A Florida high school student was disciplined after a national atheist organization took offense when he concluded the morning announcements by saying, "God bless America."
A spokesperson for the Nassau County School District told me the student at Yulee High School deviated from the approved script on the morning of Feb. 9th and uttered the words "God bless America"—apparently causing angst among two atheist students.
"It wasn't part of the scripted morning announcements," district spokesperson Sharyl Wood said. "The principal took the appropriate steps in speaking with the student and disciplining the student."
Disciplining the student? What's the penalty these days for asking God to bless America—30 lashes?
Instead of reporting their angst to the principal, the atheist students reached out to the American Humanist Association. The AHA's legal arm—the Appignani Humanist Legal Center—fired off a testy letter to the principal and school district on the students' behalf.
"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 God-belief, validates a theistic worldview and is invidious toward atheists and other nonbelievers," the American Humanist Association wrote in a letter to the principal of Yulee High School.
The AHA said the student violated the Constitution and broke the law by invoking God's name over the public address system. They demanded the school immediately cease and desist under the threat of a lawsuit.
"The daily validation of the religious views of God-believers resigns atheists to second-class citizens," the AHA wrote in their letter. "Because attendance is mandatory, the students have no way of avoiding this daily message either."
Later that day—the AHA received a mea culpa from the principal assuring them such behavior would not happen again.
Here's the letter Principal Natasha Drake wrote to the AHA:
"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."
So why in the world does the school district have a problem with God blessing America?
"As an official representative of a governmental agency, schools aren't allowed to promote or inhibit religion," Wood told me. "Individual students are certainly permitted to express their religious beliefs but not on behalf of the governmental body."
She explained that once the student delivered the morning announcements, the student became a representative of the government and therefore invoking God to bless our fruited plain became a no-no.
"We can't say God bless America or hail to Muslims—nobody can get up there and say there is no God," Wood explained. "We have respect for all people's faiths and religions."
The school district is also a frustrated that the atheist students declined to speak directly to school leadership. However, the kids apparently feared repercussions.
"We have an anonymous tip line the students could have used to make a report," Wood said.
Of course they do—because you never know when you might need to report a student for suddenly shouting, "Bless you," after a teacher sneezes.
I asked Jeremy Dys, an attorney with Liberty Institute to weigh in on this nonsense and he said the atheists don't have a prayer.
"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 said.
Dys also wonders why atheists are so hell-bent on trying to censor the patriotic speech of a red-blooded American high school student.
"Regardless of this attempt by secularists to whitewash 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," he said.
I'd still like to know how they disciplined the morning announcement reader for such an egregious act—but the district spokesperson refused to tell me.
Lord love 'em but I'm not sure what's worse—perpetually offended atheists or constitutionally ignorant educators.
Todd Starnes is host of "Fox News & Commentary," heard on hundreds of radio stations. Sign up for his American Dispatch newsletter, be sure to join his Facebook page, and follow him on Twitter. His latest book is God Less America.
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