Atheist group convinces school 'God bless America' is illegal prayer

Friday, May 10, 2019
Bob Kellogg, Billy Davis (

American flag unfurled (at AFA)A religious rights attorney says a public school in Pennsylvania is on legal grounds to push back against an atheist group and its demands.

But it appears, at least for now, that won’t happen.

Students at Sabold Elementary School in Springfield recite the Pledge of Allegiance over the school intercom each morning, then after the pledge someone ends the patriotic moment with the phrase, “God bless America.”

But a parent allegedly complained and the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation predictably accused the school of violating the Establishment Clause, and officials within the Springfield School District immediately backed down.

FFRF bragged in a press release, in fact, that its complaint was met with “receptive ears” from the school’s legal counsel and from Superintendent Anthony Barber.

When a complaint reaches them, atheist groups such as FFRF are ready to pounce on a public school, or a city council or county commission, with a letter warning that the public body is violating the U.S. Constitution, and there is often the warning that a lawsuit is coming unless they back down.

U.S. Constitution 620x300Meanwhile, religious liberty groups such as First Liberty Institute, Alliance Defending Freedom, and Becket are often contacted too late to reassure worried public officials that they are not violating the U.S. Constitution.

Such groups also routinely promise to defend the public bodies pro bono from a lawsuit.

Jeremy Dys of First Liberty Institute tells OneNewsNow he was bothered that the school’s attorney took the complaint seriously and advised school officials to cave.

"If your school district gets that kind of a call, or gets that letter,” Dys advises, “it is very simple: Ignore it. It's not worth the paper it's written on."


In fact, FFRF made some creative legal claims in its March letter to Superintendent Barber. He was told by an FFRF attorney that the phrase “God bless America” is an illegal prayer because the original song by Irving Berlin begins with lyrics about raising voices “in a solemn prayer.”

If that phrase sounds unfamiliar to Americans who have belted out the song at a ballgame or a NASCAR race, it is because Berlin’s introductory lyrics (see video below) aren’t known by many who otherwise cherish the song.

Berlin, who was Jewish, penned the song while in the U.S. Army during World War I only to put it away until Adolph Hitler rose to power in Germany in the 1930s.   

Yet the FFRF attorney seemed to depend on a Wikipedia entry to make the claim that the song “God Bless America” is a prayer because the introduction mentions prayer, and so the attorney claimed to Barber that the public school was therefore allowing an illegal, unconstitutional three-word prayer over its school intercom because the patriotic song with the same title begins with an introduction that mentions prayer. 

Founding Fathers praying (painting)“A prayer hosted by a publicly supported school does not pass constitutional muster,” the letter to Barber warned.

The FFRF states in its press release that it receives "constant complaints" about the phase "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance but the courts are not sympathetic to those complains. 

"The pledge was tampered with in 1954," the press release states, referring to President Dwight D. Eisenhower urging Congress to add the words to distinguish the U.S. from the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War. 

"Unfortunately," the atheist group complains, "attempts to litigate this addition into the pledge, which equates piety with patriotism, have been unsuccessful."

 That is why FFRF was only able to urge the school to drop "God bless America," the group stated. 


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