The ACLU has called for an end to a New Jersey elementary school's tradition, since 9/11, of having students say "God bless America" after reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, claiming it is unconstitutional. School district officials were intimidated by the threat of legal action and have decided to no longer initiate the tradition. However, to their credit students at the school continue to say it.
Having students say the words "God bless America" as a patriotic expression is rooted in America's heritage and civic culture. Imagine if the students were taught to recite the preamble to the New Jersey Constitution:
"We, the people of the State of New Jersey, [are] grateful to Almighty God for the civil and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy..."
Glenview Elementary School principal, Sam Sassano, stood up for students' right to say "God bless America." He explained, "I recognize everyone's Freedom of Speech right. Many parents have expressed that they want their child to continue to state 'God bless America.' I do not feel I have the authority to forbid this and have assured parents that is their right."
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia would be proud of the students. In a recent speech he gave in Louisiana, Associated Press reported:
He told the audience at Archbishop Rummel High School that there is "no place" in the country's constitutional traditions for the idea that the state must be neutral between religion and its absence.
"To tell you the truth there is no place for that in our constitutional tradition. Where did that come from?" he said. "To be sure, you can't favor one denomination over another but can't favor religion over non-religion?"
The news of students exercising their right of free speech -- especially regarding what some consider too religious -- is timely. The President will soon be proclaiming January 16 as Religious Freedom Day (as every President has since 1993). I recommend school leaders and educators use the occasion to teach students a civics lesson about their religious freedom at school.
You can help your local schools do that by simply recommending they show students a 3-minute video produced by the Buncombe County (North Carolina) School District. With the help of students, teachers, and the Campbell-Shatley Law Firm, Buncombe County Schools produced The Three R's of Religion in Schools. It explains the U.S. Department of Education's guidelines on students' and teachers' religious freedom.