Can a public school principal read a verse from the Bible during morning announcements? The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) doesn’t think so and has recently challenged the practice in a small school district in White Oak, Texas. The atheist group sent a letter to the school district chastising it for allowing high school principal, Dan Noll, to include a verse from the Bible during his morning announcements as a “Thought for the Day.”
Superintendent Michael Gilbert responded to the FFRF with a letter and posted on his blog:
“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…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.”
A news report posted on Monday, suggests that Superintendent Gilbert will allow the practice to continue but without the school principal citing the chapter and verse when quoting the Bible. However, censoring the chapter and verse isn't necessary.
You may be thinking “How could reading a Bible verse over the school’s intercom ever be constitutional? Didn’t the Supreme Court rule that Bible reading was unconstitutional?”
In Abington School District v. Schempp the Court found that state-mandated, daily reading of scripture was a religious exercise and, therefore, unconstitutional. However, it also clarified that it was not censoring all exposure to the Bible. The case dealt with a daily routine of reading only the Bible and reading ten verses each day. That is much more heavy-handed than simply quoting a verse as one among many inspirational thoughts.
If a school wants to quote a Bible verse over the intercom as part of its “Thought of the Day” routine I recommend the following guidelines be followed:
- Bible verses should not make up a majority of the quotes used. Mix them in with quotes from poets, musicians, scientists, philosophers, coaches, and leaders in politics, business, and social movements.
- Only Bible verses that can be considered inspirational or applicable to people of all faiths and no faith should be used. For example, Proverbs 15:1 “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
- Citing the chapter and verse for the Bible quotation is not a problem if the origins of other quotations are cited when they are used.
- No Bible verses should be used that appeal to the listener to become devoted to Jewish or Christian religious doctrines.
- No Bible verses should be used that assume the listener believes in God. For example, avoid verses that include “The Lord says…”
If a student hears the wise words of Proverbs 15:1 and is inspired to give a soft answer to a classmate’s insult rather than a harsh response, the school atmosphere might just be a little nicer that day and the Constitution won’t be offended either.
A few words of wisdom that students would benefit from hearing and heeding:
- “If you become wise, you will be the one to benefit. If you scorn wisdom, you will be the one to suffer.” – Proverbs 9:12
- “Tainted wealth has no lasting value, but right living can save your life.” – Proverbs 10:2
- “People who wink at wrong cause trouble, but a bold reproof promotes peace.” – Proverbs 10:10
- “Hatred stirs up quarrels, but love makes up for all offenses.” – Proverbs 10:12
- “To learn, you must love discipline; it is stupid to hate correction.” – Proverbs 12:1
- “A fool is quick-tempered, but a wise person stays calm when insulted.” – Proverbs 12:16
- “Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing.” – Proverbs 12:18
- “Walk with the wise and become wise; associate with fools and get in trouble.” – Proverbs 13:20
- “A wise person is hungry for knowledge, while the fool feeds on trash.” – Proverbs 15:14
- “Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success.” – Proverbs 15:22
When incidents like this arise, our Gateways team quickly reaches out to school officials to encourage them not to overreact and engage in unnecessary censorship. We contact school leaders and local pastors in the affected community and supply them with ways to respond that promote religious and academic liberty.