A New Jersey elementary school will no longer allow students to say “God bless America” after the morning recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. The 265 students at Haddon Heights Elementary School will see the change after the American Civil Liberties Union sent the school board attorney a letter challenging the recitation of “God Bless America” as unconstitutional.
Principal Sam Sassano said the school started having students make the statement after 9/11, to honor the first responders. “It never, to us, invoked any type of religious intentions. It was basically a patriotic gesture that the boys and girls were doing,” Sassano told KYW Newsradio.
To avoid an expensive legal battle, Sassano said he sent an email to parents over the weekend saying the school will discontinue the practice and instead honor those in the Sept. 11, 2001, tragedy in another way. He said the statement was patriotic and did not advance any religious message.
"A concern has been raised by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey that this practice in invoking God’s blessing as a daily ritual is unconstitutional and in violation of the Establishment Clause, since it allegedly promotes religious over nonreligious beliefs, especially with young, impressionable children," Sassano wrote to parents. "On the other hand, 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."
Ed Barocas, the legal director of the ACLU of New Jersey, told NBC10 that public schools should not require children to make a daily recitation asking for God's blessing.
"It is improper and unconstitutional for a school to have a practice of telling elementary students as young as kindergarten invoking God's blessing at the beginning of every school day during an official school assembly," he said. "Parents, not the government, have the right to direct the religious upbringing of their children."