White Oak High School cuts scriptures from morning announcements

Updated: Mar. 16, 2015 at 9:01 AM CDT
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Michael Gilbert (Source: White Oak ISD)
Michael Gilbert (Source: White Oak ISD)

WHITE OAK, TX (KLTV) - White Oak High school will no longer include scripture during their morning announcements, according to Superintendent Michael Gilbert.

The move comes after the district received a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation that high school Principal Dan Noll was quoting Bible verses during the announcements. The FFRF is a group that promotes nontheism and separation between religion and government.

Earlier this month, the foundation alleged that the school was violating the Constitution after the scriptures, read during Noll's 'Thought for the Day' announcements, were recorded and posted online.

"We'll still be doing our thoughts of the day and it will be something that promotes positive thoughts and positive choices," Gilbert said.

READ MORE: White Oak ISD responds to allegations from anti-religion foundation

The foundation claimed that the school was in violation of the Constitution's Establishment Clause and a Supreme Court ruling and asked the school to stop the action in a letter to district.

On Monday, Gilbert said that the school would no longer cite chapter or verse from scripture. He said the district had not responded to the foundation's letter.

"We will obviously look to confirm the change in practice with our student contact within the high school, but for now we consider this a solid victory for state/church separation," FFRF Attorney Sam Grover said.

The FFRF had considered filing a lawsuit against the district.

Grover said at the time of the incident that the organization hoped they wouldn't have to file a lawsuit against the school but said that if WOISD continued to violate the constitution, then they would take further action.

"It doesn't matter about what the majority feels," said Grover. "The constitution is designed to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority."

Many White Oak residents expressed support for the scriptures this past week, saying they help students distinguish between right and wrong.

"I think that keeping Scripture and prayer in schools is a very important thing and it should stay a part of our children's right." White Oak resident Lisa Brown said.

Gilbert previously responded to the FFRF's complaint in a March 10 blog.

"Recently, I have been contacted by two concerned residents of White Oak ISD and legal counsel from the Freedom From Religion Foundation concerning the use of scripture in the "Thought for the Day" at the high school.

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.

The letter from the FFRF is not the first received by the district. They contacted us in the fall with concerns about the practices at our football games. I have responded in accordance with their stated concerns and we have moved on.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.

My recommended response to the FFRF is, "I'm sorry you feel that way. I will be praying for you and your staff daily." Finally, as a Christian Brother, it will not promote the values we hold so dear to assail those that disagree with the Gospel. We will state our case. We will make sure our rights are just as protected as anyone else that lives in this great country. We will continue to provide for all the needs of our students and we will do so while traveling the High Road. Don't get drawn into a game of words that has no "winner."

Please do not waste your time and effort on these few detractors."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation said a White Oak student filed the initial complaint with the foundation about the scripture readings. The student wished to remain anonymous but issued this statement through the foundation:

"Many will be surprised to hear that I am happy that legal action was unnecessary. My original intentions were to simply ask Dan Noll to stop. However, I never received any response. This was not a personal vendetta, as some will believe. I wish him no harm, and while others pray for me, I will think for them."

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