Officials at an elementary school in North Carolina are in hot water with local residents — as well as veterans across America — after they forced a first grader to remove references to God from a poem she had written to honor her grandfather. The student, whose grandfather served in the military during the Vietnam conflict, had expected to read the poem at a Veterans Day ceremony at West Marion Elementary School in McDowell County, North Carolina. In the poem the proud and patriotic little girl included the lines — “He prayed to God for peace, he prayed to God for strength” — to describe the actions of her grandfather during the war. But when a member of the community supposedly complained about the poem's mention of God and its inclusion in the ceremony, school officials forced the girl to remove the offending lines before presenting it at the Veterans Day observance.
Chris Greene, an employee of McDowell County Schools, told CBS News that the elementary school “had one parent concerned with the use of the word God in this program. This parent did not want the word God mentioned anywhere in the program.”
Explaining the school's actions, McDowell County school superintendent Gerri Martin told the McDowell News that “we wanted to make sure we were upholding the school district’s responsibility of separation of church and state from the Establishment Clause.”
The elementary school principal, Desarae Kirkpatrick, echoed that excuse, saying: “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.” She added that “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.”
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