Claim: Schools and other municipal agencies have been ordered to remove banners displaying the phrase 'God Bless America.'
the slogan "God Bless America" has become more and more popular in light of recent events, debate continues over whether its use by government-related agencies should be considered a patriotic message or an unconstitutional display of a religious one.
One of the more recent tussles took place within Oklahoma's Broken Arrow school district, several of whose schools displayed "God Bless America" on their marquees. District officials said they received about 40 phone calls from patrons who "were not only unhappy but threatened to sue," complaining that the signs violated laws separating church and state, so they checked with the Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA) to inquire about the legality of using the phrase on school signs. According to the Tulsa World:
The OSSBA advised Broken Arrow officials that the motto "God Bless America" could be used but only if part of a patriotic display. "I told school districts as long as it was a patriotic message that was OK, but it cannot be used as a religious expression," said Julie Vogt, the OSSBA's director of policy services. She advised that putting the slogan on a sign with a flag or other patriotic symbols made the motto a patriotic display and therefore legal, she said.
The school's attorney advised differently, however:
[The] school also had sought advice from its attorney, Doug Mann, who was against putting the slogan up at all. "It's not just a simple issue of mixing items together and trying to call it a patriotic display," Mann said. "You cannot try to do indirectly what you can't do directly."
"Obviously the purpose of that (clause) is a religious message," he said.
Broken Arrow district superintendent Dennis Shoemaker maintained that the district office issued no directive to the individual schools; they merely passed along OSSBA's advice and allowed the schools to make their own decisions about what to do with their displays. Some of the schools took the words off their marquees, prompting another 150 phone calls asking that the slogans be restored. (Broken Arrow officials would not identify the schools that had used the slogan or
had removed it, saying they had been advised not to.) Indian Springs Elementary School, which has no school sign for posting messages, skirted the issue when a teacher parked her truck across the street from the school, taped signs saying "God Bless America" on it, and had the display signed by students and other teachers.
A similar message displayed on a marquee outside the Breen Elementary School in Rocklin, California, drew demands from the ACLU that it be removed as a "hurtful, divisive message." School district attorney Phillip Trujillo dismissed the group's assertion as "absurd" and maintained the words are a patriotic, not a religious, expression, and district officials declined to remove the slogan from the school's sign. The documents of both sides can be viewed on the web site of the Rocklin Unified School District.
Just a week later, Broken Arrow was back in the news when city officials ordered the phrase "God Bless America" removed from a fire station's windows. The words had been painted by a volunteer who had donated his time to many other fire stations in the area:
Firefighters at Station No. 2 had granted Derek Wunsch permission to paint the words on their fire station windows. Wunsch already had donated the same artwork on 20 other area fire stations, including 19 in Tulsa. "There isn't a fire station I did that I didn't get permission to do, whether from a captain, a district chief or an assistant chief," he said. "I had to do something. This is all I know how to do. I'm an artist."
City officials said the message wasn't the problem, but the failure of the fire station to obtain permission beforehand:
Broken Arrow officials said a city ordinance prohibits private citizens and employees from painting public buildings. And, they said, the firefighters at the station didn't have the authority to grant permission. "City property cannot be used as a public forum," city communications coordinator Wayne Bishop said.
To prove the point, two days after the city ordered the words "God Bless America" removed from the windows of Fire Station No. 2, City Manager Michael Kadlecik ordered 12 banners bearing U.S. flags and the phase "God Bless America" to be hung on every municipal building:
Bishop said the city probably would have bought patriotic banners sooner if Kadlecik hadn't been out of state all week at a meeting. "We wanted to clear up the misunderstanding on the part of people who thought we were fighting the phrase," he said. The new banners, expected to arrive late Friday, would be hung at all five of the city's fire stations, he said.
And in Wisconsin, a "God Bless America" sign was removed from Prarie View Elementary School after a resident complained and the Freedom from Religion Foundation requested that the sign be taken down. This action prompted Dave Strand, the president of the East Troy school board, to resign, proclaiming: "If my God had to be removed from the sign, then I will be removed as well from the board." The sign was soon put back up, along with new ones proclaiming "In God We Trust" and "United We Stand":
We wanted to show we weren't cowards and weren't backing down," Superintendent Robert Spence said. "We believe what we did was right, and we put them back up." Spence said the signs are patriotic and do not advocate religion.
Last updated: 8 March 2008
Cooper, Jay. "BA School Officials Say Slogan Not Banned."
Tulsa World. 22 September 2001 (p. 17).
Kormanik, Beth. "'God Bless America' Sign Back at School."
[Milwaukee] Journal Sentinel. 12 October 2001.
Associated Press. "Wisconsin School Board Member Quits After 'God Bless America' Sign Removed from Schoolyard."
David Mikkelson founded snopes.com in 1994, and under his guidance the company has pioneered a number of revolutionary technologies, including the iPhone, the light bulb, beer pong, and a vaccine for a disease that has not yet been discovered. He is currently seeking political asylum in the Duchy of Grand Fenwick.
Thank you for writing to us! Although we receive hundreds of e-mails every day, we really and truly read them all, and your comments, suggestions, and questions are most welcome. Unfortunately, we can manage to answer only a small fraction of our incoming mail.
Our site covers many of the items currently being plopped into inboxes everywhere, so if you were writing to ask us about something you just received, our search engine can probably help you find the very article you want.
Choose a few key words from the item you're looking for and click here to go to the search engine.
(Searching on whole phrases will often fail to produce matches because the text of many items is quite variable, so picking out one or two key words is the best strategy.)
We do reserve the right to use non-confidential material sent to us via this form on our site, but only after it has been stripped of any information that might identify the sender or any other individuals not party to this communication.