Students at Rutgers University are rallying around a beloved bus driver who says he was fired for praying for a disabled student in a wheelchair.
"I prayed for the lady. I put my hand on her and I prayed," the driver, Stan McNeil, said in a YouTube video posted earlier this week. "They said, 'We don’t need your services anymore.' They said, 'We don’t do that here.'"
McNeil, a Christian, was known on campus for his on-the-bus preaching. "As students hop on the LX bus traveling between the College Avenue and Livingston campuses, a welcoming voice greets them, reminding them they are one thought away from greatness," the Daily Targum, Rutgers' student newspaper, wrote in a 2011 profile of McNeil.
Bus company officials told the Newark Star-Ledger that McNeil had violated safety rules, and the Daily Targum, the student newspaper, reported that he resigned for personal reasons. But McNeil said he was pressured to resign after officials found out he had placed his hand on the student.
It's unclear if the disabled student or others complained. A representative for Rutgers did not immediately return a request for comment.
McNeil, a former Newark firefighter, had been employed as a driver at the school since 2011.
A Change.org petition launched by Rutgers students asking for McNeil's reinstatement has more than 4,000 signatures.
"Stan, the Rutgers LX bus driver that we all know and love, has recently resigned from his position," the petition reads. "The Rutgers community is speculating that pressure from the university had to do with his decision. Let's get our beloved champ back!"
The bus company that employed McNeil, however, is unmoved.
"This case is about safety," Stephenie Creech, a spokeswoman for the First Transit bus company, said in a statement. "All of our vehicle operators are instructed, ‘If it can’t be done safely, don’t do it.’ Unfortunately, a full internal review revealed that Mr. McNeil had failed to follow a critical safety protocol that was cause for immediate termination. When advised of his violation, Mr. McNeil chose to resign."
McNeil told the Star-Ledger the bus company told him surveillance video "shows he did not use the required number of straps to properly secure the disabled student’s wheelchair," and he acknowledged that he had been warned previously about similar actions by the company.
But he doesn't regret the prayer. "I just want to see people blessed," he said. "That’s my life."