US

‘God Bless America’ Removed From Pennsylvania School Pledge After Complaint

By Eva Fu

Peter Brigg, the principal of Sabold Elementary School in Springfield, Pennsylvania, used to say “God Bless America” after leading students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day.

That will no longer happen, because he was ordered to stop saying the phrase after the school district received a legal complaint.

A parent filed the complaint to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, claiming that the practice was against federal law.

The attorney from the foundation said that the phrase violated the prohibition of government to endorse religious messages as outlined in the U.S. Constitution.

“The repeated recitation of a religious message in the school setting violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits public schools from advancing, supporting, or promoting religion,” the foundation’s attorney Chris Line wrote in a letter (pdf) to the district’s superintendent.

“‘God Bless America’ is a prayer … A prayer hosted by a publicly-supported school does not pass constitutional muster,” Line wrote, asking that the “practice of proclaiming ‘God Bless America’ each day must cease immediately.”

The foundation says “young elementary school children don’t need to be coerced into affirming God’s name every morning.”

After consulting with its lawyer, the district decided to cease the practice, wary that not doing so will open the district up to litigation “which the local taxpayers would have to financially support.”

None of the 34 schools in the school district still include the phrase, according to a letter (pdf) issued by the school’s lawyer. Although the district says it is not prohibiting students from reciting “God Bless America” after the pledge on their own free will.

“The District has not altered the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and has not prohibited students from deciding on their own, as their own form of self-expression, whether or not to state the words, ‘God Bless America’ (or any other appropriate form of self-expression) upon completing the Pledge of Allegiance,” the district wrote in a statement on May 3.

“We understand that this is an important topic for many of our constituents; however, please understand that the District does not make the law. We follow it.”

The district could not be immediately reached for comment.

Not A Singular Incident

Debates around public expressions of religious values have heightened in the late years as the society toes the line of “political correctness.”

Most recently, Republican Arizona governor Doug Ducey met with criticisms of a secular group for sending Easter greetings containing a bible verse.

The Secular Communities of Arizona, which describes itself as working “to ensure a secular state government,” demanded that Ducey remove the post, a request Ducey has refused.

The Bossier Parish School District in Louisiana was ordered to revise their policy governing issues regarding religion in February last year, over complaints (pdf) that the children were subjected to “unwelcome religious messages and indoctrination.”

In New Hampshire, the lawmakers recently considered a bill that would remove Lord’s Prayer in public elementary schools.

At Santa Barbara City College, the president of the SBCC Board of Trustees also attempted to ban the use of the “Pledge of Allegiance” at board meetings for the phrase “one nation under God,” stating that the pledge is “steeped in expressions of nativism and white nationalism,” according to a Jan. 21 email obtained by Campus Reform.

Joe Kennedy, a former assistant football coach, was fired in 2015 from Bremerton High School in Washington when he refused to stop praying after games. The supreme court refused to hear the coach’s appeal in January.