Tongue Tied: A Report From the Front Line of the Culture Wars

Concerns over the separation of church and state prompted complaints about "God Bless America" signs at some schools in Broken Arrow, Okla., reports The Associated Press.

The signs, which went up following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, prompted complaints from several parents, said school spokeswoman Judy Gourd. "We had patrons that were not only unhappy but threatened to sue because the sign had 'God Bless America' on it," Gourd said.

The school system contacted the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, which said the phrase could be construed as a violation of the separation of church and state under the U.S. Supreme Court's interpretation of the Constitution. It was advised to use the expression only as part of a patriotic display that includes a flag, a picture of the Liberty Bell or some other patriotic quote or symbol, officials said.

Black and White on TV 

News 12 Long Island, a New York City-area television station, last week became the first news organization to prohibit employees from openly displaying Old Glory on the air, reports Newsday

The station's news director, Pat Dolan, became concerned when flags began appearing around the newsroom, including one on a pole in the middle of the newsroom where it could be seen on air, and red, white and blue ribbons began appearing on the lapels of reporters.

The ban, Dolan wrote to employees in a memo, was intended to preserve the station's neutrality. "Our office is a newsroom and news people are committed to supplying objective information on events here and around the world," he wrote. "We have to avoid giving a false impression that we lean one way or another." 

Fear and Flying During Wartime 

The football coach for the University of Virginia, Al Groh, was forced to apologize last week for a comment that some people — among them university President John Casteen — found offensive, reports the AP.

On a conference call with reporters during the week, Groh was told that several of his players had voiced concerns about flying to that weekend's game. He reportedly replied, "I'm not saying this to make light of it by any means, but I'm not planning on having Arabs in the traveling party. So therefore I think probably that the threat of our being hijacked is pretty remote." 

University officials said the remarks were insensitive, and forced the coach to issue an apology. "I certainly did not mean to insinuate that millions of sensitive, God-fearing people of Arabic descent are terrorists," Groh said in the statement.

Berkeley, Yet Again 

Officials in Berkeley, Calif., banned and then quickly unbanned U.S. flags from city fire trucks last week, reports KPIX TV.

The flags were first removed from the trucks in what city officials described as an effort to prevent confrontation between the area's extremely active protesters, who might want to rip the flags down, and firefighters, who would want to protect them.

Berkeley Fire Chief Reg Garcia apologized for being insensitive to the firefighters. "It was never our intent to say you can't have flags on the trucks," he said. "It was never our intent to try to in any way infringe on somebody's patriotism or First Amendment rights."


• The head librarian of a public university apologized for making employees remove "Proud to be an American" stickers so international students wouldn't be offended, reports the AP. 

The library director at Florida Gulf Coast University issued a statement of apology after the school president rescinded her directive. The librarian said in a statement that it was a bad decision and that she was merely trying to provide an "atmosphere of tolerance and respect for the university's diverse population."  

"One employee made a terrible mistake," said FGCU President William C. Merwin. "Patriotism on Florida Gulf Coast University campus is welcomed."

• Three Miami-Dade County firefighters rejected reports that they refused to ride on a fire engine carrying the American flag, claiming that their comments against the escalation of the American war against terrorism were twisted around and that they were hung out for a "public lynching," reports the AP. 

A spokesman for the Miami-Dade Fire-Rescue said earlier in the week that the firefighters saw the flag on the truck and refused to ride, telling other crew members the flag represented oppression. The crew chief then ordered the flag's removal so that the seven-member unit could answer 911 calls, he said. 

However, firefighters Terry Williams, James Moore and William Clark said Thursday their department defamed them without getting all the facts.

• "God Bless America" went back up at two Roxbury, N.J., schools after a politically correct official bowed to public pressure, reports the AP. 

The Roxbury schools superintendent had earlier ordered the slogan replaced with "Stand up for America" and "Proud to be American" in order to be fair to those who refer to God as Allah and other names. 

The school board president says the original decision was made out of respect for the First Amendment — and not intended to diminish concern for the issues facing the country in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

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