School board: Student OK to say ‘God Bless America’

WTLV/WJXX-TV, Jacksonville, Fla.

NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. – Following a week of protest and debate, the Nassau County School Board has decided that the Yulee High student who has ended his morning public announcement readings with “God Bless America” can continue giving the country his well-wishes despite atheists’ disapproval.

“We feel that the complaint filed on behalf of another student through the American Humanist Association should not supersede the right of other students to use the phrase, as it does not promote any religious denomination and is commonly used as an expression of patriotism,” said school board in a statement released Tuesday.

The decision follows a cease-and-desist letter sent Feb. 9 by the Washington-based atheists group that threatened action if the student continued uttering the phrase. Two students at Yulee who were uncomfortable with the phrase had contacted the group, who wrote that broadcasting “God Bless America” over the PA system was inappropriate and a constitutional violation.

Nassau County schools spokesperson Sharyl Wood said in a reply letter the same day that the student added the statement of his own accord, and had been told by principal Natasha Drake to stick to the script in the future. “Students at Yulee High are free to express their beliefs all day long, but not during the school announcement,” Wood said last week.

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But when parents and preachers in the community heard about the issue, they took to the streets in front of the school. Pastor John Kasper of Black Rock Church in Yulee was one of several people holding ‘God Bless America’ signs in front of the high school Friday morning. Others were waving the American flag.

“I know that he was not disciplined. I get that. But still, with the political correctness in America, they’re trying to suppress and silence the Christian voice,” Kasper said Friday.

The school board sought legal counsel before making its decision Tuesday. Regardless of “any personal beliefs,” the board wrote, it is their duty to protect the rights of all students.

“Our hope is that the phrase “God Bless America” will continue to ring in the halls of Congress, in our stadiums, in our arenas, in the halls of our schools and, most importantly, in the hearts of our children,” the statement said.

John Ruis, the school district’s superintendent, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

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