Today as I was driving into the city, I passed under a bridge, on which stood an older man with a big huge American Flag waving to the passing cars.

“Oh,” I said to Julia. “Veteran’s day.”

It was too late to honk or flash my lights at the old Legionnaire in appreciation for his service. But then later on I heard about a story that made me glad I didn’t. I’ve had a long and ambivalent relationship with both the VFW and the American Legion. And for the most part, they can kiss my ass. Here’s the latest reason why:

American Legion Post 550, of Bloomington, Minnesota, has been carrying out a ceremony in the Bloomington School district on Veterans day for some years now, and they also provide the school with between 25 and 30 thousand dollars in scholarships. (Such scholarships would typically be provided for graduating seniors for college expenses, which is actually a highly questionable practice that we can talk about some other time.)

The ceremony which has been carried out for several years was altered last year to include prayers. The school officials did not expect the prayer to be part of the ceremonies.

“Frankly, it caught me off guard because they had never done that before. We do not do that in public school,” said Poplar Bridge Elementary School Principal Gail Swor, according to a piece in the Star Tribune.

This year, the legion was asked to not include the prayer, and their response was absurd, spiteful, and destructive.

“My guys say if they can’t do the ceremony they’ve done for 40 years, they won’t do it,” said Terry Selle, commander of American Legion Post 550. The Legion also will hold back scholarships estimated at $25,000 to $30,000.


Somebody’s not telling the truth. The important thing, from the American Legion’s point of view, is:

1) Prayer be forced, contrary to the Constitution of the United States of America, into public schools; and

2) If the American Legion does not get its way in this regard, the students who would have gotten those scholarship won’t get the scholarships.

Fuck you, American Legion. No veteran’s day best wishes for you.

Please read the original story at the Star Tribune, and consider leaving comments. Right now the comments are of this caliber:

“I see nothing wrong with a non-demoninational prayer for such a solemn day.”

“When will we realize this nation was founded on biblical principals and our schools were started to train children in the truth about our history. Prayer was a big part of that history and should continue to be a choice in a “free” nation.”

“Kudos to the American Legion, VFW and Shame on you Bloomington public schools.”

As you can see, your input is needed.


  1. #1 Stephanie Z
    November 11, 2009

    I just sent the link to a friend who went to school in the district. It was a while ago but well within the 40 years they claim.

  2. #2 Jason Thibeault
    November 11, 2009

    I see lots wrong with any prayer, it being non-denominational completely notwithstanding. If I was an atheist in a foxhole, I’d resent anyone entreating any deity, no matter which one, over my sacrifices.

    The likelihood of my joining any armed services are relatively low, though, given that all the current wars our countries are engaged in, amount to holy wars.

  3. #3 MemeGene
    November 11, 2009

    What a bunch of grinches! As a veteran, I’m ashamed of the American Legion for trying to exploit a serious, respectful holiday by throwing a temper tantrum. Not only should they be the FIRST to defend the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but they shouldn’t be spiting the futures of promising young people by removing their funding for those scholarships. Wouldn’t it be the “Christian” thing to do to turn the other cheek and still show love to those they disagree with?

    As it stands now though, the American Legion has lost what little credibility they have now in my eyes. One of the first rules we learn in the military is to respect authority – they should have gotten the contents of their presentation approved by the district officials and the principal BEFORE trying to hijack last year’s and this year’s ceremonies.

  4. #4 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    November 11, 2009

    I used to think of the American Legion Hall as a cheap place to get drinks, but now I wonder. Vets who care about the Establishment Clause should be contacting the National Organization to ask them to penalize this group unless they decide to go back and re-examine their military oath to protect and defend the Constitution and to stop trying to subvert its proections.

    Failing that, they should finally do the honest thing if they so sincerely believe that this is a “Christian Nation” and start a drive to amend the constitution to repeal the Establishment Clause. As we learned in Maine and California, it seems not to be okay to vote on whether or not people should continue to have civil liberties.

  5. #5 Gilgamesh
    November 11, 2009

    The story does need balance in the comments. I attempted to access the site to make a comment for several minutes using sign-in sets from, but was unable to log on.

    The point I wanted to make was the ‘lord of the flies’ mentality that happens when children see a peer not acting in the same way the majority does. It gets brutal.

    I also wanted to say I am a veteran, an Atheist in a foxhole, and I volunteered to (among other ideals) ensure freedom of religion and freedom from religion. That last statement would have stirred up the curmudgeons.

    If given enough room in the newspaper’s comments section, I would have touched upon legal problems school districts have experienced for allowing adult let prayer. Legal battles sap large amounts of taxpayer monies from the schools. The children suffer so religious fundamentalists can say they (temporarily) returned prayer to school.

    If the veterans group continue to try to force religious concessions in return for scholarship funds; tell them to leave and not return. A group that would deny funds to students to punish school administrators is not worth our respect.

    One of my lesser irritations is the use of tired clichés;”A slap in the face” and “This country was founded on Christian principles” are two I particularly dislike.

  6. #6 Pete
    November 11, 2009

    I quit my membership years ago over a similar issue surrounding school scholarships, and a general feeling that the VFW was a political organization with no overlap with my own political standing on almost every issue.

  7. #7 Greg Laden
    November 11, 2009

    w00t w00t w00t

    My comment (below) is the Featured Comment on the strib site:

    “Do members of the American Legion take an oath to uphold the US Constitution? They should be required to do so. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment guarantees separation of church and state. This means NO PRAYER IN SCHOOLS. If you want to throw away the first amendment, fine, but then it is a short hop to throw away the second amendment. And the fifth. Also, it is entirely inappropriate for the American Legion to hold the children who might win the scholarships hostage by suggesting that the scholarship will be withheld if the Bloomington School District fails to violate the US Constitution. At this point, the Bloomington School District should simply ask the Legion to withdraw their scholarships and stay off the school grounds.”

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    November 11, 2009

    I love this one:

    “Does this creature who is in the role of a principal think that when the enemy takes this country, that she’ll still have a job????? ”

    and this one:

    “It really disturbes me that the school district folded to the pressure of one principal. It is time for all parents to voice their opinions to the school board! We teach them about different cultures but our own has been lost!!!”

    and this one:

    “Parents, students, teachers of Bloomington (of all faiths) take a moment or two the next time you cross the threshold of the school and pray…because you can! Freedom isn’t free and no principal can take that away (especially on Veteran’s Day).”

    Hey, if you haven’t gone and left a comment yet you should! (I know it’s a pain, but registration at the Strib is worth it….. they print a lot of crap that you need to comment on and the site is widely read)

  9. #9 Ben Zvan
    November 11, 2009

    Well said, Gilgamesh. Thank you for your service.

  10. #10 lewis haymes
    November 11, 2009

    Were I a member of the VFW (something I’ve never desired to be although I was in service during the Korea ‘affair’) I would resign instantly. These guys don’t know their history. The founding fathers were NOT Christian and went out of their way to keep religion OUT of govermental affairs. Small wonder that modern religion, Christianity in particular, is called ‘religiosity’. That means ‘your religion is being religious’, but not practicing it. They had rather ‘seem’ than ‘be’. Videre quam esse

  11. #11 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    November 11, 2009

    I really hate posting comments from work because I don’t get much of a chance to “review” before I “submit” a comment.

    it seems not to be okay to vote on whether or not people should continue to have civil liberties.

    S/B it seems now to be okay to vote on whether or not people should continue to have civil liberties.

    And of course, I meant VFW.

  12. #12 Qwerty
    November 11, 2009

    The members of the Legion should know better as every servicemember has to take an oath to protect and defend the constitution of the United States while serving their country. They either know little of the constitution or have forgotten why they joined the military.

  13. #13 Nelson Muntz
    November 11, 2009

    What about a compromise? The American Legion gets to insist on prayers in return for the funding, but the school board get to pick what they pray to?

  14. #14 Badger3k
    November 11, 2009

    I went to the school website, found her email, and sent her a nice, polite email thanking her for what she did. As a vet, a teacher, and an atheist supporting the Constitution, and working in Texas, I found her attitude a breath of fresh air. The attitude of bigots just makes me want to go and knock some sense into them with a sledgehammer (a 2×4 is way to small). Gotta knock a lot of rock out of the way to let the sense get in, don’cha know.

    Or we could just say to them, as we said in Wisconsin (where I went to school) Uf-da.

  15. #15 Greg Laden
    November 11, 2009

    I’ve also written an email in support.

  16. #16 Ian Crorie
    November 11, 2009

    I have mixed feelings about this. As an atheist, and at times a militant one, the separation of church and state is a cause I’d go to the barricades for. On the other hand, it is the case that in a country where there is a majority religion then the culture of that country will inevitably be coloured by that majority religion.

    I’m thinking of my own upbringing in Scotland. I was lucky enough to have parents and adult contacts who were open minded enough that I was never indoctrinated in religion. I guess I was told about it and it was expected that I would join in, but I was never forced or browbeaten. And I have to say that I would have missed out in some way if I’d rejected some social experiences that were church related. Armistice day and Xmas to mention two. The first is easy to imagine without a Christian slant to it, the second clearly less so (!), but both were part of the culture.

    So while my first reaction was to be critical of the Legion, I’m now trying to separate the indefensible bits from the forgivable ones. Only providing funding for scholarships to Christians seems bad; wanting prayers because that is what they have traditionally done seems less so. Throwing away tradition because of different modern sensibilities can be a sad thing.

    Maybe this particular case isn’t a good one, but I think there is a valid position in my ramblings. To take a trivial example, we are happy to celebrate Halloween and appreciate it as a tradition, even though we don’t argue that it encourages the burning of women as witches.

  17. #17 Greg Laden
    November 11, 2009

    Prayers is not what they’ve traditionally done. They are making the claim but the school admins say that last year they were shocked to hear the prayers for the first time, did not know they were part of the show, and asked them to not do it again. It is not a tradition. It is something that some yahoos at the American Legion post cooked up to cause trouble.

  18. #18 MarkusR
    November 11, 2009

    I’ve heard about cases where the Legion members go to schools and talk about the “meaning” of each fold in the flag. The “meanings” of course are practically all religious to the core, but I don’t know how pervasive it is.

  19. #19 Ian Crorie
    November 11, 2009

    Ah, thanks Greg. I’ve just followed more of the links, and it seems like the prayers are indeed a new thing. In which case, while my general point maybe still has some validity, I give up on this lot in Bloomington.

  20. #20 Joker
    November 12, 2009

    How dare the AL do this, they are using the scholarships to try to hold the school hostage. Not only is what they’re saying (that America and the US are Christian Nations) patently false but to do what they’re doing is a disservice to all those of other faiths, or none at all, who fight for our nation.

    How would these same commentors who flay the school for daring to stand up for the first amendment feel if they had allowed Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, Shinto, Wiccan, or neo-pagan prayer? How would they feel if an athiest soldiers organization came in to bash religion? I’m sure they’d be hopping mad, they want freedom of their religion while denying others the right to speak.

    People who take this tack make me feel sad and ashamed, I consider myself a Christian and find what the soldiers did to be deplorable and very un-Christian as is the behavior of those who scream and berate those who took a stand on principle and refused to let the soldiers turn a program into a religious ceremony.

  21. #21 John Bunyan
    November 12, 2009

    As a Brit and an atheist, I understand from the wording of the American Constitution that the founding fathers were not overtly Christian and went out of their way to keep religion out of govermental affairs. Adherance to this constitution would also imply keeping mandatory prayers out of schools, preventing interfering religious apologists from poisoning childrens critical faculties and allowing each person to choose any ridiculous belief system they want without discriminating against any other ridiculous belief or imposing their personal ridiculous belief system on others.

    I’d like to state my support for the school involved in saying to the AL to keep their bribe money. If they set up a fund to compensate the students who will now suffer over the lack of funds made available by the cretinous decision of the AL, I’d be happy to donate.

  22. #22 Greg Laden
    November 12, 2009

    Captian Patriot [22]: My daughter’s school is a gun free zone. It is also a dictator free zone. Problem solved. Need I add more?

    Re Story: How exactly does your anecdote destroy all leftist arguments? Are you connecting Story with the left? Then, you are also connecting slavery with the right, yes? Are you a slave owner or just a wanna be slave owner?

    Oh,and your rambling about hog penetration has me a bit worried. About you.

  23. #23 Red Mann
    November 12, 2009

    I’m a Navy vet and have always refused to join the American Legion because of their overly patriotic beliefs. Their support of the flag-burning ammendment ticked me off. I happen to know the national commander and sent him a little heads up. He has a blog, where you can talk directly to him.

  24. #24 Qwerty
    November 12, 2009

    From Greg Laden’s post on Pharyngula:

    “(I won’t mention that the VFW is for vets who were more likely in combat in foreign wars, and the Am. Legion is for the other vets. So most of them were not really fighting in a war. Or at least that’s how it was back when my war-hero father was the president of the local VFW)”

    This is incorrect as any veteran who received a medal for service in a foreign country may join the VFW. He/she do not have to be combatants. And naval personnel may also join if they contact the VFW and meet certain requirements.

    I served in the Navy and was a cook at a naval hospital outside of Da Nang which makes me eligible as I received a medal for this service in a foreign country. I did not fire a weapon of any kind nor faced any combat situation during my 50 weeeks in Vietnam. (Hey, I got there a week late and they let me leave a week early.)

    For the American Legion, anyone who served during war time (within specified dates which are listed at their website)
    may join. So, again, there are a mixture of combatants and non-combatants in the American Legion as well as the VFW.

    So, basically, the only difference is that the VFW requires service in a foreign country and a medal for this service.

    I have briefly belonged to both the VFW and American Legion.

    Most veterans groups (there are several more) are founded as fraternal groups and work to help either veterans receive their benefits or they may (as the Bloomington group) help in the local communities.

  25. #25 Greg Laden
    November 12, 2009

    So, basically, the only difference is that the VFW requires service in a foreign country and a medal for this service.

    Yes, I believe that is correct and was how it worked at the time my Father was a member (of both organizations).

  26. #26 flyn
    November 12, 2009

    I’m still mad at them for the Centralia Massacre. At least nobody brought a rope to this ceremony.

  27. #27 Rob Jase
    November 12, 2009

    For an organization that was started as a fan club for a pulp magazine (it was either Adventure or Argosy) about a century ago they have a vastly ovrinflated view of themselves.

  28. #28 hep
    November 12, 2009

    I’m a two time Iraq war veteran. It makes me sad to see that other veterans are so naive about their own country that they’ve become the very domestic enemies from which they swore to protect the constitution. They haven’t a clue what the constitution even says. When I was still in the service I remember seeing the appalled look on a fellow serviceman’s face after I explained to him that our country was founded a secular nation (along with all the evidence for it, since he was of course in complete stubborn denial.)
    Amazing what a little paying attention in your U.S. History classes as a kid might have done for these morons. Perhaps they wouldn’t have served our nation at all.

    “I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and DOMESTIC”

  29. #29 tlbn
    November 15, 2009

    That rumbling in the ground you feel is my atheist grandfather not rolling in his grave, but trying to get up out of it to give today’s VFW and American Legion a piece of his mind. He fought WWII and Korea, and would spit in the faces of those who would commingle the church and state and hide behind veterans’ organizations to do it.

  30. #30 Augie
    November 16, 2009

    LOL . . . these holy warriors one and all . . .ignore the biblical edict stating quite clearly: it is a sin/hypocrisy to pray in public.

    “Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man.” Thomas Jefferson

    “Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it forevery noble enterprise”. James Madison

  31. It’s THEIR money, why should they be forced to provide a service under conditions they find objectionable. If the ACLU took the same course after being informed there would be prayer, that would have been applauded.

  32. #32 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    November 17, 2009

    If they want to hold the ceremony, examiner, in a non-public school environment they can pray all that they want and no one will care. But they are making this stand purposely to create a divide against secularism, which is a foundation of the Constitution that they swore to defend. Don’t you think it odd that they think that the schools are whores who will sacrifice principle for money?

    The ACLU us there to defend the Constitution. It’s not a battle between “prayer” and “atheism.” It’s a matter of a bunch of veterans who fought for freedom and liberty without understanding what it means, and I don’t get why it’s so hard.

    Don’t the vets trust the kids’ parents to larn ’em religion? Talk about a fuckin’ nanny state mentality! Or is it the kids of non-Christian families that they are really trying to reach. Examine, Examiner!

  33. #33 Greg Laden
    November 17, 2009

    Jackson: your comment about the ACLU makes no sense, please explain.

    Regarding the money, it is my view that the Bloomington School district should refuse further donations from the American Legion. At this point, it is a reasonably good guess that every year for one reason or another a big kerfuffle will break out between the Legion and the Constitution, and frankly this is embarrassing. They are trying to teach good, American values in the school. But outside the school we have the American Legion engaged in extortion, teabaggers engaged in violence, Republican Whiners saying that our country is not strong enough to put criminals on trial in New York, and so on and so forth. How are these kids supposed to learn good old fashioned patriotic values?

    Frankly, I don’t even know why I’m asking you. Your sort rarely stick around after the Logic comes to bear on the argument and you have to answer for your drivel.

  34. #34 Dan
    November 18, 2009

    First off, its their money. They have every right to distribute it as they see fit. Second, people ignorant of the Constitution and their own rights. The 1st Amendment “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”. It says nothing about no religion in public, no Christmas decorations, no prayer in school. If anything, it seems it should encourage it.

  35. #35 Stephanie Z
    November 18, 2009

    Dan, that would be “people are ignorant of the Constitution,” and I would have to agree with you there. How can I argue when you put that kind of evidence in front of me?

    First off, no one (who doesn’t have a TV or radio show on which they can moan about how “oppressed” they are or who isn’t parroting one of these shows) says anything about “no religion in public, no Christmas decorations”. They do say that no government entity may suppress one religion by endorsing another, and they’ve been supported in that by plenty of case law. Public displays that are open to all religions (and none) are quite acceptable.

    You do understand that a public school is a government entity, right? And that there are more than one religion out there?

  36. #36 Greg Laden
    November 18, 2009

    Dan, I’m sure you agree that it is essential to fight the religious right on this:

  37. #37 John Selander
    November 20, 2009

    I am the Sgt-At-Arms of a American Legion and a life time member of the D.A.V. and a member of the V.F.W. We have a combined color guard that renders military honors at funerals to honor the veterans that have served this nation. At everyone there is some type of religion. Nobody protest religion there. I wonder why. Has anybody forgot The Pledge of Allegiance. In the grade schools this is said every morning. Where I live the high school has drop this to once a week. Where I quote it says (ONE NATION UNDER GOD) Now if people would understand that God is a plural word. This could mean my god your god or any god for that matter. I feel religion in the early development of life is needed to teach kindness and love. As you get older out in the big world then it is your choice the worship or to not We are headed down a bad road I feel. I admit I am not a very religious person. But I do know in a time of great hardships and the fear of dying.I have said a prayer to have my loved ones and friends watch over incase I didn’t return. I could go on more about this. I’m not try to shove religion down someone throat. But these Veterans Organizations where found on the priciples of elders who have came before them. To shame there valuess is not right.

    Take Care

  38. #38 Greg Laden
    November 20, 2009

    John, I appreciate your perspective and especially your concern for the moral welfare of youngster’s growing up. But you are leaving something out of the equation (as a lot of people quite innocently do). There is a growing number of Americans (but we have always been here, including a good number of our founding fathers) who are non-theists, agnostics, and atheists. We are moral people and we achieve ethical understanding and morality without religion. We feel that religion offers both good and bad things, but we can obtain the good things … high moral and ethic philosophy, an appreciation for peace, love for our fellow human, etc. … without taking the bad by being thoughtful humanists, atheists, etc.

    So, the idea of raising our children with a religion so they can decide what to do later is a little like raising our children on french fries so they can decide later to eat a healthy diet or not.

    With respect to the ceremonies, it is entirely up to the Legion as to whether or not they want to have prayer involved. However, a public school is not an appropriate place for prayer because our founders established this nation as a constitutional Republic with clear separation of church and state. This is clear not only from the Constitution but also from their writings at the time.

    So, when the Legion offers to promote patriotic values by coming to schools, it is polite, ethical, and reasonable for the Legion to offer a non-prayer version of the ceremony. In the mean time, it is the responsibility of the schools to insist that prayer-inclusive ceremonies not be carried out at school events.

    The Legion would do better to respect the Constitution and the Law rather than to insist that its tradition overrides these important tenets of our society.

    Thanks for your comment.

  39. #39 Steve
    November 20, 2009

    The differences between the VFW & American Legion are that you can join the AL if you have worn a uniform and do not have a dishonorable discharge. To join the VFW you must have served overseas during a conflict(usually denoted by having earned a campaign ribbon. And of course no dishonorable discharge.
    Usually makes for a different group.

  40. #40 Lorax
    November 20, 2009

    I know this is basically pointless but, the “under god” phrase was officially added to the pledge in 1954 and was introduced by christian groups (so lets not pretend god refers to a concept and not a haploid zombie).

    I think this strongly diminishes the profound importance given to these two words that some think is warranted.

  41. #41 becca
    November 20, 2009

    I shall raise my child on Pie and let him decide later if he wants to eat a healthy diet or not.

  42. #42 NewEnglandBob
    November 20, 2009

    It is so sad to see so many people come here to comment and they do not understand the first thing about the constitution and freedoms.

    I shudder when I see:

    I feel religion in the early development of life is needed to teach kindness and love.

    First, that is the parent’s job, not the school or the religion. That needs to be accomplished before a child is 3 years old.

  43. #43 John Selander
    November 23, 2009

    Do you know anything about the American Legion. They have been For God and Country since 1919. If they decide not to support because it goes against their values. Then I say so be it. One Nation Under God will still be in the Pledge and recited in school on veterans day and In God We Trust Will still be on our money. The world is going to Hell in a Hand basket! That is because of the break down of morallity. Single parent families and parents not being able to teach their children right from wrong. Respect for elders has went out the door. Posted blogs with fake names. Shudder to see what people would do if that veteran had not died to give them the freedoms they have. When I meet people and they ask how I am doing. I say “Just another day in paradise” You what to know why? Because Life is a whole lot worse on the other side of this world. But here there is nothing but complain complain complain. Government needs a big fix by the majority. No common goals! If we make it another tens years I will be Surprized!!!
    Respectfully Submitted

  44. #44 Stephanie Z
    November 23, 2009

    John, you do understand that the veterans who died for my freedom (or for any other reason the government decided to send them to war) didn’t come back to join the Legion, right? Seriously, I want to know, because I’m not sure that someone who says both that things are so much worse elsewhere and that pseudonymous blogs are destroying the world is going to get that.

  45. #45 Greg Laden
    November 23, 2009

    Well, pseudonymous ARE destroying the world, but I don’t get the connection between pseudonymous and this discussion.

  46. #46 Stephanie Z
    November 23, 2009

    Having been over to Island of Doubt recently, I could be persuaded to lean more heavily in that direction than usual.

  47. #47 John Selander
    November 23, 2009

    Like I said I’m not very religious but I don’t have a problem if someone wants to pray. I will let them. Why do agnostics, and atheists have a problem with it? It just doesn’t make sense!!!

    Respectfully Submitted

  48. #48 Stephanie Z
    November 23, 2009

    John, two words: school-sponsored function. It’s about part of the government not endorsing a religion. It’s not that hard to understand; just look at the First Amendment.

  49. #49 John Selander
    December 16, 2009
  50. #50 baptism
    October 9, 2013

    Baptism Quotes – Baptism is after conversion and not a saving ordinance, but an outward indication of an inward work. Baptism isn’t elective for the believer, but a command of our Master to be obeyed. Baptism is a hint to everybody watching which he or she has accepted Christ as Messiah and which he/she plans to mind Jesus and stay to please Him. Everyone who’s sorry for their sins, repents, and believes in Jesus as Messiah ought to be baptized. Understands what baptism indicates and when a man is saved, she or he should be baptized. As cited from the Holy Bible.