A first grade girl was recently forced by the elementary school she attends to remove a line from a poem that she had written because it referenced God.
The unnamed girl attends West Marion Elementary School in Marion, North Carolina, and is six years old. The student was scheduled to have been a part of an assembly at her school that honored the nation’s military on Veterans’ Day. The poem that she had written was designed to be a special tribute to her two grandfathers, who served during the Vietnam War.
“He prayed to God for peace; he prayed to God for strength,” the line read.
According to reports, a parent of another student at the school somehow became aware of the girl’s intent to reference God in the poem and complained to officials about the matter.
“We had one parent concerned with the use of the word ‘God’ in this program,” school employee Chris Greene explained during a recent Board of Education meeting. “This parent did not want the word ‘God’ mentioned anywhere in the program.”
In response to the complaint, school officials told the girl to remove the line from her poem.
“Being a six-year-old, and not knowing her rights, she did what she was told,” Greene said. “When the demand from this person was heard, the rights of another stopped. It did so by hushing the voice of a six-year-old girl.”
“We wanted to make sure we were upholding the school district’s responsibility of separation of church and state from the Establishment Clause,” Superintendent Gerri Martin, who made the decision along with the principal and vice principal, told the Hickory Record.
“As a principal of a public school, I must put aside my personal religious beliefs and follow the law,” added West Marion Elementary principal Desarae Kirkpatrick, “which upholds that we have freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but that we, as public schools, cannot endorse one single religion over another.”
However, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a national legal organization that assists Christians whose constitutional rights are violated, believes that the school was wrong to force the girl to remove God from her poem. It sent a letter last Friday to both the elementary school and district officials, demanding that they cease and desist their actions.
“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 states. “[T]he 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.”
“[S]chool officials may not suppress or exclude the personal speech of students simply because the speech is religious or contains a religious perspective,” it continues.
ADF legal counsel Matt Sharp likewise stated that students have a right to discuss their personal beliefs in school, including during assemblies.
“America’s public schools should encourage, not restrict, the constitutionally protected freedom of students to express their faith,” Sharp said. “Students should not be censored when speaking about their faith or honoring those who valiantly served to protect our freedoms.”
ADF has given the McDowell County School District until this Friday to agree to no longer suppress the religious free speech of students, and to adjust its district policy to ensure that such speech is subsequently protected.