A North Carolina community is embroiled in controversy after a school ordered a six-year-old girl to remove the word “God” from a poem that she was supposed to read during a Veteran’s Day ceremony.
The girl is a first-grader at West Marion Elementary School. She was supposed to read the poem during a school assembly marking Veteran’s Day. The poem honored her two grandfathers who had served during the Vietnam War.
“He prayed to God for peace, he prayed to God for strength,” the poem read.
A parent reportedly found out about the poem and expressed concern about mentioning the word God during a school event. The parent did not want the Almighty’s name mentioned anywhere in the program, according to one account.
“We wanted to make sure we were upholding the school district’s responsibility of separation of church and state from the Establishment Clause,” Supt. Gerri Martin told the McDowell News.
Martin told the newspaper she made the decision in consultation with the school’s principal and vice principal.
“We jointly decided that we must err on the side of caution to prevent crossing the line on the Establishment Clause of the Constitution,” Kirkpatrick told the newspaper. “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.”
Fox News contacted the parents of the child but they declined to comment on the controversy.
The incident has sparked widespread concern across this western North Carolina community — called by many the buckle of the Bible Belt.
“I’m reserving my opinion at this point – but I’m very concerned that the young lady’s First Amendment rights have been broken,” said Scott Hagaman, senior pastor of Marion’s First Baptist Church.
He told Fox News that ministers across the community are alarmed what happened and many are asking questions.
“It’s saturated the community,” he said. “I’m quite sure it will be handled appropriately and fairly but right now there is a lot of concern that this child was not treated appropriately.”
The issue is expected to be addressed by local residents at next week’s school board meeting.
“I am outraged that a school would deny a six year old child her First Amendment rights — especially during an assembly to honor our nation’s veterans,” Trudy Pascoe told Fox News. “It is unacceptable for schools to continue to deny students rights because of their Christian viewpoint.”
Chris Greene, who happens to be employed by the school district, spoke to board members earlier this week.
“My question is this, when do the rights of one outweigh the rights of another,” he asked in remarks covered by the local newspaper. “I believe that this little girl’s rights were violated and that those who worked so hard to prepare this program should receive an apology.”
Pastor Hagaman said it’s no surprise that the First Amendment debate has reached their small town.
“I don’t think there’s anywhere in the country where you can hide from these issues — with the culture changing so quickly,” he said.