On February 9th, Florida’s Yulee High School brought the hammer down on a student who offended some of his fellow classmates. The student was reprimanded for his actions after reading the morning announcements over the school’s intercom.
Upon finishing the announcements, the student added, ‘God Bless America.’
Two atheist students took offense to the statement. A school spokesperson for the Nassau County School District said that the student had gone off script and was being reprimanded:
“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.”
The students, bypassing their principal altogether, went directly to the American Humanist Association, a group that “advocates progressive values and equality for humanists, atheists and freethinkers.” The AHA wrote a letter through a legal arm called the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, even threatening legal action against the school district.
“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 AHA argued that because attending school is mandatory, atheist students cannot avoid hearing affirmations of a faith they don’t share.
Principal Natasha Drake responded, in a letter 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.”
The Nassau School District says it is doing what it can to defend the rights of all of its students. According to the school district, a student reading the morning announcements is speaking for the entire student body.