For several weeks, the student-led morning announcements at Yulee High School in Florida ended with the words “God Bless America.”
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 worldview, and is invidious toward atheists and other nonbelievers. The students in question are atheists and do not believe in any god. Every day these students must witness the State, through its public schools, define patriotism in a way that portrays Godbelief as consistent with ideal patriotism and disbelief as something less.
I didn’t think this was a huge deal at the time, but I felt the AHA was right on principle: For the same reason public schools can’t recite prayers over the loudspeakers, they’re not supposed to use morning announcements to endorse religion. And when students deliver the announcements, they’re speaking on behalf of the whole school.
Within a few hours, the AHA got a response from the principal:
… the principal [said] that the theistic assertion was not part of the scripted announcements but was added by a student without the school’s approval. In response to the letter, the administration promptly warned the student not to make such non-approved announcements in the future. The principal reassured the legal center, “It is our desire and intention to respect the belief and constitutional freedoms of all our students at Yulee High School.”
Great! Problem solved.
But then Fox News’ Todd Starnes took it to the next level by arguing that neutrality was somehow anti-Christian:
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 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,” he said.
But, again, the student wasn’t speaking as an individual. He was speaking on behalf of the administration. That’s why he shouldn’t be delivering religious pronouncements over the loudspeaker.
If he wants to tell his classmates “God bless America,” that’s fine. He can wear a shirt saying the same thing. But if he’s doing the announcements, he has to remain neutral.
This is a ridiculously simple concept. So it’s not surprising to me that Starnes doesn’t get it. But maybe he would if an atheist delivered the announcements and said “There’s no God” at the end of them.
Over the past week, the administration has been inundated with complaints from Christians who believe this is some huge civil rights battles… which makes sense when you take note of how much they complain about baking wedding cakes for the “wrong” sort of couple.
To my surprise, the Nassau County School District issued a statement this week reversing the decision:
Upon consultation with legal counsel and review of legal advisories, the Nassau County School District has taken the position that a student’s use of the phrase “God Bless America” during the morning announcements at Yulee High School does not violate the Constitution of the United States. We feel that the complaint filed on behalf of another student through the American Humanist Association should not supersede the right of other students to use the phrase, as it does not promote any religious denomination and is commonly used as an expression of patriotism.
We are confident in the legal counsel that our school board attorneys have provided in this circumstance. Our hope is that the phrase “God Bless America” will continue to ring in the halls of Congress, in our stadiums, in our arenas, in the halls of our schools and, most importantly, in the hearts of our children.
In other words: Fuck you, atheist students. You don’t matter. And neither do religious students who respect the Constitution. This public school district is hiding behind a wall of “patriotism” and pretending that “God Bless America” has nothing to do with a Christian God.
There was a very simple solution that would’ve settled this whole problem: Just don’t let kids say the announcements anymore — let the principal or other administrator do it. But I guess that wasn’t even in consideration.
It’s a pathetic decision by some cowardly officials who know that the minority of people who oppose the phrase don’t have as much power as the Christian majority that loves it.
It’s also a confusing one, given that another account of the reversal included this passage:
Tuesday’s school board decision said that use of the phrase does not violate the U.S. Constitution. But it doesn’t mean that students can include the phrase — or any other adlibbed comments — in the morning announcements.
“The admonition not to add to the script applies to anything,” [Nassau County School district spokesperson Sheryl] Wood told Reuters.
The American Humanist Association is weighing their options as to how to proceed.
(Image via Shutterstock. Large portions of this article were published earlier)