- (Photo: Shenendehowa Central Schools)
A nationwide atheist organization has demanded that a New York school district remove two songs from an elementary school curriculum due to them mentioning God in the lyrics.
The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation has sent numerous letters to officials at the Shenendehowa Central Schools of Clifton Park saying the songs are indoctrinating.
Kelly Deficiani, spokeswoman for Shenendehowa Schools, told The Christian Post that use of songs or books that are religious in nature is compatible with the law.
"Basically our statement is that we don't officially ban any literature or music," said Deficiani, regarding the issues FFRF has with the music curriculum. "We do have a policy on that, on the use of it."
Deficiani explained to CP that Board of Education Policy 8360 lays out how religious works are allowed to be used in Shenendehowa schools.
"Public schools may not provide religious instruction but they may teach about religion using the Bible, Torah, the Quran in such lessons as the history of religion, comparative religion, and the role of religion in the history of the United State or other countries," said Deficiani.
"Similarly, it is permissible to consider religious influences on art, music, literature, and social studies."
In June, FFRF sent a letter to Shenendehowa Superintendent L. Oliver Robinson expressing opposition to a music teacher at Okte Elementary School using two songs that had God mentioned in them.
The songs were "Thank You for the World So Sweet," which has the line "Thank you God for everything" and "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep," which has "I pray the Lord my soul to keep" in its verses.
During the summer break the school district and FFRF corresponded over the matter, with the third letter written by FRFF staff attorney Rebecca S. Markert on Monday, Aug. 6.
"It is deeply troubling that the school district will not take action to remove prayers -- even in the form of songs -- from the curriculum," wrote Markert.
"We ask you provide a written response indicating these prayers will no longer be part of classroom instruction or we will exercise legal options to ensure this improper proselytizing will not continue."
In one response to the FFRF's letters, school attorney Kathryn McCary stated that the songs used in the curriculum "did not violate any of the District's First Amendment obligations."
"None of the songs were taught, or used, as a prayer. Thus the cases you cite dealing with school prayer are inapposite," wrote McCary.
"The musical selections you mention were used appropriately to teach specific musical concepts, and as the basis for secular classroom activities."
According to Deficiani, at present the Freedom From Religion Foundation has not put forth the legal actions promised in their letters should Shenendehowa Central Schools not bar religious songs from the curriculum.
"They haven't followed through on that," said Deficiani, adding that "whether or not they will has yet to be seen."