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ACLJ ready to battle ACLU over
‘God Bless America’ in schools

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Jay Sekulow-led American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) announced Oct. 9 it is offering to defend any school district or student organization that displays “God Bless America” in school settings.

The offer follows an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) demand that a school district in northern California remove a sign that includes the words, “God Bless America,” in front of an elementary school.

“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 of the ACLJ. “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 the ACLJ is sending a letter to California’s Rocklin Unified School District offering its legal services to defend the display which was placed on a marquee outside the Breen Elementary School following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.

The ACLU, in an Oct. 3 letter to the school, contended the words “God Bless America” reflect a “hurtful, divisive message” and “must be replaced immediately.” The ACLU letter, from its San Francisco-based chapter, claimed the display is a “clear violation of the California and United States constitutions, as well as the California Education Code.”

The school district has said the sign will not be taken down, despite the ACLU’s demand. “I would like someone to explain how ‘God Bless America’ hurts anyone,” the school district’s trustee president, Mark Forbes, told the Sacramento Bee. Forbes said he was “disgusted” by the ACLU demand.

About 250 people gathered at the school for a rally Oct. 5 in support of the “God Bless America” display, with many in the crowd wearing red, white and blue clothing.

The ACLJ, in its offer to defend the display of “God Bless America” to all school districts and student organizations nationwide, noted that it is a public interest law firm that does not charge any client for its legal services. A memo outlining why “God Bless America” is constitutionally protected speech is posted on the ACLJ website at www.aclj.org. The ACLJ, which focuses on constitutional issues involving pro-family, pro-life and pro-liberty cases, is headquartered in Virginia Beach, Va.

Sekulow said the ACLU is simply wrong in its assessment that the message “God Bless America” violates the separation of church and state.

“There is no legal reason why a school district cannot display a sign that says, ‘God Bless America,’ if it so desires,” Sekulow said. “God Bless America,” he said, “is constitutionally protected speech and does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. In fact, it is clear that the ACLU is attempting to censor a California school district by pressuring it to remove the sign.”

ACLU attorney Margaret Crosby told the Sacramento Bee that 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.”

The ACLU demand was prompted by a parent who was “greatly troubled” by the “God Bless America” display, Crosby told the newspaper.

The display, she said, “implies only students who share the faith are truly patriotic.”

Phillip Trujillo, an attorney representing the school district, meanwhile 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.”