An atheist group chastised a Florida high school after a student recently said "God bless America" on the morning announcements — a proclamation that the organization claims violated the First Amendment.
Yulee High School principal Natasha Drake and the Nassau County School District Superintendent Dr. John Ruis received a letter from the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, the American Humanist Association's legal arm, on Monday, warning officials that "God bless America" isn't permitted in such a forum, WJAX-TV reported.
The letter, dated February 9, claims that the humanist organization was alerted by two atheist students about the supposed "constitutional violation" that the school and the district had allowed, calling the proclamation "inappropriate and unlawful."
"We have been informed that religious messages are being delivered over the PA system at Yulee High School every morning for the past few weeks," the letter reads. "The students report that the morning announcements, following the moment of silent and Pledge of Allegiance, now conclude with the religious message: 'God bless America."
The Appignani Humanist Legal Center alleges that allowing the statement favors "God-belief" and "validates a theistic worldview" that alienates atheists and non-believers.
"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 God-belief as consistent with ideal patriotism and disbelief as something less," the letter continues.
The humanist group asked that the purported practice of allowing "God bless America" over the loudspeaker be stopped immediately — and it didn't take long for a response from the school, with the principal writing a note back that same day.
"This afternoon, the Appignani Humanist Legal Center received written assurances from the principal that the theistic assertion was not part of the scripted announcements but was added by a student without the school’s approval," reads a press release from the atheist group. "In response to the letter, the administration promptly warned the student not to make such non-approved announcements in the future."
Conservative commentator Todd Starnes published text of the letter that Drake reportedly sent to the Appignani Humanist Legal Center:
"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."
Starnes said that a spokesperson for the Nassau County School District told him that a student did, indeed, deviate from an approved script during morning announcements on February 9, though it is unclear if "God bless America" was uttered on other occasions as well.
"It wasn’t part of the scripted morning announcements," spokeswoman Sharyl Wood told Starnes. "The principal took the appropriate steps in speaking with the student and disciplining the student."
Wood said that government representatives cannot promote religion and that the student in question essentially did just that while speaking over the loudspeaker in an official capacity.
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