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When Schools Silence God Talk

Nat Hentoff

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Every year, the Frenchtown Elementary School in New Jersey presents an after-school talent show, open to kids from kindergarten through eighth grade. The performers can choose to play an instrument, dance, create a skit or select a song.

This past school year, a second-grader decided to sing Awesome God. But during rehearsal, the teacher in charge, on hearing the title and lyrics, told the child that principal Joyce Brennan would have to approve that song. Brennan contacted the attorney for the school district.

Brennan then explained in a letter to the child's mother that the song was "inappropriate for a school-run event with a captive audience of, in many cases, quite young children because of its religious content."

Accordingly, a lawsuit has been filed in the chronic civil war in our public schools between the First Amendment's Establishment Clause and its Free Exercise of Religion requirement. The case landed in U.S. District Court in New Jersey.

With schools opening around the country, it's unfortunate that many principals and school boards are not educated on the meaning of the Establishment Clause -- which can be violated, for example, if a principal asks a priest, rabbi or minister to speak at commencement exercises, thereby officially favoring that form of religion, or any specific form of religion.

Such behavior would appropriately be regarded as a "state action." But under the Free Exercise Clause, a student can express his or her personal religious beliefs in an assignment or as a valedictorian.

Read the entire article on the USA Today website (new window will open).

Posted: 05-Sep-06



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