School Tries (and Fails) to Take ‘God’ Out of ‘God Bless the USA’

Stall Brook Elementary School in Bellingham, Massachusetts recently decided to change the way they sing Lee Greenwood‘s “God Bless the USA” at their pep assemblies.

First thought: Good! What an awful song.

First, there’s the bad grammar…

And I’m proud to be an American,
where at least I know I’m free.

Greenwood apparently lives in “American”…

Then the next lines:

And I wont forget the men who died,
who gave that right to me.

Because no woman has ever given up her life for our freedoms. Ever. (Yeah, yeah, I know. “Men” here is used in a universal way, like “one small step for mankind”… whatever.)

And, of course, there’s the false insinuation that God loves America.

The elementary school didn’t get rid of the song altogether. They just changed the title and lyrics from “God bless the USA” to “We love the USA.”

Of all the problems people should have with that song, the use of “God” is pretty low on the list. It’s not like church/state separation groups are suing schools that sing it. It’s not an overtly Christian song. It’s not a call to pray to Jesus. So who knows why school administrators made that decision.

… By the way, even with the change, the grammar is still awful:

‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land,
We love the USA.

Did the singular voice magically become plural…?

Anyway, as you might expect, when God was taken out of the song, chaos ensued.

Parents complained. The school responded by scrapping the song altogether. But after the media onslaught, the school caved in to the pressure — they announced today that the song would continue to be sung, and with all the original lyrics in tact.

Atheists didn’t start this battle. But Christians seem to have won it for now.

Maybe the kids could actually learn something if they dissected the lyrics in English class and circled all the problems in it.

Side note: If kids in another country were singing, say, “God Bless the Islamic Republican of Iran,” we’d be pissed off. Why is it ok in America (or, should I say, American) to say God loves us — or pledge that we’re “one nation, under God” — when we’d call it indoctrination or brainwashing if other countries did the same thing?

(Thanks to everyone for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    And I’m proud to be an American,
    where at least I know I’m free.

    Grammar problems, aside, I’ve never understood the use of the phrase “at least” in that lyric. Is that some kind of compensation or consolation for something else that he doesn’t know or have?  “Well, maybe x, y, and z really suck, but at least I know I’m free.”

    And I’m proud to be an American,
    Where at least
    …the whites are free.
    …the men are free.
    …the straights are free.
    …the Christians are free.
    …the rich are free.
    … __________.

    • RTH

      I think he means that even though he may have the other problems that people everywhere commonly have, at least he knows he’s free. Of course, how free he really is is debatable.

    • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

      I found “I know” to be the strange part. Do people in other countries not know the singer is free? Do they not know they’re free?

      Nah, he just wanted to say “Where at least I’m free” but needed to jam another two syllables in there.

    • Anonymous

      It is because he starts off the song imagining that his whole life is set back to zero except for still having his wife and kid.   So at least if he’s living in the US he would still be free (unlike many other countries).    

      I think your list at the end of your comment is ridiculous if you are trying to say that people outside those categories are not free. 

      • Anonymous

        Freedom isn’t an on/off switch, and rarely is the degree of freedom ever zero. Even people in totalitarian states have freedoms. They just might not be what you have come to take for granted. Similarly, poor people have freedoms in this country, but are not as free as rich people. This should be obvious on the face of it. Poor people have to work for a living, often at more than one job just to pay bills, restricting them to a way of life that, while “free”, not many in the first world would envy and is prohibitively difficult to break free from without a stroke of luck; wealthy people can travel the world and work if they choose to at something they truly enjoy.

  • http://twitter.com/KevinSagui Kevin Sagui

    Tinkering with the lyrics was stupid.  First, as you mentioned, it makes for a pretty shitty song.  Secondly, and I’ll probably get killed for this, but I really don’t think it’s right to so twist the meaning and intent of Greenwood’s song while still trying to obviously have it sound like his song.  Look, we flipped out at Cee-Lo for what he did to “Imagine” (and rightly so).  The right move is to not sing the song at all, not to try and tweak it in a way that so alters the meaning of it.

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      I agree. Cee-lo’s co-opting of Imagine is the first thing I thought of. If it’s not okay to change an important meaning of one song, it’s not okay to do that to another song.

      • Anonymous

        Except it really dosn’t change the meaning of the song.

        Also there is a difference between a paid performer singing in front of a crowd and some kids in school at a pep assembly.

        I’m all for what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, but refuse to apply it to ducks.

        • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

          You see no difference where I do, and you see a difference where I do not.

          You are saying that there is no difference in meaning between “God bless the USA,” and “We love the USA.” It’s the title of the song, and it’s the climactic line, not just an incidental phrase. I think there’s a very great difference in meaning, and according to the news report,  so does the song writer, Lee Greenwood. I think the writer of poetry or prose has a pretty weighty opinion about the intended meaning of his or her words.

          You say there is a difference between an adulterated song being performed by a paid professional and being performed by some kids at a pep assembly. I think whatever that difference might be has no bearing on the principle of respecting an artist’s work and leaving it as it is. This is not a change of  “artistic style” in the performing of it, it’s a big change in the writer’s message.

          As an artist and a writer, I have strong opinions about respecting the integrity of someone’s creation, even if one doesn’t like or agree with that creation.  I don’t particularly like Greenwood’s song, but changing its most important lyric and meaning in any public performance is out of line.

          If you don’t like a painting, just don’t buy it, instead of repainting it without permission to change the artist’s intended point, message, meaning or effect of his art. If you don’t like the message of a book, just don’t buy it, instead of reprinting it with unauthorized revisions that change the author’s intended message.  If you don’t like a song as it was originally written, then just don’t perform it. There are plenty of other songs, or write your own.

          • Anonymous

            The Star Spangled Banner for the win:)

    • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

      Changing lyrics to someone else’s music is really only acceptable if it’s a parody or some kind of satire.

    • Greg

      Changing someone else’s work gets into the revisionism aspect.  It might seem okay in the remix culture, but there is a real division between mash up vs plagiarizing/revising.  This really falls in the later. 

      Like others here, my mind went exactly to Cee-Lo’s weak lyrical substitution on Imagine. Don’t like the lyrics? Don’t perform it.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeremy-Gordon/1423005919 Jeremy Gordon

        You mean like how God was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in the 1950′s?

    • Vw_bus76

      I sang this song in elementary school and we change the Lyric from “Men who died” to “Ones who died”, because of the reason that Hemant mention. NO one gave a shit. This was during Desert Storm the first gulf war.

  • http://twitter.com/silo_mowbray Silo Mowbray

    If kids in another country were singing, say, “God Bless the Islamic
    Republican of Iran,” we’d be pissed off. Why is it ok in America (or, should I say, American) to say God loves us — or pledge that we’re “one nation, under God” — when we’d call it indoctrination or brainwashing if other countries did the same thing?

    Because “God Bless America” is the short version of “God Bless America and no one else.”

    • Graham Martin-Royle

      So god is also being asked (or told?) to bless Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia Etc.  Well, they ARE all American, just not USA American.

      • Anonymouspirate

         Except they all refer to themselves as Canadian, Mexican, Brazilian, Colombian, etc.  Everyone on the planet knows that when you refer to yourself as American you are from the USA.  You even say it that way in foreign languages when you refer to yourself.  It’s not a matter of being arrogant.  It’s a matter of you come from the United States of America.  It’s an asinine thing to get all bent out of shape about.

        • Anonymous

          Hey, if Graham is from the US and wants to refer to himself as a Unitedstatesian, he’s free to do so and look as silly as it sounds.

          • Graham Martin-Royle

            Nope, I’m English.  As I say in reply to Anonymousepirate, I was just trying to make the point that, even though christians like to make out that the US is somehow especially favoured by their god, by using lyrics like this, they are taking away that special liking that their god has for the US. 

            Just me having a different take on how to annoy and irritate christians. :-)

            • Anonymous

              Just me having a different take on how to annoy and irritate christians.

              And Canadians, Mexicans, Brazilians, and Colombians into the bargain.

          • Jett Perrobone

             Or he could call himself a US citizen.

        • Graham Martin-Royle

          I’m not getting bent out of shape about it, (and I’m not accusing anyone of being arrogant) I’m just trying to point out that that, although christians might like to think that the message this song gives out is that a god is blessing the US, what it could be saying is that a god is being asked/told to bless lots of other people as well.  I wonder how they feel about that, after all, if true, it makes the country just that little bit less special in the eyes of their god.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeremy-Gordon/1423005919 Jeremy Gordon

          North and South America = continents
          Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Columbia = countries

          You refer to yourself by the country you are from, not the continent.

  • Lagerbaer

    Well, if the USA were good enough for Jesus’ second coming, they are sure good enough for me. *wink*

  • DS

    I need some help with the first grammar mistake. Why is “American” not appropriate in that verse?

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      It’s a combination of ‘American’ and ‘where’.  “I’m proud to live in America where” would be correct.

      • DS

        Thanks. Now I get it. I was having a brain fart.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=628665833 Bill Santagata

        The two clauses are set off with a comma. The first clause is independent whereas second clause is dependent, both connected via the verb “to be,” so there is no grammatical error.

        I’m proud to be an American (INDEPENDENT), COMMA where at least I know I’m free. (DEPENDENT, the speaker is proud to be in a place where he is free).

        It would be like saying, “I’m proud to be a Harvard student, where I have the opportunity to receive a high-quality education.

        • Bryan

           You are correct, sir.  The line is actually grammatically correct. The song still sucks, but the grammar (at least here) checks out.

          And thanks Hemant, for getting this terrible song stuck in my head…”And I proudly STAND UP [ba-nah-nahhhh] …and blah blah blah blah blahhhhhh”

        • Bryan

           You are correct, sir.  The line is actually grammatically correct. The song still sucks, but the grammar (at least here) checks out.

          And thanks Hemant, for getting this terrible song stuck in my head…”And I proudly STAND UP [ba-nah-nahhhh] …and blah blah blah blah blahhhhhh”

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          I decided to get a little peer review from a college English instructor.

          The intent of both utterances is that the “where” clauses are noun clauses functioning as appositives modifying “Harvard” (the place) and “America.”  Since “Harvard” (the place noun) and “America” are nowhere present in these sentences, the modifying clauses are “dangling.” In the Harvard case, “Harvard” functions not as a place noun, but as an adjective, because it is a word the modifies a noun (student) by describing “what kind.”

          She does go on to say:

          From a rhetorical grammar perspective, Mr. Greenwood arguably got it right, insofar as his country song would not be particularly catchy, and it wouldn’t have rolled off the tongue particularly well had he worded it as I have. So the song is most rhetorically effective as it is for its writer’s purposes and within its particular rhetorical situation (its intended audience and the genre constraints and exigencies that call the text (song) into being and act upon/shape it).

          (in full disclosure, the peer is also my cousin)

          I do think that if we’re going to pick apart the grammar in pop songs, then we’re opening a massive can of worms.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Only because we’re on grammar patrol

    lyrics in tact

    • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

      Defensible.

  • scinquiry

     
    “Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.” Albert Einstein

    • Anonymous

      It’s better than tribalism.

      • http://twitter.com/RantBot5000 RantBot Grikmeer

         So is tribalism Rubella? (German Measles)

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_EAIHLUU3JSTIB3D2OWHGYN5PHA Ingen

         It IS tribalism.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1019365643 John J. Ronald

    To the well-meaning, perhaps pro-secular administrators at Stall Brook Elementary School who started this, this is what in soccer is called an “own goal”.

  • Erin W

    Assuming it’s not rhetorical, it’s okay because of cognitive dissonance and American exceptionalism.  Pretty much the explanation for everything, really.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    Herbert is proud to be an American

  • Sami Hawkins

    Side note: If kids in another country were singing, say, “God Bless the Islamic Republican of Iran,” we’d be pissed off. Why is it ok in America (or, should I say, American) to say God loves us — or pledge that we’re “one nation, under God” — when we’d call it indoctrination or brainwashing if other countries did the same thing?

    The whole idea of a pledge is creepy. If their was a news story about Chinese public school children reciting an ‘oath of loyalty’ or something like that to The People’s Republic the comments would all be about those horrible brainwashing communists.

    It’s not even effective nationalist propganda. Forcing people to repeat things works best when you make huge crowds do it like the Nazis or North Korea, the bigger the crowd the more people will feel pressured to go along with the group . Making a room full of students grumble through it once a day doesn’t inspire loyalty the same way.

    • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

      I’m pretty sure those countries do sing about how a god has blessed their nation. I don’t think anyone gets pissed off about it.

  • Joan

    All these years, I thought he was singing:

    And I’m proud to be in America,
    where at least I know I’m free. 

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

       Honestly, I think that makes more sense both lyrically and grammatically.

  • Ndonnan

    Good evening everyone :)Im proud to be England,Ireland,France,i dont think so.Its a song, an art form not an england class:).And really,how many women have joined the armed forces and given their lives  to fight for the freedom of American,[given their lives to raise a family,most,hasnt killed that many though]And God does love America,and has blessed America because so many people seek Him and ask for His will to be done.And as a father,He wants the best for them.Oh and why is it assumed the Iranians dont sing and pray asking for Allah to bless their land.This really has been an own goal.  1-nil

    • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

      Oh, you meant “It’s a song, not an English class.”

      See, interesting miscommunications can happen when you don’t pay attention to the words you’re using. Imagine if a big important book like that was used to influence people around the world!

    • Anonymous

      “…has blessed America because so many people seek Him and ask for His will to be done.” I have never understood this concept – not even when i was amongst the devout. “Please, lord, do whatever the f&*# you want to do.” Why oh why do you feel the need to ask god to assure that god’s will is done?

  • Anonymous

    I agree with the first comments.   If you don’t want to sing about God at the assembly, and I’m all for that, the best way is to change out the song itself, not the lyrics.  

    And anyone who thinks Americans are born free never got an obstetrics bill.

  • Philbert

    Side note: If kids in another country were singing, say, “God Bless the Islamic Republican of Iran,” we’d be pissed off.

    If I heard of Iranian kids singing anything so benign as wishing generic blessings upon their country, I would be relieved, not pissed off. I might be slightly disappointed if they showed a corresponding lack of taste in music. 

    • T-Rex

      ^this^Thank you.
      Why should anyone be pissed off about another country singing a patriotic song? I think Hemant is slowly turning into  the “Hyper-critical Atheist”.

  • Andrew Pang

    wow the comments secction is full of Christian apologists, so can everyone bump this RATIONAL comment “I think we need to keep God out of the schools because I don’ want the
    schools to teach my child a religion that is not one our family follows
    and it’s unfair force my religion on someone of another faith…” to the top by clicking “like” (you don’t need an account to vote on comments) http://www.myfoxphoenix.com/dpp/morning_show/should-god-be-taken-out-of-songs-in-schools-04052012#comment-487663357

  • Zach Harkey

    ‘god’, what a cheesy song.

  • Miko

    While we’re critiquing the lyrics, it implies that dying soldiers make Americans free.  Since the U.S. army serves the interests of imperialistic corporations that are the enemies of freedom, this is not actually the case: soldiers actually die in the cause of making Americans less free.

    • Anonymous

      Nonsense.   Many US wars have been fought to keep US citizens free.   So there have been many soldiers who have died for our freedom.    For example, the union soldier who died to free the slaves, the rebels who died to free us from the British,  the grunts that died to keep us free from the Japanese and Germans.

      • Nazani14

         That’s four if you add the War of 1812, not “many.”   There have only been a handful of times when American territory or American citizens were threatened.  All the countless other engagements have been forceful extensions of our foreign policy.  *Civilians* are the ones who protect our freedoms by voting on civil rights, privacy issues, etc., and occasionally by protesting in the streets.  
        As a veteran, I am creeped out by people who thank me for my service, while professing views that are one bus stop short of fascism.

      • Nazani14

         That’s four if you add the War of 1812, not “many.”   There have only been a handful of times when American territory or American citizens were threatened.  All the countless other engagements have been forceful extensions of our foreign policy.  *Civilians* are the ones who protect our freedoms by voting on civil rights, privacy issues, etc., and occasionally by protesting in the streets.  
        As a veteran, I am creeped out by people who thank me for my service, while professing views that are one bus stop short of fascism.

    • Anonymous

      Also the entire notion that “imperialistic corporations control the army” Is kooky twaddle that one expects from the likes of nuts like Chomsky, a guy who hasn’t met an anti-American distortion he wasn’t willing to fabricate or diseminate.

      http://www.paulbogdanor.com/200chomskylies.pdf

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=628665833 Bill Santagata

    How is it grammatically incorrect to say “I’m proud to be an American”? People from the United States are called “Americans.” He’s not claiming there to be a country called “American.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sarah-Venhartly/100003164475597 Sarah Venhartly

    The plot thickens.  The school is now saying they never had any plans to change the lyrics and Fox News made up the story.  http://www.milforddailynews.com/news/education/x221039744/Bellingham-school-officials-deny-planning-to-change-patriotic-song 

  • T-Rex

    Horrible song to begin with. Not sure tweaking the words made it any worse than it already was.

  • Gboyle138

    I realize this comment will probably sound silly, but when that song was written, around 99.99% of all combat deaths in American history were men.  I don’t think he was being deliberately chauvinistic by saying “men” instead or “people.”  Just kind of the facts at that point.  


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