School district dismisses atheist group's threat to sue over 'God' songs

A national atheist group is demanding that a New York public school district remove songs from the curriculum of a music class because they feature the words "god" and "lord" in the lyrics, but the educators aren't backing down.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation has sent letters to the Shenendehowa Central Schools, in Clifton Park, N.Y., threatening legal action if the songs aren't removed from Okte Elementary School's curriculum. The possibly-religious songs include "Thank You for the World So Sweet," which says "Thank you God for everything," "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep," which says "I pray the Lord my soul to keep," "Michael Row your Boat Ashore" and "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands."


"This is not minor. It's predatory to conduct this toward a young, captive audience who would be truant if they didn't attend public school," Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, told

The organization sent a letter to Superintendent Oliver Robinson about the songs in June on behalf of a parent who complained. While the two groups communicated over the summer break, a third letter from the FRFF staff attorney arrived on Aug. 6, which warned of legal action.

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School officials are standing firm, claiming the songs the kids are being taught are simply educational:

"None of the songs was taught, or used, as prayer. Thus, the case you cite dealing with school prayer is an inapposite...[the songs] were used appropriately to teach musical concepts," Kathryn McCary, the school district's attorney, said in letter mailed to the foundation.

Gaylor dismissed the argument, saying the songs don't have to be part of a prayer to violate the First Amendment's establishment clause, which has been interpreted as requiring a separation of church and state.

"It doesn't matter that the devotional wasn't toward a specific religion. We've already been through this with another case that features prayer songs," she said.

Some religious organizations disagree.

"This would never stand a chance with the Supreme Court. They [FFRF] wants to censor the expressions of Christianity -- and they only go after the Christians, not the Jews or the Muslims. Now they're going after little children over an innocent song," Bill Donohue, president of Catholic League, told "I applaud the school district -- they've made a very cogent argument. If this goes to court, we need to teach them (FFRF) a lesson."

It looks like the complaint just might go through the rounds of the justice system.

"We have made it clear that we have a parent that is willing to take formal legal action in court," Gaylor said.