School marquees in Broken Arrow changed

Thursday, September 20th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Dozens of marquees outside businesses and churches carry patriotic messages in the wake of the attack on America. But some complaints in Broken Arrow lead to a change in at least one school's message of support.

News on Six reporter Glenda Silvey says it's being sung and spoken around the world ever since terrorists surprised and devastated the US. "God Bless America." Marquees in every city proudly display their patriotism, including Broken Arrow. But you won't see it on any school marquees in Broken Arrow Public Schools. After some citizens complained that the message violated constitutional separation of church and state, Broken Arrow's school superintendent ordered schools to remove the phrase from school marquees.

The district declined our request for an interview, but issued a statement. The district says after "God Bless America" appeared on some marquees. Almost immediately, many phone calls were received objecting to the placement of God. After one patron stated that the constitution did permit schools to use ‘God Bless America’ school district officials confirmed that it is not lawful, unless a temporary part of a patriotic display. "Broken Arrow Schools is composed of Board of Education members, teachers, staff, students, parents and patrons who support the sentiment that God should bless America. Unfortunately, we are also a school district that must comply with the law."

Spring Creek Elementary's marquee now reads "Bless the USA," which angers some citizens, who say the word "God" should be displayed now more than ever. Velia Hernandez, "It's something that needs to be brought back. Prayer in school, prayer everywhere as far as I'm concerned." Bob Lewis, "Basically, I agree with the separation of church and state, but this to me seems very very ridiculous." But TU Law Professor Gary Allison agrees with the district legally. "The marquee at the school is the place where the school sends its official messages. They are a public school, those messages belong to the public school, and therefore they're a government message." But Allison says while it probably violates the law, these are unusual times. "It would be understandable for schools and the kids going to them to want to make these expressions. I call it harmless error."

A spokesman for Tulsa Public Schools said a few principals asked permission to display a similar message on their marquees and were given the OK. The district has no formal policy at this time, and neither encourages nor discourages the practice.