Shenendehowa Central Schools, a public education system in Clifton Park, New York, is ignoring demands from the atheistic Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) that one of its elementary schools remove songs from its music curriculum that mention “god” or “lord.” But, as non-believers are making the push, the district’s educators are defending the tunes and refusing to back down.
As is typically the case, the FFRF sent letters to the district threatening a lawsuit if, indeed, the songs are not taken out of the Okte Elementary School’s curriculum. So, what are these supposedly-religious songs, you ask? One is “Thank You for the World so Sweet,” which has a line that reads, “Thank you God for everything.”
Then, there’s “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep,” which also has a God line: “I pray the Lord my soul to keep.“ And who could forget ”Michael Row Your Boat Ashore“ and ”He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”?
The atheist group, inflamed over the presence of these songs in public school classrooms, wrote to Shenendehowa Superintendent Oliver Robinson back in June, claiming that a parent had complained. According to FOX News, the two sides have gone back-and-forth, but the FFRF has apparently not yet received the answer it is looking for. On August 6, a third letter threatening to take the issue to the courts was sent to the district.
“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, an attorney for the school district, responded in a letter to the organization.
McCary went on to say that the district “is satisfied with the inclusion and use” of the songs that the atheist group highlighted in its initial letter of complaint. Additionally, she encouraged the complaining parent to discuss concerns over the music directly with the child’s teacher.
But FFRF President Annie Laurie Gaylor dismisses these ideals, saying that the songs don’t have to be used as prayer in order to constitute as a violation of church and state. Additionally, she said that the FFRF has already dealt with a similar situation involving prayer songs. She also maintains that, if the district doesn‘t bow to the group’s demands, the parent at the center of the complaint is willing to head to the courts.
“Words do not lose their meaning just because they are set to music,” wrote FFRF senior staff attorney Rebecca Markert in the August 6 letter.