Last week a Florida high school student was reprimanded by a national atheist organization for the phrase he spontaneously added in after reading the morning announcements: “God bless America.”
His “crime” was reported by two fellow students to the American Humanist Association (AHA), whose legal association—the Appignani Humanist Legal Center—quickly responded with a condemning letter that said the student violated the Constitution and broke the law by appealing to God over the intercom.
“The daily validation of the religious views of God-believers resigns atheists to second-class citizens,” the AHA wrote. “Because attendance is mandatory, the students have no way of avoiding this daily message either.”
In response, a school representative said, “It wasn’t part of the scripted morning announcements. The principal took the appropriate steps in speaking with the student and disciplining the student.”
Like a few years ago when atheists and other organizations worked tirelessly to have “one nation under God” removed from the Pledge of Allegiance, the few remaining strands of Christianity in our public sphere are beginning to unravel.
But when did it become illegal to utter the simple phrase “God bless America” at your high school? What happened to freedom of speech and religion, two of the five freedoms listed in the First Amendment (the other three being the freedom of the press and the freedom to petition and to assemble)? Do atheists want to remove that phrase from the American vernacular as well?
According to foxnews.com, Jeremy Dys, an attorney with Liberty Institute, said they can’t.
“Whether a student is being patriotic or engaging in religious speech, there is no law in this country forbidding a student from telling his or her classmates, ‘God bless America,’ and it is illegal for a school to censor a student for doing so,” he said.
In fact, Ronald Reagan’s regular use of the phrase led to it being a traditional part of the State of the Union address. Just last month, President Obama ended his 2015 State of the Union address with the following phrase:
“Thank you, God bless you, and God bless this country we love.”
Whether atheists admit it or not, our country has continually reached out to God in times of need, including Sept. 11, 2001, when then President George W. Bush implored Americans to pray, and a memorial service that included prayers was televised across the nation.
To be an American, you don’t have to believe that America was founded on Christian principles or that “God bless America” should be said at the end of all morning announcements. But you do have to believe in the freedom of religion and speech. You do need to believe in a country where students can say a simple phrase to their God without feeling uneasy or even scared. As G.K. Chesterton said, “Religious liberty might be supposed to mean that everybody is free to discuss religion. In practice it means that hardly anybody is allowed to mention it.”
We must not continue to move in that direction. We need to continue to defend all five freedoms listed in the First Amendment because atheists cannot pick and choose which of the five freedoms they want to defend. It’s an all or nothing deal.