A Pennsylvania elementary school’s principal will no longer say the phrase “God bless America” after leading the students in the Pledge of Allegiance, The Associated Press reports. The decision comes after at least one parent complained to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Sabold Elementary School Principal Peter Brigg had, until recently, led the students in the Pledge followed by the words “God bless America,” although it’s unclear how long the practice had been going on. However, he’s been told by his superiors to put a stop to the practice following a letter from Wisconsin’s Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which says that the practice is an unconstitutional violation of the separation of church and state.
As The Daily Times reports, Springfield School District Tony Barber received a letter dated March 25, 2019, that warned him of a potential court battle over the practice.
“A concerned Springfield School District parent has reported that Sabold Elementary School proclaims ‘God Bless America’ over the loudspeaker following the Pledge of Allegiance each morning. The Establishment Clause in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits government sponsorship of religious messages.”
Barber consulted with his district’s legal counsel and was told that the letter was pretty ironclad, and Brigg would have to discontinue the practice.
A riddle: what is age-old common sense, but new thinking; something demonstrated by Sabold Elementary School art teacher Denise Mroz as well as her young students? Click below to keep reading. https://t.co/6F4SF5iRRE pic.twitter.com/SEUtNRMwXk— Springfield SD (@SpringfieldSD) November 28, 2018
The children will still be allowed to recite the phrase themselves if they so wish, as is their constitutional right, but they will no longer be “coerced” into doing so by their principal. The district’s lawyer, Mark Sereni, said that the difference, at least as far as the First Amendment is concerned, is whether or not schoolchildren choose to do things like this on their own or whether they’re led (or coerced) to do so by school officials.
“The difference is children repeating it said by an administrator versus a child choosing to express it.”
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a statement that her organization is pleased that the Springfield School District has put an end to the practice.
“Young elementary school children don’t need to be coerced into affirming God’s name every morning.”
Public schools across the country walk a fine line between allowing children to exercise their own religious freedom while at the same time not “coercing” children into religious practices. For example, courts have ruled that school officials cannot lead students in prayer, but students are free to lead each other in prayer if they so choose.