Shenendehowa Central Schools Threatened Legal Action By Atheist Group To Remove Songs Mentioning God From Curriculum

A national atheist organization is threatening to sue Shenendehowa Central Schools of Clifton Park, N.Y., if the district does not remove two songs that mention God in the lyrics from an elementary school curriculum, the Christian Post reports.

The songs in question are “Thank You for the World So Sweet,” which includes the line “Thank you God for everything,” and “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep,” which contains “I pray the Lord my soul to keep” in its verses.

Since June, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation -- which boasts 18,500 members according to the Albany Times Union -- has sent three letters to district officials alleging the songs are indoctrinating and threatening legal action if they are not eliminated from music classes.

School attorney Kathryn McCary stated that the songs used in the curriculum “did not violate any of the District’s First Amendment obligations,” reiterating that they were not taught or used as a prayer.

Kelly Deficiani, spokeswoman for Shenendehowa Schools, told the Christian Post that use of songs or books that are religious in nature is consistent with Board of Education Policy 8360.

"Public schools may not provide religious instruction but they may teach about religion using the Bible, Torah, the Quran in such lessons as the history of religion, comparative religion, and the role of religion in the history of the United State or other countries," Deficiani said. "Similarly, it is permissible to consider religious influences on art, music, literature, and social studies."

The Times Union reports FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said a parent anonymously reached out to the organization after a child came home from school singing verses from the songs.

Gaylor also said she anticipates the district will phase out the songs because previous case law specifically identifies “Thank You for The World So Sweet” as a prayer, adding that song content is not altered by music, and that they are still prayers. She told the paper the group will await the district’s response before pursuing legal action.

In 2010, a ban on school Christmas carols in New Jersey was upheld after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a school policy that barred religious holiday music at public concerts.

This past February, James Harper, a senior at Grand Junction High School in Colorado, quit the school’s men’s choir in protest after it made plans to sing an Islamic song called “Zikr,” which is an upbeat rhythmic song not intended for worship.

Harper, who is an active Christian in his local church, said, “I don’t want to come across as a bigot or a racist, but I really don’t feel it is appropriate for students in a public high school to be singing an Islamic worship song. This is worshipping another God, and even worshipping another prophet -- I think there would be a lot of outrage if we made a Muslim choir say Jesus Christ is the only truth."

District officials, however, defended the teacher’s choice of song.