The Wayland School District in Wayland, Massachusetts, is pushing back against an atheist group’s claim that a high school band playing “God Bless America” is somehow an unconstitutional act. In fact, the district, led by Superintendent Dr. Paul Stein, plans to flat-out ignore the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s (FFRF) letter alleging separation of church violations when the song is played at school functions.
The song was played by the Wayland High School band on two days of American patriotism — Pearl Harbor Day and Memorial Day. While Stein claims that he respects the separation between government and religion, he also believes the Madison, Wisconsin-based FFRF is taking the situation a bit too far. A parent’s complaint allegedly sparked the group’s letter.
“I appreciate where they’re coming from, I really do, but on the other hand I think it’s a question of where the line is drawn,” Stein said, according to The Metro West Daily News. “There has to be a sense about whether the schools are fostering the promotion or practice of religion, and I don’t believe the band playing ‘God Bless America’ does that.”
The school’s warning about the song came from Rebecca Markert, an attorney on staff with the FFRF. Of particular note is the song’s line, which reads, “As we raise our voices in solemn prayer” — something the organization clearly takes in its literal form. Markert asked the district to imagine what would happen if the students were singing and playing a song that proclaimed, “Allah Bless America.”
“A prayer conceived, hosted and advocated by a publicly supported school does not pass constitutional muster,” reads the letter that was sent to Stein in July. “The repeated use of the song sends a message to students that the school is endorsing and compelling belief in a god.”
“There are many other patriotic songs that are secular and that would be suitable for a school setting,” she added, according to the Daily News.
But Stein is doubling down and blatantly ignoring the FFRF’s request — respectfully, of course. This decision is based on legal advice from the district’s representation.
“It’s clearly within a very patriotic song, and many patriotic songs have some reference to a deity,” Stein concluded.
While the FFRF’s case may be compelling to some, school committee member Beth Butler claims the words were never sung at Wayland and that the music was merely played. So far, the FFRF hasn’t formally responded to the district’s decision.
(H/T: The MetroWest Daily News)