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White Oak ISD: No more 'chapter and verse' from Bible

By Bridget Ortigo
March 15, 2015 at 4:15 a.m.

White Oak Superintendent Michael Gilbert

An East Texas high school principal no longer will include a reading of Bible Scripture as part of his morning announcements after a national uproar over the practice, the district's chief said Saturday.

White Oak ISD Superintendent Michael Gilbert said that while the principal would continue to offer his "thought for the day," it "will not include chapter and verse from Scripture."

Gilbert earlier suggested "adjustments" would be made to the daily intercom announcement by White Oak High School Principal Dan Noll, but didn't specify what those would be.

The issue gained attention last week after a student sent recordings of some of Noll's readings to an atheist blogger who forwarded them to the Freedom From Religion Foundation in Wisconsin. The foundation contacted the district, calling for disciplinary action against Noll and demanding he cease the daily Bible readings.

Gilbert wrote last week on his "From the Desk of the Superintendent" blog that no disciplinary actions would be taken, but changes would be made.

"We can and will make the adjustments needed to ensure our students experience a morally sound, positive character-based education," he wrote. "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."

On Saturday, he said Noll's thought for the day would remain a part of the high school's morning announcements.

"It will consist of material intended to encourage students to consider positive choices in their daily life and plans for the future," Gilbert said. "The thought for the day will come from a variety of sources and will not include chapter and verse from Scripture."

The news came amid a spirited discussion, largely on social media, among people who defended Noll and others who questioned the legality of his actions. A previous News-Journal story had drawn about 150 comments by Saturday afternoon.

In its demands to the district, the Freedom from Religion Foundation 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.

The foundation said it would pursue legal action if the practice was not changed.

That was the stance taken by a San Antonio resident who identified himself as a U.S. Air Force veteran and said he'd sue the district if Noll's practice wasn't changed.

"If the Bible readings, or any sectarian announcement, is still being done by March 30, 2015, I will file a lawsuit against the White Oak ISD," Patrick Greene said Wednesday in an email to Gilbert that was shared with the News-Journal. "Unlike from the Freedom from Religion Foundation, I am a Texan who takes it personally when the Texas and United States Constitutions are being completely ignored. You cannot teach love of country and respect for the law of the land to our children, then flagrantly show your hypocrisy by publicly showing the children how to break the law."

According to an email response from Gilbert shared by Greene, the superintendent responded by saying: "The issue you expressed concern about has been addressed. White Oak High School will continue to include a thought for the day without quoting chapter and verse from Scripture."

The controversy also prompted a White Oak ISD Protest Group to begin making plans to protest Noll's readings of Scripture.

According to an event page on the Facebook social media site, a protest is being planned for 4 p.m. April 13 somewhere in White Oak. Thirty people had pledged to attend the event by Friday with about a dozen more undecided.

The organizer of the event is listed as Jacob Kreusch of Rosenburg. He did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

According to the information posted on the event page, Kreusch said his reasons for hosting the protest are to create a "wall of separation between church and state."

"We need to be clear with everyone involved and everyone who might disagree with us that we are not doing this out of anti-Christian sentiment," he wrote. "We are not trying to take rights away. We are only asking that all belief sets be given the same privilege or none at all, thus fulfilling the constitutional privilege of church and state."

In his blog post last week, Gilbert wrote that in addition to the foundation, he had been contacted by two concerned district residents about Noll's readings.

"The residents were offended at the use of Scripture," he wrote, "demanding that it be stopped and calling for disciplinary action against Mr. Noll."

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