National atheist advocacy group the Freedom From Religion Foundation said it got quick results after complaining that the phrase "God bless America" was stated over a loudspeaker after the daily Pledge of Allegiance at a Pennsylvania elementary school.
As is common with these types of cases, a "concerned Springfield School District parent" told the FFRF of the goings on at Sabold Elementary School — and the organization jumped into action and asked school officials to nix the practice.
"The repeated recitation of a religious message in the school setting violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits public schools from advancing, supporting or promoting religion," FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Anthony Barber, the FFRF said. "'God Bless America' is a prayer. The song that the phrase originates from begins, 'As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.' A prayer hosted by a publicly supported school does not pass constitutional muster."
The FFRF added that when a public school regularly proclaims, "God bless America," that tells students that the school is "endorsing and compelling belief in God," which in unfair to students who don't believe in God.
How did the school district respond?
The FFRF said its directive was followed.
"After the school district's receipt of your letter, Sabold Elementary School has ceased its practice of announcing the slogan 'God Bless America' over the loudspeaker immediately following the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance," the district's legal counsel replied, the FFRF said. "None of the schools in the school district currently engage in this practice."
How did the FFRF react to the district falling in line?
"We're gratified that Springfield officials listened to us so clearly," FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said, according to her organization. "Young elementary school children don't need to be coerced into affirming God's name every morning."
More from the FFRF:
However, Gaylor adds, FFRF receives constant complaints over the addition of "under God" into the previously secular Pledge of Allegiance. The pledge was tampered with in 1954. Unfortunately, attempts to litigate this addition into the pledge, which equates piety with patriotism, have been unsuccessful. That is why FFRF's complaint letter focused on the "ad hoc" godly slogan appended to the Pledge at Sabold Elementary School.
What else has the Freedom From Religion Foundation been up to?
- The FFRF demanded that a Texas high school remove a Christian flag flying on campus in 2017 — which resulted in some students flying the same flag from their vehicles in the school parking lot.
- It demanded that an Alabama high school marching band cease it's "religious" halftime performances at football games in 2017. The school said it would consider removing some props but that the show would remain the same.
- The FFRF demanded that a different Alabama high school stop loudspeaker prayers at football games in 2017. But after the school complied, students ended up praying out loud in the stands.
- In March 2018, the FFRF said it got rid of prayer said by an Oklahoma City pastor for a local high school football team.
- Last fall the group convinced a state college in Utah to remove Bibles and copies of the Book of Mormon from rooms of a hotel it owns.
- Last December, the FFRF at first convinced an Arkansas town to remove a giant lighted cross display — but then residents made their voices heard, and the move was put on hold.
- In January, the atheist group forced New Mexico Junior College to remove Christian crosses it displayed on campus.