That’s obviously illegal illegal to do, and it wasn’t even the first time they had been caught violating church/state separation. The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent them a letter last October concerning prayers said over the loudspeakers during football games and coach-led prayers before those games. The district denied both charges.
They can’t deny the recordings, though. But, amazingly, they tried to minimize how they were in the wrong. Superintendent Michael Gilbert wrote this on his district blog:
The residents were offended at the use of scripture, demanding that it be stopped and calling for disciplinary action against Mr. Noll. I am fully aware of the practice at the high school and will not pursue any action against our High School Principal or any other member of our faculty/staff concerning this issue.
Let me be clear, this is an attempt to draw us into a contest of words for the sole purpose of giving the FFRF a large amount of free press/recognition that they and their very few members (1,200 in Texas) do not deserve. This group and others like it, are wanting us to provide them with negative quotes to use in the promotion of their agenda. We can and will make the adjustments needed to ensure our students experience a morally sound, positive character based education. There are a multitude of options to provide our students, faculty and staff the opportunity to express their First Amendment Rights as provided for in the United States Constitution. Let me also be clear that we have not (in my opinion) violated anyone’s rights and/or subjected anyone to undue stress. Bible studies and scriptures are allowed in schools. The requirement is that the material be presented in a neutral manner. It is my position that we met that standard with the morning announcements.
Let me paraphrase: Yes, we read Bible verses over the loudspeaker in the morning. No, I’m not doing anything about it. It’s perfectly neutral.
That’s why Principal Noll also reads passages from the Koran and the God Delusion.
(Keep in mind Bible Studies are perfectly legal as an after school club. The Bible can also be taught as literature. And students are free to read the Bible during school hours. But teachers and administrators cannot preach the Bible during school hours, and that’s what’s going on here.)
After all that bloviating — and after shutting off comments on his blog, maybe because he noticed how people were turning against him — it appears to have sunk in that Gilbert and Noll are on the losing end of a potential lawsuit.
So they announced this weekend that Noll will no longer read Bible verses during morning announcements.
White Oak ISD Superintendent Michael Gilbert said that while the principal would continue to offer his “thought for the day,” it “will not include chapter and verse from Scripture.”
To be sure, this may not be the only church/state violation occurring in the district, but it’s the only one for which we have definitive proof. The student who sent me those recordings deserves all the credit in the word for creating this change. (If anyone else at the school notices other violations there, feel free to pass them along.)
My guess is the district’s legal counsel told them they had no chance of winning this battle in court. Either way, notice how Noll and Gilbert have not apologized for their actions. They have too much pride to do that. They also haven’t promised to clamp down on other church/state violations (if those accusations are true).
They just got caught red-handed this time.
(Thanks to Brian for the link. Large portions of this article were published earlier)