ACLU Demands California School to Drop 'God Bless America' Display

July 7, 2008 - 8:03 PM

( - The Northern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is battling to prevent a school in Rocklin, Calif. from displaying the phrase, 'God Bless America.' The group argues that any demonstration of patriotism in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks should be secularized.

The American Center for Law and Justice, however, is pledging to defend "any school district or student organization in America that desires to display 'God Bless America' in schools," the public interest law firm stated.

"At a time when America desires to exhibit patriotism, the ACLU sees fit to undermine the Constitution by attempting to exert a heavy hand of censorship," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the ACLJ, said.

"The ACLU is out of step with the law and is reacting in a manner that is totally absurd and irresponsible. The message 'God Bless America' is constitutionally protected speech and the ACLU's legal analysis is both skewed and very troubling," Sekulow said.

Stuart J. Roth, senior trial counsel for the ACLJ, said the First Amendment to the United States Constitution gives schools and students the right to use the phrase 'God Bless America.'

"It is fully protected free speech. It invokes no Establishment Clause violation, as doesn't the phrase 'In God We Trust' on the currency and neither does the acknowledgement of God in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution," he said.

"The fact that this is being made an issue by the ACLU is intellectually dishonest because our country has a long-standing history of invoking the name of God in founding documents and throughout our history," Roth said.

Breen Elementary School in Rocklin, CA is the school the ACLU singled out for using 'God Bless America' on a marquee outside the school.

The ACLU sent letters to Breen Elementary, demanding that the school remove the phrase, Roth said.

"The school is going to stick to their guns and if the ACLU wants to file the lawsuit, I have told the school board attorney for the Rocklin school district that the [ACLJ] would gladly step in and defend the school district."

However, Roth said he did not believe the ACLU would attempt to file suit over the issue.

ACLU attorney Margaret Crosby told the Sacramento Bee the elementary school is "dividing its young students along religious lines" and school officials are "hurting and isolating their schoolchildren of minority faiths when they should be supporting them and the values of pluralism and tolerance."

Crosby told the newspaper the ACLU's action was prompted by a parent who was "greatly troubled" by the 'God Bless America' display.

Crosby said the display "implies only students who share the faith are truly patriotic."

Phillip Trujillo, an attorney representing the school district, told the Bee, "I would like to think that the ACLU would not attempt to preclude or inhibit the free expression of patriotism and goodwill at a time when it is most appropriate, helpful or even healing."

The Northern California ACLU, in a press release, stated that, "it is especially important to promote tolerance, unity and respect" at this time. "We must protect our civil liberties," the statement read.

The ACLU has protected the rights of hate speech and student access to pornography on school computers, Roth said. "God Bless America, though, is not free speech."

"It's ill-timed, it's ill-advised, it's not a good case on the law, and I think it would be a devastating blow to them financially and public relations wise. It would be a whole mess," Roth said.