Congressional “God Bless America” Resolution Rapped (November 2001)

The House of Representatives, in thoughtlessly passing a trouble-making resolution promoting the use of the slogan “God Bless America,” has contributed to an atmosphere of coercion and religious correctness. Bin Laden has declared an international war of “believers against the infidels.” We wonder if religionists in the United States are declaring their own form of war against “infidels” at home; they are certainly capitalizing on a national tragedy to trample on the Establishment Clause.

The phrase “God Bless America” is a prayer, which should not be displayed or posted in public schools. It is distressing to see the overwhelming vote of the U.S. House of Representatives (404 to zero, with 10 voting “present”) to pass a nonbinding resolution on October 16, expressing the “sense of Congress that public schools may display ‘God Bless America.’ “

The Freedom From Religion Foundation expresses its disappointment with the House’s facile retreat to religious jingoism and patriotic piety. Can there be anything more incendiary than mixing patriotism with a religious litmus test?

The phrase “God Bless America,” which has been placed on several public school marquees in response to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, is not generic or subscribed to by all Americans. How would many citizens feel if their school marquee read: “Allah Bless America” or “Buddha Bless America”?

Schools which choose to advertise religious slogans are disregarding more than 50 years of court precedent against religious endorsement, school prayer and coercion in public schools.

“No official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein,” the Supreme Court eloquently held in West Virginia v. Barnette (1943).
Public schools which post “God Bless America” are prescribing what should be orthodox in nationalism and religion. Many inoffensive secular phrases, such as “United We Stand,” could appropriately express support for the victims of Sept. 11.

In our diverse culture, millions of families are not religious. Students and their families who are atheists, agnostics, unbelievers and those from minority religious viewpoints should not be preached at by their public schools.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has written to several school districts in which public schools have posted the words “God Bless America” on school marquees.

A parent in Rocklin, California, contacted the Foundation asking it to join her complaint over a “God Bless America” sign at Breen Elementary School. Her complaint made national news, and apparently provoked the pro-“God Bless America” resolution passed by the U.S. House (see FFRF statement above).

The Rocklin Unified School District is obdurate, insisting in a response to the Foundation that “God Bless America” “conveys no significant religious meaning.”

The Foundation has also complained about a “God Bless America” marquee at Prairie View Elementary School in East Troy, Wisconsin. Anne Gaylor’s letter of Sept. 28 brought the sign down, prompting the president of the school board to resign. The school board then voted to put the sign back up. The Foundation is awaiting word from a second letter written for the Foundation by attorney James Friedman. Friedman noted the Establishment Clause prohibits “government actions that favor one religion over another or that favor religion in general over nonreligious activities.”

On behalf of a member in Gladstone, Michigan, the Foundation protested a “God Bless America” sign at the area high school. Principal Jay Kulbertis apologized for any offense taken, adding “the message on the sign was changed prior to my receiving your correspondence, (but) your point is well taken.

“We will make every attempt to be more careful in the future regarding this issue.”

The Foundation also wrote Supt. Steven Bring of the Unionville School District in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, about a “God Bless America” sign posted after the Sept. 11 terrorism.

The Foundation pointed out, “More than 50 years of school precedent prevent religious worship from being sponsored by public school officials.”

The Stone v. Graham decision, the Foundation noted, is particularly applicable. The court ruled making a child walk past or read a religious posting in a public school was unconstitutionally coercive.

Freedom From Religion Foundation