’s no longer working at Rutgers, he’s running family errands and working with his church. “I’m a retired fireman,” he says. “This was a part-time job for me. There wasn’t a lot of money.” He gets by financially and says that he really just misses the students: “The only reason why I was there was because I enjoy the students. Some things you do because you love it and it’s not a money thing.”

He holds no grudges against his old bosses, whose names he didn’t want to give to the press, and is instead focusing on his ultimate dream: becoming a pastor. “That’s why I believe in healing and I pray,” McNeil tells me. “Everything that happened on that bus, how those students felt and them feeling uplifted, it’s God. I just pray.”

— Alec Torres is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.