Public School Choir Sings Overtly Religious Song and Pays the Price For it March 28, 2010

Public School Choir Sings Overtly Religious Song and Pays the Price For it

Almost exactly a year ago, I posted about St. Johns County School District in Florida and how they were including the following song in an elementary school concert:


When a couple parents filed a lawsuit, their children were not just told they wouldn’t have to sing the song — they were pulled from the whole concert altogether.

It was a horrible way for the school to handle the situation.

Anyway, there’s an update on the case.

The School Board settled the 2009 lawsuit Tuesday by agreeing to pay $140,000 and not allow the song to be performed.

Shirley Davis of St. Augustine said her 8-year-old daughter told her last March that singing the song in Webster School made her “feel bad” because “it makes fun of people who don’t believe in God.”

Davis also knew a male parent of a first-grader who had complained a month previously about religious songs at Webster to the school’s teachers and principal, then to administration.

Nothing was done, she said.

The money they get after lawyers’ fees is a nice (but not life-changing) chunk. But this wasn’t about the money. This was about the school pushing religion into an area in which it didn’t belong.

Anyone with half a mind should have known what they were doing was wrong. But they let it slide and they’re paying the price for it. We can argue the size of the punishment, but no doubt they deserved one.

You can see the school’s press release about the settlement here.

(Thanks to Brian for the link)

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  • oregonfarmgirl

    We lived in the midwest for a year and during that time our children brought home fliers from their public schools distributed by local churches at least once a week advertising “community” events. At one point, on the last day of school, my 5th grader was told she “had to” take a flier from her music teacher and that she “had better not see any of them in the garbage can or on the hall floors”. It was a VBS flier. We were in the process of moving back to the west coast at that point so I didnt press the issue but it was a real eye opening experience for all of us.

  • Well, duh! Did they really think that that was going to continue for long? With all of the families who have children in that school, there are tons of different religion and those who do not. How in the world did they think it was okay to force everyone under one? And to think that no one would object. Such arrogance. They pulled the children from the choir. The children were punished for their belief or non belief. If that was a christian child it would be on CNN and FOX NEWS including Nancy Grace. Come on! Either all or nothing.

  • Jonas

    Sarcasm Mode on –Great Lyrics – Sarcasm mode off.

    What was the school thinking? Are they trying to be as in your face obnoxious as possible?
    I wouldn’t even accept this type of arrogance in church. — Even if I did believe in a one true G-d.

  • Karen

    Oh that’s bad. I was thinking it might have been like a classic hymn of some kind which I really enjoy hearing sometimes. But this is just one of those really icky, retarded pronouncement songs.

    And yes, I said icky and retarded.

  • Richard P.

    I wonder what they could have possibly accomplished by doing this? What could they have possibly thought they would gain?

    No..NO…. religion doesn’t make a person delusional at all.

    Avoid it folks, you may think moderation is okay, but it is a slippery slop your on. Just one assumption away from the absurd, a prayer away from the loony bin.

  • Richard Wade

    This could make it much easier to stop other public schools from trying this. Just anonymously send a note to the principal about the inappropriate religious activity with a photocopy of a newspaper article that mentions the $140,000 that the school district is risking to lose.

    That’s 140,000 “In God We Trust’s” they’ll be giving away. Great way to spread the Word.

  • I was thinking the same thing Karen was. A not so offensive pushy song that just briefly mentions a god. (Something a normal person wouldn’t immediately qualify as offensive.)

    But whoever wrote the song posted above is crazy. Insane crazy. I would have sued as well.

    I know that our fight for separation of church and state will never truly be over, but come on, that is just ridiculous.

  • Jeremy

    The school obviously had no business allowing this song to be performed, and legal action was warranted. Hopefully, the parents’ goal was to stop the official endorsement of religion by the school and not milk the district for cash.

    The 6-figure monetary settlement comes at the expense of the school, taxpayers, and ultimately the children who are there to receive an education. If it came out of the pockets of the people who were actually responsible for the decision, you could make the case that it serves to deter this sort of behavior in the future. Unfortunately, that is not the case. It may very well be that the only people who win in the end are the lawyers.

  • Staceyjw

    Awful song, just punishment.

  • Ron in Houston

    Hemant you phrased is perfectly:

    “Anyone with half a mind should have known…”

  • Benjamin Kay

    From the press release:

    "Like any other complaint we receive, we responded quickly and appropriately," said Superintendent Joseph Joyner. "By immediately canceling rehearsals and removing the song from the program, the school district showed its willingness to accommodate the parents’ concerns. This all occurred before we were even aware of the lawsuit."

    (Emphasis mine.) Notice the phraseology doesn’t preclude the fact that the song was removed after the lawsuit. But the press release makes it seem like the parents were being really unreasonable and not contacting the school before filing!

  • Michael

    I agree that the song was not even close to appropriate, but I hate to see that a public school has to give up that much money because of ridiculous people that are in charge of it.
    I wish there was just a way for judges to forcibly remove everyone responsible for the entire fiasco.

  • Ally

    WTF was that school thinking? As said above, an old hymn, folk song from centuries past, or even a song that uses god only subtly would be reasonable. Sure, we may not like any religious references, but there’s a distinct difference between “Down By the Riverside” and “Let’s say fuck you to separation of church and state”. I mean, this song very blatantly goes against separation of church and state and putting it in public schools is just offensive. This separation is there for a reason and maybe they should furthermore fire that choir teacher for violating the “don’t overtly press your values into other people’s children” part of being a teacher.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Some people say that we shouldn’t get worked up about the pledge, but the lyrics to that song are why I support efforts to remove God from the Pledge, and from our money, etc. Each step over the line is used to justify additional steps.

  • ed42

    Too bad the award came from the taxpayers. It should have come directly from the criminals involved

  • Brian Westley

    The full lyrics are even worse:

    You place your hand on His Bible, when you swear to tell the Truth
    His name is on our greatest Monuments, and all our money too,
    And when we Pledge allegiance, there’s no doubt where we stand,
    There is no separation, we’re one Nation under Him.

    In God We Still Trust
    Here in America
    He’s the one we turn to every time
    The goin’ gets rough
    He is the source of all our Strength
    The One who watches over us
    Here in America
    In God We Still Trust

    Now there are those among us, who want to push Him out,
    And erase His name from everything, this country’s all about,
    From the Schoolhouse to the Courthouse, they’re Silencing His Word,
    Now it’s time for all Believers, to make our Voices heard.

    In God We Still Trust,
    Here in America
    He’s the one we turn to every time
    The goin’ gets rough
    He is the source of all our Strength
    The One who watches over us
    Here in America
    In God We Still Trust

    Here in America
    Here in America
    Here in America,

    In God We Still Trust
    Here in America,

    In God We Still Trust
    Here in America


    Google recent news stories for “st johns county” lawsuit settlement and read some of the comment by the Christian supremacists:’-not-pulled-fast-enough

  • Elijah Heartsong

    I am turned off from the moment you put the word God into the song. this article reminds me of another one where a child refused to say the pledge of allegence because it said “one nation under God.” talked about it with a few people at work. they thought if you don’t like it, don’t live here. i kept silent. all i could think of was Good for that little boy. he got $39,000 in a lawsuit, but good for him for standing up for his rights. i say if you want to sing about God, do it in your church and leave it out of school where we should be taught science.

  • Caroline

    I like how everyone is saying the song is crazy, but is it wrong. Last time I checked when ever I spend money I see the word God, and don’t we say “One nation under God” when we say the Pledge (which lots of school age kids do with out even thinking about it, getting brainwashed right from the start
    Obviously this song is utterly offensive, and this being sung in a public school makes me scared to work in one when I get done with my degree. This song is scary, even scarier because it is true.
    Just saying.

  • holly

    I recently attended a rehearsal for a chorus competition for middle and high schools in my son’s district. Each school sang two songs; in nearly every case, one of the songs was religious, usually christian. One middle school sang “Ascribe to the Lord”, and before they began to sing a girl, dressed in a headscarf, excused herself from the group and stood offstage. I thought it was pathetic that they couldn’t find a song that she could sing, too.
    This same song was part of my son’s State Choir performance. I asked my non-believer son how he felt about singing it and he was fine with it because it was fun to sing and the lyrics didn’t have meaning for him. I think it is ironic that a person of religion was less tolerant of a religious song than a person of no religion.
    But if the song was this tripe (“in god we still trust”) there is an obvious political message that connects the schools and country to belief in god that crosses a line that no school should draw in the sand.

  • Carlie

    That song really gives the lie to all the court rulings that the God on money and in the pledge is just a symbolic concept without ties to specific religions, doesn’t it?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    That song really gives the lie to all the court rulings that the God on money and in the pledge is just a symbolic concept without ties to specific religions, doesn’t it?

    Yes it does, as do the protesters on the courthouse steps when a high court takes up a case on such a topic.

  • As others have pointed out, it’s a horribly insulting song: not a celebration of faith, but a surly, mean-spirited attack upon the very notion of secularism.

    And, as a songwriter myself, I can’t help but notice, besides its offensiveness, it’s just a bad song. Clumsy and heavy handed. I can’t imagine how tacky the tune is.

  • I wonder who really is going to pay the price. The school, or ultimately taxpayers?

  • Killer Bee

    The song is over the top and stupid as were all the actions of the school surrounding it.

    There are hardly any true rhymes in it and I can’t imagine a tolerable tune that would accomodate the weird cadence with all the polysyllabic words.

    This sounds particularly childish:
    “And erase His name from everything, this country’s all about,”

    The hokey-pokey?

  • Staceyjw

    I hadn’t seen the whole lyrics, which are EVEN WORSE than the snippet posted. If they are so bold to put this in a PROGRAM, I can’t imagine what they are teaching in class- I hope this lawsuit shuts them up. WHY OH WHY don’t xtians reealize that secular government is there to protect THEM TOO? Idiots, all of them.

    Great point! And oh so sad too.

  • Daniel Miles

    I grew up doing music programs in public schools and I’m also a strict atheist. But I have to admit, that since so much music is written for religious purposes, a musical education isn’t complete without quite a bit of exposure to religious texts. Would you want your public schools not to teach Mozart because it would have the kids singing about God?

    This song, however, is different. Its religious text didn’t come because the composer was inspired by his/her own belief, it’s political hackery that associates being a Christian with being an American.

    I wonder if there’s a way to pursue the legal case in a way that protects the “honest” religious music and bans things like this?

  • As always, the religious reich has no problem with breaking the law and flouting the rights of others. Distortion, lies, and threats are how they have always operated. Why should we expect this to be any different?

    What disgusting human beings theist can be.

  • anti_supernaturalist

    . . . federal courts have spoken on IGWT before, and not favorably for non-theists. Recently upheld by 9th Federal District by 2-1 vote with a Bush ignoramus citing ‘God’ as a patriotic not a religious reference!

    ** Freedom from Religion loses again — but the struggle against state religion will survive **

    US Courts have consistently held that ‘God’ in the notorious “In God We Trust” refers to a one-size-fits-all unique deistic divinity — IT, creator, sustainer of the universe consistent with Western tradition. (The use of IGWT goes back to its use on Union coinage during the Civil War.)

    I call it IT — since IT has no gender — IT is the Minimum Standard God, or MSG. This illegitimate ‘god of the state’ belongs to no religion. MSG is a hypothesized monotheistic entity.

    I expect US courts to trot out MSG as precedent for beating back atheists’ challenge to the ‘under God’ clause in the pledge of allegiance — MSG is today invoked before each Supreme Court session and each House of Congress opens with a prayer — recently delivered by a Hindu who was booed from the House Gallery by radical xian know-nothings.

    Courts will argue that the concept of MSG does not violate the establishment clause. Traditionally, Westerners have averred that MSG would answer their basic notion of a ‘god.’ The MSG concept is certainly non-sectarian. Recently upheld by 9th Federal District by 2-1 vote with a Bush ignoramus citing ‘God’ as a patriotic not a religious reference!

    No one is legally obligated to equate MSG with that moral monster embraced by all fundies. Or, the merely xian “God” of C.S. Lewis. Or, “God” as Paul Tillich’s “ultimate concern.” And, deists can claim that their “God” has no more interest in the universe than the gods of Epicurus.

    Unfortunately, tradition also dictates that MSG exist. Tradition leaves open any god hypothesis, except of course denying the existence of a unique god however bland. (That is however “logically weak” or “pared down” the concept.)

    Still remaining outside MSG’s embrace: atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, Theravada Buddhists, Chinese ancestor worshipers, Shintoists, Hindus, Vedantists, Wiccans, assorted polytheists, devil worshipers . . . those few too principled to be hypocrites . . . and legions of the wholly indifferent.

    Millions are discriminated against — because they are not consenting monotheists.

    Demand “Freedom from Religion” — state neutrality, no support of monotheism, however attenuated. Like other hallowed traditions — slavery, Jim Crow laws, male only suffrage — IGWT violates both the spirit and the law as stated in Amendment 1 of the Constitution.

    Moving on . . . let’s see that the tax exemption be removed from all religious organizations which engage in political activities — roman catholicism, judaism, dominionist fundies would make a healthy start.


  • anti_supernaturalist

    $140K is a “widow’s mite” beside the damages that need to be paid by religious thugs from RC pedophiles to “C” Street theocrat-wannabes in Congress. Friendly Atheist — what can I say, I just can’t be friendly. Fundies are so dangerous and they have so much illegal assistance from complicit courts, legislators, school boards….

    The voice of Ameristan is not the voice of “God”

    Fundies dwell in a diseased state of mind

    Ameristan is also more than a state of mind. It is homeland to the “folks” from whom our xian Taliban are recruited. These are racist, pro-natalist and anti-gay fanatics — who want to restore biblical misogyny and theistic paternalism by harassment, intimidation, or murder. They are members of Congress (“C” Street Family) who want a puritanical theocracy (dominionism) to supplant a secular open society.

    Most Americans do not understand Ameristan

    They have almost no direct acquaintance with preaching as theatre of the absurd: perverting the public record, faith-based lying, howling illogic, murderous threats that get uttered and acted on.

    To the xian thugs of Ameristan their violence is always defensive, is always to avenge the innocent, is always righteous in support of traditional values, is always glorified as a final, desperate response against overwhelming outside forces — they are twisted lifestyle martyrs projecting their innermost delusions onto those they hate.

    Inverted snobbery is the voice of Ameristan

    Know-nothings exalt in negation. Xians’ innermost affirmation arises from self-hatred (sinfulness) inverted into ego inflation (salvation snobbery). We stink, but stinking is godly.

    Paul of Tarsus (fl 50-65 CE) creator of the cult, is a self-loathing anarchist whose god is himself writ large:

    Brothers [sic], think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are…. 1Cor1:26-28 NIV

    God chose “the things that are not — to nullify the things that are….” Here pure xian nihilism gets injected into the marrow of western culture, poisoning it down to today.

    The de-deification of western culture is our task for the next 100 years.

    the anti_supernaturalist

  • Jeannie

    I am a junior at a public highschool and all we sing about is god. I love choir, but I don’t want to sing about that stuff…

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