State/Church Watchdog Group Protests “God” on Wheels

Talk about Holy Rollers!

Public buses decorated with a religious slogan are not the “ticket” for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which has asked a public transportation agency to remove huge “God Bless America” insignia on its new “Patriotism USA Bus” design.

On behalf of its membership in suburban Chicago, the national Freedom From Religion Foundation has written TJ Ross, executive director of Pace, to point out that the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits government sponsorship of religion. “That prohibition applies to government actions that favor one religion over another or that favor religion in general over nonreligion,” the Foundation noted in a letter of complaint.

More than 100,000 people ride Pace Suburban Bus Service, with routes serving such northwest suburban communities as Arlington Heights, Des Plaines, Rolling Meadows, Schaumburg and other Chicago-area communities.

The “God Bless America” message, emblazoned in very large lettering over both sides of the bus, is the “overarching message,” the Foundation wrote. No other message or image (including seven iconographic patriotic depictions of such images as the Statue of Liberty, the American flag and American soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima) is displayed as prominently or is repeated in the “wrapped bus” design.

“The fact that advertising space was donated by Pace amounts to a significant public subsidy of a religious message,” also violating the Illinois State Constitution, which forbids any preference by law for any mode of worship, or any expenditure of public funds for sectarian purposes.

“A prayer conceived, hosted and advocated by a publicly-supported transportation system does not pass constitutional muster,” noted Annie Laurie Gaylor of the Foundation.” It “amounts to a declaration of orthodoxy in religion,” which also “falsely unites patriotism with piety.”

She suggested that the 14% of the U.S. population that is nonreligious might favor wording that “Your God Failed America on 9/11.” Muslim Americans might prefer the words “Allah Bless America.” Yet, she added, “Pace would never consider hosting such messages. It is equally inflammatory and inappropriate for Pace to endorse ‘God Bless America.’ “

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., is a national association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics and others) working since 1978 to protect the constitutional principle of the separation of state and church.


Freedom From Religion Foundation

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