On Monday of this week, a high school student in Florida read the announcements over the intercom at the beginning of the school day.
That's typical---it happens every week. In lots of schools.
However, when the student completed reading the announcements, he said, "God bless America."
Two atheist students became angry and contacted, not the school, but the American Humanist Association, which in turn had their advocate organization fire off a very strong letter to the principle and the school district.
Sharyl Wood, a district spokesperson, explained to the press that "the words 'God bless America' were not part of the script."
She also assured everyone that the principal had taken "appropriate steps in speaking with the student and with disciplining the student."
Disciplining the student?
The apparent reason for the school taking action against the student was for fear of a lawsuit by the atheists.
Atheist organizations threaten about 1,000 lawsuits every year, but only have funding to actually proceed on a very small number of them.
Threat has become their preferred method of bullying school districts. It's both cheap and effective.
But does a student not have any right to free speech?
The "official" reason for the school taking action against the student is very alarming.
First Coast News, owned by Gannet News organization, is trying to minimize and play down the episode saying the media tried to make too much of it.
Todd Starnes at Fox News is asking, "What's the penalty these days for asking God to bless America?"
The letter from the atheist organization is both direct and threatening.
Among other things, it warns the school with this: "It is inappropriate and unlawful for a public school to start the school day with an official statement over the intercom stating 'God bless America', for such a statement affirms Godbelief, validates a theistic world view, and is invidious toward atheists and other non-believers."
The atheists claim the school sponsored message sends the ancillary message to members of the audience who are nonadherants that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, while giving the message to those who are Godbelievers that they are favored and insiders.
There's more, but the message is that the school is discriminating by allowing someone to say "God bless America" and is violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
This is the response from Principal Natasha Drake to the atheists:
“Thank you for bringing this matter to my attention. I want to point out that the statement "God Bless America, keep us safe" that was made last week on the morning announcements was not approved by school Administration nor was it in the scripted announcements. The student on his own accord made the statement. I have called the student in this morning and directed him that at no time is he to add or take away from announcements that have been pre-approved and that if he did it again, he would no longer have the privilege of making the morning announcements. I am disappointed that the students who filed the complaint did not do so with me first, as I would have addressed it immediately. Once again, thank you for bringing this concern to my attention. It is our desire and intention to respect the beliefs and constitutional freedoms of all our students at Yulee High School.”
Clearly the statement, "God bless America" is a problem with the atheists.
But does a Christian or patriotic student have no rights?
Spokesperson Wood explained, "As an official representative of a government agency, schools aren't allowed to promote or inhibit religion. Individual students are certainly permitted to express their religious beliefs but not on behalf of the government body."
Attorney Jeremy Dys with Liberty Institute told Fox, "The atheists don't have a prayer" on this case.
Perhaps not in court, but that's a moot point because the school immediately caved in and apologized and promised never to allow "God bless America" to be heard over the government's intercom.
Dys says, "Whether a student is being patriotic or engaging in religious speech, there is no law in this country forbidding a student from telling his or her classmates, 'God bless America' and it is illegal for a school to censor a student for doing so."
He says, "Regardless of this attempt by secularists to white wash over this demonstration of patriotism by a teenager, America's students do not give up their right to free speech and the expression of their religious beliefs when they go to school."
This is concerning. And the concern is not unique to today.
More than a hundred years ago, Charles F. Potter, a humanist and Unitarian pastor, wrote this:
"Education is a most powerful ally of humanism, and every American school is a school of humanism. What can the theistic Sunday Schools, meeting for an hour, once a week, and teaching only a fraction of the children, do to stem the tide of a five-day program of humanistic teaching?" from "Humanism, America's New Religion", 1930
More than a hundred years ago, Dr. AA Hodge of Princeton University expressed deep concern about the direction of public, or government education. He said this:
“I am as sure as I am of Christ’s reign that a comprehensive and centralized system of national education, separated from religion, as is now commonly proposed, will prove the most appalling enginery for the propagation of anti-Christian and atheistic unbelief, and of anti-social nihilistic ethics, individual, social and political, which this sin-rent world has never seen.”
― A.A. Hodge
Be Informed. Be Discerning. Be Vigilant. Be Prayerful.