WHITE OAK, Texas (Christian Examiner) – The Texas school superintendent who last week said the best response to the Freedom From Religion Foundation is "I'm sorry you feel that way" – about a complaint regarding the reading of Bible verses by a principal during morning announcements – apparently has reversed his position and now will allow sharing of "positive thoughts" but not religious messages over his high school's intercom system.
The White Oak Independent School District came under fire after a student contacted an atheist blogger who in turn reached out to the FFRF, an anti-Christian group based in Wisconsin that claims about 900 members in Texas among the state's nearly 28 million residents.
Superintendent Michael Gilbert released a statement that also said it best to tell FFRF "I will be praying for you and your staff daily" after dismissing concerns about White Oak High School principal Dan Noll's long time tradition of reading a short Scripture during the "Thought for the Day" portion of morning announcements.
"The letter from the FFRF is not the first received by the district," he said. "They contacted us in the fall with concerns about the practices at our football games. I have responded in accordance with their stated concerns and we have moved on."
Now KTRE television in Pollok, Texas, is reporting Gilbert has relented to FFRF's demands after the threat of a lawsuit: "On Monday, Gilbert said that the school would no longer cite chapter or verse from Scripture. He said the district had not responded to the foundation's letter."
The local media outlet also said many White Oak residents expressed support for reading Bible verses in school as a way to help students learn right and wrong, citing a as a majority view the feeling that "keeping Scripture and prayer in schools is a very important thing and it should stay a part of our children's right."
But a qualitative study conducted by The Bible Literacy Project also shows there is an educational basis for continuing the practice -- with 98 percent of participating English teachers saying knowledge of the Bible provided a distinct academic advantage in the study of English literature.
Moreover, Chuck Stetson, founder of the Bible Literacy Project and former vice president of the National Bible Association, advised that using the Bible in public schools is not unconstitutional and that it should be an imperative for raising literacy among students.
"The great authors of literature made an assumption that the general population understood the basic themes of the Bible," Stetson wrote in a statement to the Washington Times. "Yet, our study reveals that we are losing this knowledge and raising a generation that teachers say is 'clueless' about the context for some of the most basic phrases in our common language."
A quick look at classic works of literature seems to support Stetson's point.
In his "I Have a Dream" speech, Martin Luther King Jr. makes references to passages in Amos, Isaiah, Psalms and Galatians.
But use of the Bible is not limited to pastors in the public eye.
Shakespeare, Faulkner and Dostoevsky make biblical references. Likewise, books like "Moby Dick" and "Waiting on Godot" make scriptural allusions that can be missed without some background in Scripture.
FFRF attorney Sam Grover considered the superintendent's retreat a victory and released a statement from the student who initiated the complaint but prefers to remain anonymous.
"Many will be surprised to hear that I am happy that legal action was unnecessary," the person wrote. "My original intentions were to simply ask Dan Noll to stop. However, I never received any response.
"This was not a personal vendetta, as some will believe," the statement continued. "I wish him no harm, and while others pray for me, I will think for them."