WEST MARION, N.C. (CBS Charlotte) - A town is torn after a local elementary school chose to remove the word “God” from a student’s poem.
The trouble began during a Veterans Day celebration on Nov. 8 at West Marion Elementary School, when a student’s poem written for the celebration in honor of her veteran grandfathers was censored.
“[H]e prayed to God for peace, he prayed to God for strength,” a part of the poem read, according to the McDowell News.
The student reportedly was told not to read the line during an assembly at the school because of its religious implications.
The issue was subsequently discussed during a Board of Education meeting held earlier this week, the News reported.
“We had one parent concerned with the use of the word God in this program,” Chris Greene, an employee of McDowell County Schools, was quoted as saying. “This parent did not want the word God mentioned anywhere in the program. 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.”
Greene added that he felt the girl’s rights were violated, a sentiment with which area resident Esther Dollarhyde agreed.
“We need to keep in mind what was our country founded on,” she reportedly said. “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.”
However, First Amendment center president and CEO Ken Paulson told the News that the school was within its rights to make the request.
Because she was going to read it publicly to the school, it made those in attendance a captive audience who did not have the option of leaving to avoid hearing the speech if they wished to do so.
“Courts have consistently held up the rights for students to express themselves unless their speech is disruptive to the school,” Paulson explained. “When the little girl wrote the poem and included a reference to God she had every right to do that. The First Amendment protects all Americans. She had every right to mention God, (but) that dynamic changed when they asked her to read it at an assembly.”
He added, “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.”