Marion, NC — An elementary school in North Carolina is the center of controversy after educators told a 6-year-old girl that she had to remove the word “God” from a poem she had written. The student was scheduled to deliver her the poem at a Veteran’s Day event.
The first grader had intended to use the opportunity to honor her two grandfathers, who fought during the Vietnam War.
The Blaze reports that one line in the poem read, “He prayed to God for peace, he prayed to God for strength.” The line, clearly a “reference to her relatives’ personal, wartime invocations,” apparently, a parent at the school was offended by the line, and made a complaint to the school. The 6-year-old was ordered to remove the line from the poem.
“The discussion [about the poem] occurred between myself, the principal and the assistant principal at West Marion,” said Superintendent Gerri Martin. “We wanted to make sure we were upholding the school district’s responsibility of separation of church and state from the Establishment Clause.”
After discussing the law, the school decided that allowing the line would constitute an endorsement of “one single religion over another.” Some in the Marion community, however, are concerned that the youngster’s First Amendment rights were violated in the incident.
Chris Greene, a district employee, spoke against the school’s decision at a Board of Education meeting this week, stating that school was guilty of “hushing the voice of a six-year-old girl.” He contended that she was not “trying to pray or coerce others to engage in a conversation with God, but that the first grader was simply explaining what her grandfathers had done in their time of need.”
Ken Paulson, president and chief executive of the First Amendment Center in Washington, D.C., said that the school was within its rights in their actions.
“Courts have consistently held up the rights for students to express themselves unless their speech is disruptive to the school,” Paulson maintains. “The First Amendment protects all Americans. She had every right to mention God, [but] that dynamic changed when they asked her to read it at an assembly.”
Do you think the little girl should have been able to read her poem for the assembly, even though it mentioned God’s name?