The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has confronted the White Oak Independent School District, demanding that Principal Dan Noll cease reading Bible verses during morning announcements.
The district has not yet officially commented, but Superintendent Michael Gilbert responded 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."
His statement continues, "My recommended response to the FFRF is, ‘I'm sorry you feel that way. I will be praying for you and your staff daily.'"
Atheist activist and owner of blog The Friendly Atheist Hemant Mehta says an unnamed student from White Oak contacted him with three recordings of Noll reading Scriptures as part of the "Thought for the Day" portion of morning announcements.
Mehta, who first gained fame "selling his soul" on eBay, gave the recordings to the FFRF, which sent a letter on March 5 demanding the district cease. The group cited the Supreme Court case of Abbington Township School District v. Schemmp (1963), in which the Court ruled that school officials reciting Scripture during school hours represented an unconstitutional establishment of religion.
"It's a cut-and-dry case," said FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grovner. "It's not often the Supreme Court rules so directly."
He said this is not the FFRF's first dealings with White Oak ISD. The group sent a similar letter in October of last year, demanding that coaches cease praying with sports teams before games and broadcasting prayers during. Acting as spokesman for the district, Gilbert responded that on the day in question, "there was no coach-led prayer in the dressing room. There was no prayer over the public address system."
Grover expressed hope the district would consult legal counsel and put a stop to the Bible readings.
But in his statement, White Oak's Gilbert wrote, "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… 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."
Grover says the FFRF will pursue further legal action if its demands are not fulfilled.