Wednesday, 05 December 2012 10:38

School Forces First-Grader to Remove “God” From Poem Honoring Her Grandfather

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Officials at an elementary school in North Carolina are in hot water with local residents — as well as veterans across America — after they forced a first grader to remove references to God from a poem she had written to honor her grandfather. The student, whose grandfather served in the military during the Vietnam conflict, had expected to read the poem at a Veterans Day ceremony at West Marion Elementary School in McDowell County, North Carolina. In the poem the proud and patriotic little girl included the lines — “He prayed to God for peace, he prayed to God for strength” — to describe the actions of her grandfather during the war. But when a member of the community supposedly complained about the poem's mention of God and its inclusion in the ceremony, school officials forced the girl to remove the offending lines before presenting it at the Veterans Day observance.

Chris Greene, an employee of McDowell County Schools, told CBS News that the elementary school “had one parent concerned with the use of the word God in this program. This parent did not want the word God mentioned anywhere in the program.”

Explaining the school's actions, McDowell County school superintendent Gerri Martin told the McDowell News that “we wanted to make sure we were upholding the school district’s responsibility of separation of church and state from the Establishment Clause.”

The elementary school principal, Desarae Kirkpatrick, echoed that excuse, saying: “We jointly decided that we must err on the side of caution to prevent from crossing the line on the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.” She added that “as a principal of a public school, I must put aside my personal religious beliefs and follow the law, 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.”

Ken Paulson of the First Amendment Center, a Washington, D.C.,-based group that studies issues surrounding the Constitution and freedom of speech and religion, told the McDowell News that in his opinion, the school was within its rights to censor the girl's poem for public reading. “Courts have found that religious references at school-sponsored events generally run afoul of the First Amendment,” Paulson said. He added that “when a public school knows there’s going to be a reference to religion then there is a problem and they have to address it. The reason for these restrictions is to prevent the government from endorsing a specific faith or religion. So public schools have to steer clear of religious references.”

But Matt Sharp of Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal advocacy group, disagreed. “America’s public schools should encourage, not restrict, the constitutionally protected freedom of students to express their faith,” he said. “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.”

Upon hearing about the censorship by the school, Sharp went to bat for the young student and her family, sending a letter to the McDowell County school superintendent and the school's principal, declaring that “school officials may not suppress or exclude the personal speech of students simply because the speech is religious or contains a religious perspective.”

Sharp pointed out to the officials that the “censorship of this young student’s poem about her grandfather is repugnant to the First Amendment rights of all students and sends an impermissible message of hostility towards religion.” He added 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 grandfather.”

Local residents lined up behind the young poet, with one, Esther Dollarhyde, telling CBS News that “we need to keep in mind what our country was founded on. It was founded on God and Jesus Christ, and our veterans went out and fought for us so we would have a free country. But if we aren’t allowed to honor them the way that the children want to, then America is getting lost.”

Another local resident, Trudy Pascoe, told Fox News: “I am outraged that a school would deny a six-year-old child her First Amendment rights — especially during an assembly to honor our nation’s veterans. It is unacceptable for schools to continue to deny students rights because of their Christian viewpoint.”

During a local school board meeting about the incident, McDowell Schools employee Chris Greene said the girl obviously had no intention of trying to force others to pray, but was simply sharing about her grandfather's actions. “Let me add here that those prayers worked,” Greene told the school board, “because he went on to serve two tours in Vietnam. My question is this: when do the rights of one outweigh the rights of another? I believe that this little girl’s rights were violated and that those who worked so hard to prepare this program should receive an apology.”

7 comments

  • Comment Link lastofall Sunday, 09 December 2012 14:04 posted by lastofall

    I'd like to just mention something. I've been living in Germany now for a while after being a GI, and a few years ago I was looking at a flee-market, and saw this small old hard covered book. It was the New Testament, which was given to soldiers from 1941-44. Inside the cover is a message from the Commander in Chief at the time, FDR. It says as follows: The White House, Washington. March 6, 1941. To the members of the Army: As commander in Chief I take pleasure in commending the reading of the Bible to all who serve in the armed forces of the United States. Throughout the centuries men of many faiths and diverse origins have found in the Sacred Book words of wisdom, counsel and inspiration. It is a fountain of strength and now, as always, an aid in attaining the highest aspirations of the human soul. Very sincerely yours, Franklin D. Roosevelt.
    Whether one liked FRD or not is not why I send this, it is because it is a wonderful thing to behold a time when the Lord still received reverence. Thank You.

  • Comment Link Hans Friday, 07 December 2012 00:39 posted by Hans

    One of my teachers explained this to me when I was in High School. Separation of church and state meant that the school or a school official couldn't endorse a religion, or lead a prayer at a school. But, a student could endorse a religion, or lead a prayer if they wanted. Separation limited the school and the teachers, but not the students. The idea that she couldn't use the word god because one person complained is ridiculous. You can't please everyone and someone is always going to be upset, that doesn't mean you have no freedoms. I hope the people involved with the girls censorship get reprimanded for this ridiculous small mindedness.

  • Comment Link Peggy Finch Thursday, 06 December 2012 18:08 posted by Peggy Finch

    The Constitution guarantees us "freedom OF religion" not freedom FROM religion. I totally agree with REMant. The STATE cannot coerce us to pay taxes to a STATE RELIGION but that's exactly what we're being forced to do. The religion is known as "Humanism."

  • Comment Link DONALD W Thursday, 06 December 2012 16:21 posted by DONALD W

    Since the establishment of Gay Parades , legalized abortion and letting children sit in front of Phil Donahue's and Jerry Springer's television shows years on out. There is a price too be paid. The warning signs been around for at least 30 years; so here we are now. Darkness enclosing an entire nation and all who try to escape are trapped.

  • Comment Link REMant Wednesday, 05 December 2012 16:52 posted by REMant

    The 1st Amendment prohibits the Federal govt (only) from instituting an establishment of religion, ie, a theocracy, such as the Anglican Church. It does not prohibit the free exercise of religion either without or within the Federal government.

  • Comment Link R Jensen Wednesday, 05 December 2012 16:34 posted by R Jensen

    My only question is "why are you sending your little girl to that idiot factory? Why are you handing over your innocent little lamb to that pack of wolves? Why? Why???"

  • Comment Link Dan Whitehead Wednesday, 05 December 2012 14:05 posted by Dan Whitehead

    Do not think this event has escaped the notice of the Lord. The effort of this little girl has been noted by and will be honored by the Lord. The enemies of the Lord, the bullies who tried to silence her, will be judged by the Lord.

    "And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea." Mark 9:42

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