The American Civil Liberties Union called for an end to a South Jersey elementary school’s tradition of having students say "God bless America" after the Pledge of Allegiance.
The practice has been in place at Glenview Elementary School in Haddon Heights since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. It changed this week, however, after the school received a complaint from the ACLU.
Glenview Elementary School Principal Sam Sassano sent a letter to parents alerting them of the ACLU’s concerns.
"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 non-religious beliefs, especially with young, impressionable children," Sassano wrote. "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."
Sassano also said school officials were aware of the general usage of the term and claimed the question as to whether the phrase was more patriotic than religious has "no clear cut legal answer."
Nonetheless, Sassano said the school administration decided to discontinue the practice in order to avoid a constitutional fight or legal fees.
"We will explore alternative methods of honoring the victims and first responders of the 9/11 tragedy," Sassano wrote.
NBC10 reached out to Ed Barocas, the legal director of the ACLU of New Jersey, for comment.
"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. If they're looking for something patriotic there are a number of ways, including the phrase 'United We Stand,' that can do that, without having the requirement of children as young as kindergarten to make this daily recitation asking for God's blessing."
Many parents at the school were upset by the decision.
"I think this is typical of the ACLU," said Christi Clark. "They’re bullying the masses. We’re going to stand up and say that we don’t agree."
Clark said her son, who is in the first grade, still decided to say "God bless America" after reciting the pledge Monday and his classmates did the same.
Sassano also told NBC10 many other parents want their kids to continue saying the phrase.
"I also want parents to understand that I recognize everyone's Freedom of Speech right," he said. "Many parents have expressed that they want their child to continue to state 'God bless America.' I do not feel I have the authority to forbid this and have assured parents that is their right."