The New York City Board of Education is defending a principal who banned the song “God Bless the USA” from being performed at a kindergarten graduation ceremony reportedly because it might offend other cultures.
Greta Hawkins, the principal of the Edna Cohen School in Coney Island, came under fire from parents after she instructed teachers to remove the song from the upcoming program. Staffers at the school told the New York Post that Hawkins was afraid the song might “offend other cultures.”
A spokesperson for the Dept. of Education released a statement to Fox News Radio indicating the song was pulled because “the principal felt the lyrics were not age appropriate for a kindergarten moving up ceremony.”
The spokesperson also noted that students recite the Pledge of Allegiance and sing “America the Beautiful” at the start of every school day.
Instead of performing “God Bless the USA,” students will be performing “Baby,” a Justin Bieber song about teenage romance.
Parents and teachers are furious – and some have launched a Facebook page demanding that Hawkins be removed as principal.
“A lot of people fought to move to America to live freely, so that song should be sung with a whole lot of pride,” parent Luz Lozada told the Post.
But Dennis Walcott, the chancellor of NYC schools, defended Hawkins.
“It’s her judgment to make that decision,” he told the Post. “You have to really wonder about some of the lyrics in the song, so I have to rely on the principal’s judgment along that line.
Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) issued a blistering statement condemning the principal’s actions.
“I have just one question for this principal – who exactly are we offending?” he asked. “The only thing offensive about any of this is the anti-American message being engrained in our youth. We all should be proud to be American and we should never ever apologize for it.”
“It’s time we stop letting our political correctness destroy our values and American traditions, and start embracing the exceptional people and cultures that make our country great,” he added.
Lee Greenwood, who wrote the popular patriotic anthem, told television station WNYW that he was troubled by the principal’s actions.
“I take exception that she said they lyrics are not age appropriate,” he said. “If my lyrics aren’t appropriate, then what is?”
Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said Hawkins has been unfairly attacked for banning the song.
“The song, which isn’t even very good, talks about not forgetting those who died preserving freedom for Americans,” Lynn wrote in a statement. “I like that sentiment personally, but the concept might be a little over the head of your average elementary schooler.”
But the biggest problem Lynn had with the song was the idea of God blessing the United States.
“It’s right there in the title, and it’s constitutionally problematic because public schools aren’t supposed to be in the business of promoting religion, even if it’s not a specific religion,” he wrote. “Honestly, the idea that God favors one country is fraught with all kinds of theological subtexts that are best left to parents and clergy to discuss with children if they believe it necessary.”
He said it’s understandable how some cultures might take offense to “God Bless the USA.”
“Asking God to bless America could certainly be offensive or alienating to humanists, atheists, Buddhists, Hindus or anyone who values church-state separation,” he wrote. “It was absolutely the correct decision.”