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January 18, 2016 | Volume 91 Number 6

COMMENTARY

Patriotic words challenged

“God bless America.”

These three brief but meaningul words are no longer to be said as part of a morning routine by students at Glenview Elementary School in Haddon Heights, N.J. This comes after a challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Although students at the school were never required to utter “God bless America” at the end of the daily Pledge of Allegiance, most did so. The patriotic add-on was begun soon after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Two teachers, who are no longer at the school, wanted to show support to the first responders and victims of 9/11.

Sam Sassano, principal of the school which has 235 students, wrote parents that the daily practice of saying “God bless America” is being challenged by the ACLU which calls it unconstitutional. The principal’s letter says the school’s attorneys were warned by the ACLU that “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 the young, impressionable children.”

As one would expect, the principal’s letter riled many parents. But Mr. Sassano seemed to soften the blow by saying, that in his opinion, the practice of asking God’s blessing on one’s country is “fundamentally patriotic in nature” and does not promote religion among the students.

Not so, the ACLU claims.

“The greatest care must be taken to avoid the appearance of governmental endorsement in schools, especially elementary schools, given the impressionable age of the children under the school’s care and authority,” the ACLU letter states.

As a result, the principal felt he had no choice but to not permit the words “God bless America” as a class action following the Pledge of Allegiance.

Even the Pledge itself contains the words “under God.” One can be sure that there are some Americans who want to see these two words stricken.

While no students should be required to say “God bless America” as a daily class routine, putting a muzzle on the brief blessing limits one’s freedom of speech.

While the school cannot be seen as initiating the blessing as a class action, individual students are not forbidden from using the phrase if they so choose. Nothing can prevent an individual student from saying “God bless America.” If the teacher or anyone else objects, they can remain silent.

In fact, some students might even see more meaning in the words “God bless America” when that freedom of speech is taken away from them.

One upset mother pointed out that the words “In God we trust” are printed on American currency.

“Isn’t the person who complained out there spending that money?” she asked rhetorically.

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