This happened to me when I was in 1st grade. The teacher asked all of us to bring our favorite books to share with the class. I brought a “Precious Moments” book of children’s bedtime prayers. About halfway through my show-and-tell, the teacher stopped me and told me I wasn’t allowed to talk about God in class. I was humiliated and told to go back to my seat. The message to the entire class was clear: God and religion are shameful and taboo, deserving of even worse suppression than curse words. The girl who came after me shared a story book about a little girl who danced with witches and other creatures around a bonfire in the woods and learned to cast spells. Apparently spirituality is OK in school so long as it involves Paganism rather than Christianity.
Suppressing a child’s free speech and free exercise of religion is not “separation of church and state.” It is censorship and a blatant assault on freedom of religion and individual liberty.
West Marion Elementary School in Marion, North Carolina, is at the center of controversy after educators ordered a six-year-old girl to remove the word “God” from a poem she was slated to deliver at a Veteran’s Day event. The first grader intended to use the opportunity to honor her two grandfathers who fought during the Vietnam War.
The contentious line that led the school to take action was, “He prayed to God for peace, he prayed to God for strength” — clearly a reference to her relatives’ personal, wartime invocations. After a parent allegedly heard of the inclusion of a higher power, he or she complained. The school, apparently working diligently to balance church versus state concerns, then decided to tell the child to remove the line.
[...] After consulting and considering the law, the school decided that allowing the line would constitute an endorsement of “one single religion over another.” Some in the Marion community, though, are concerned that the young girl’s First Amendment rights were violated when she was told that she could not utter God’s name during the Nov. 8 event.
One district employee, Chris Greene, spoke out at a Board of Education meeting this week, explaining that the 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.
“America’s public schools should encourage, not restrict, the constitutionally protected freedom of students to express their faith,” said Legal Counsel Matt Sharp. “Students should not be censored when speaking about their faith or honoring those who valiantly served to protect our freedoms. The poem described the historical actions of her grandfather, and the Constitution protects such student expression at school.”
[...] “The censorship of this young student’s poem about her grandfathers is repugnant to the First Amendment rights of all students and sends an impermissible message of hostility towards religion,” the letter continues, adding that “the First Amendment protects the right of students to discuss their faith–especially when they are discussing a historical event like this student in her poem honoring her grandfathers.”
The letter requests changes to the school district’s policies to ensure that unconstitutional censorship does not continue to occur at any of the district’s schools.