For more than a decade boys and girls at Glenview Elementary School would start the day by gathering on the playground to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The children of Haddon Heights, New Jersey would conclude their patriotic service by saying “God bless America.”
— Jim Rosenfield (@jimrosenfield) January 5, 2016
It was a tradition birthed by two kindergarten teachers in the aftermath of the Muslim terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 – a way to honor those who lost their lives on that terrible day.
The tradition ended Monday – thanks to the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.
The school’s principal sent a letter to parents advising them that “the Administration has decided to discontinue the official endorsement of reciting ‘God bless America’ at the end of the morning Pledge of Allegiance.”
ACLU-NJ legal director Ed Barocas said reciting the phrase “God bless America” is unconstitutional, the Courier-Post reports.
— Courier-Post (@cpsj) January 5, 2016
“The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the government from not only favoring one religion over another but also from promoting religion over non-religion,” he wrote in a letter to the school district’s attorney. “The greatest care must be taken to avoid the appearance of governmental endorsement in schools, especially elementary schools, given the impressionable age of the children under the school’s care and authority.”
“It just became sort of a habit,” said Sassano, who has been principal at the Sycamore Street school since 2005. “Now it’s part of the culture here.”
The teachers who began the tradition are no longer with the school, he added.
In his letter to parents, Sassano said that the school was mindful of the line separating church and state, but that “it has been our view that the practice is fundamentally patriotic in nature and does not invoke or advance any religious message, despite the specific reference to God’s blessing.”
His letter, however, acknowledged, “Whether the practice of having the students say ‘God bless America’ at the end of the Pledge of Allegiance is more akin to religious prayer or simply a manifestation of patriotism has no clear cut legal answer.”
Glenview Elementary will not prevent its approximately 265 students from saying the phrase, Sassano said. Citing a potentially costly legal battle in his letter to parents, Sassano said the school will “explore alternative methods of honoring the victims and first responders of the 9/11 tragedy.”