1st Amendment Does Not Guarantee Freedom From Religion
December 5, 2012 by Bob Livingston
Educators in a North Carolina school district and a (so-called) 1st Amendment “expert” have problems with comprehension.
At West Marion Elementary School, a first grader was asked to write a poem about veterans for the school’s Veteran’s Day program. The girl, whose identity has not been revealed in the media, wrote one about her two grandfathers’ service in Vietnam. In it she wrote, “He prayed to God for peace, he prayed to God for strength.”
A parent objected to the use of the word “God.” So after a discussion between school Principal Desarae Kirkpatrick, Vice Principal Nakia Carson and McDowell County School Superintendent Gerri Martin, the girl was banned from reading her poem in the program.
“We wanted to make sure we were upholding the school district’s responsibility of separation of church and state from the Establishment Clause,” Martin said.
“After consulting with the Superintendent, Dr. Martin, 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,” Kirkpatrick said. “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.”
But Martin did not uphold “the school district’s responsibility” equally. Other McDowell County schools were allowed to hold programs containing student writings with the word “God” in them. When asked why, Martin said it was because those schools did not ask for a consultation about their program.
“Courts have consistently held up the rights for students to express themselves unless their speech is disruptive to the school,” said Ken Paulson, president and CEO of the First Amendment Center in Washington, D.C. “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. 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.”
That’s quite a liberal misinterpretation of the 1st Amendment, which says, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech…”
A public school is not Congress. The 1st Amendment does not guarantee freedom from religion, but it does guarantee that little girl the right to express her belief.
The rights of that girl were trampled in the name of political correctness by ignorant school administrators.