School children at Glenview Elementary School in Haddon Heights, New Jersey customarily gathered every morning on the playground to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, concluding by saying "God bless America."
But the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) threatened to sue if the school failed to remove the words "God bless America" from its morning tradition — a tradition started over 10 years ago by two kindergarten teachers as a way of honoring those who died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City.
The school's principal, Sam Sassano, wants to keep the words, but lamented that the "amount of legal fees to fight something like this in court could really break a budget."
He sent a letter to parents informing 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."
Neither the principal nor the parents of the children are happy with ending the tradition but believe resistance is pointless. Some parents noted that the school promotes no specific religion, and further noted that the national motto "In God We Trust" is on the nation's money. Additionally, the words "under God" can be found in the national anthem.
But the ACLU appears to interpret "freedom of religion" to mean "freedom from religion." Writing to the school's attorney, the ACLU claimed that invoking God's blessing daily is unconstitutional as it's "in violation of the Establishment Clause, since it allegedly promotes religious over nonreligious beliefs."
The group further argued that the "Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the government not only from favoring one religion over another, but also from promoting religion over non-religion."
Justice Antonin Scalia, however, the longest-serving justice on the Supreme Court, disagrees with the ACLU's interpretation of the First Amendment.
Addressing a Catholic high school last week, Scalia debunked the notion that the Constitution constrains the government and public schools to favor secularism or non-religion. "To be sure, you can't favor one denomination over another — but can't favor religion over non-religion?" he asked.
He said there's "nothing wrong" with presidents invoking God in speeches, adding that we honor God "in presidential addresses, in Thanksgiving proclamations and in many other ways."
Scalia explained that the Constitution's First Amendment forbids the government from playing favorites among various religious sects, creeds or denominations, but it doesn't forbid the government from favoring religion over nonreligion.
He revealed that the historical interpretation of the Constitution, allowing for governmental support of religion, was only changed in the 1960s by liberal activist judges who imposed their own abstract rule rather than observing the common practice dating back two centuries.
If people want a prohibition on government endorsement of religion, they should vote on it, he said. "Don't cram it down the throats of an American people that has always honored God on the pretext that the Constitution requires it."
To learn more about religious freedom, watch "Mic'd Up—Religious Dis-Order."