Yulee High School became the center of controversy last week after a student making morning announcements ended by saying, “God bless America,” over the intercom.
An official with the American Humanist Association said the organization was contacted by several students who felt the statement was inappropriate. The association contacted the school, asking that students not be allowed to make “religious proclamations” as part of the morning announcements.
“The school complied. They were very quick in responding to us. They basically acknowledged that it wasn’t appropriate and that they would talk to the student and that it would not continue,” said David Niose, legal director of the American Humanist Association. “Non-believers don’t want God language being injected into their school day. They correctly perceived this as the school taking a position on a religious issue, promoting the idea of God-belief. They thought that that was inappropriate, and they were right about that. It is an establishment clause violation.”
Niose said he appreciated the school’s quick response and felt it handled the situation appropriately.
“It’s not benign for the school to be making statements like ‘God bless America,’ because those kind of statements validate the idea that God-belief is patriotic,” Niose said. “And it portrays non-believers as less patriotic, and that’s what people are concerned about.”
Niose said it’s a misunderstanding if people think it boils down to a free speech issue.
“People tend to think … that the students involved have free speech rights to be making proclamations over the intercom, but the morning announcements in the school are not a free speech forum,” Niose said. “Morning announcements are the school making a statement — even if it happens to be a student making the statement on behalf of the school — the school is making an announcement, so the school can not be taking a position on a religious or political issue.”
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Scott Johnson, Francine Frazier