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Federal judge backs school in spat over 'God Bless America'

By The Associated Press


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ROCK ISLAND, Ill. — A Rock Island elementary school was right to strip "God Bless America" from its yearbook cover because of church-state separation concerns, a federal judge decided yesterday.

U.S. District Judge Joe Billy McDade sided with Ridgewood Elementary officials over a 12-year-old artist who tried to force them to include the slogan with her artwork on the cover. The artist, Marissa de La Rosa, wanted to block the school from using the art without the slogan.

"This is the same school district that teaches its students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance with the phrase 'one nation under God,'" said the girl's attorney, Steven Ames. "Courts have already recognized that neither leading children in the Pledge of Allegiance nor having 'In God We Trust' on our money violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment."

McDade disagreed.

"I am not persuaded 'God Bless America' is the same in terms of its lack of religious meaning as 'one nation under God,'" he said. He called the school district "rightly concerned."

School officials now are free to print the yearbook design with their preferred alternative, "Proud to be an American," or to use a different design.

School district attorney Robert Park said a "God Bless America" banner hung in the school shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks generated complaints from three parents.

"This is not an abstract concern of the school," Park said. "The school should have discretion to decide what is on the cover."


Texas student's complaint prompts removal of 'God Bless America' display
Meanwhile, U.S. Senate committee considers resolution urging schools to post patriotic expression.  11.14.01

Lawmakers bless 'God Bless America' displays
House passes nonbinding resolution urging public schools to post message as a show of patriotism.  10.17.01

City official orders 'God' removed from firehouse's Sept. 11 memorial
Murfreesboro, Tenn., city manager says 'United We Stand' would be more appropriate than 'God Bless America.'  12.19.02