An elementary school in New Jersey has bowed to the threat of an ACLU lawsuit and suspended a tradition dating back to 9/11.
Students at Glenview Elementary School in Haddon Heights began saying “God Bless America” following the daily reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance as a way to show support for first responders and victims after the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001.
The school never required the students to participate. “It just became sort of a habit,” said Principal Sam Sassano, according to the Courier-Post. “Now it’s part of the culture here.” But the school was slapped with a legal notice from the ACLU calling the school’s tradition unconstitutional.
— Courier-Post (@cpsj) January 5, 2016
“A concern has been raised by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey that this practice in invoking God’s blessing as a daily ritual is unconstitutional and in violation of the Establishment Clause, since it allegedly promotes religious over non-religious beliefs, especially with young, impressionable children,” Sassano wrote in a letter to parents. “On the other hand, it has been our view that the practice is fundamentally patriotic in nature and does not invoke or advance any religious message, despite the specific reference to God’s blessing.”
Glenview students will not be prevented from saying the phrase, said Sassano in the letter, but the school wished to avoid a costly legal battle with the ACLU and would “explore alternative methods of honoring the victims and first responders of the 9/11 tragedy,” reported the Post.
Local news NBC10 spoke with New Jersey ACLU legal director Ed Barocas who said there were other ways to show patriotism without forcing children to invoke God’s blessing.
“It is improper and unconstitutional for a school to have a practice of telling elementary students as young as kindergarten invoking God’s blessing at the beginning of every school day during an official school assembly,” he said. “Parents, not the government, have the right to direct the religious upbringing of their children.”
Many parents, while sympathetic to the principal, have been outspoken about their disappointment with the school’s decision to capitulate.
“I think this is typical of the ACLU,” parent Christi Clark told NBC10. “They’re bullying the masses. We’re going to stand up and say that we don’t agree.” Her son, a first-grader, decided to say “God bless America” anyway on Monday, and many of his classmates did as well.
“What’s next?” Clark asked. “Is the Pledge going to go away all together? I mean, it says ‘under God’ in the Pledge.”
See the NBC report below.
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