Students at Sabold Elementary School will no longer proclaim “God bless America” every morning — and the change is drawing some national attention.
Each morning Principal Peter Brigg used the public address system to lead the children in the Pledge of Allegiance, which conforms to state law. He followed that by saying “God bless America,” which has become a Sabold custom for several years.
As students recited the pledge, they were inclined, but not compelled, to say the phrase as well. At least one parent took exception to this practice and contacted the Freedom from Religion Foundation, making a case it violated a portion of the First Amendment.
A letter to district Superintendent Tony Barber, dated March 25, 2019, from foundation legal counsel Christopher Line read, in part, “A concerned Springfield School District parent has reported that Sabold Elementary School proclaims ‘God Bless America’ over the loudspeaker following the Pledge of Allegiance each morning. The Establishment Clause in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits government sponsorship of religious messages.”
Line continued citing various case law and theoretical reasons to support this position. It concluded by stating, “Sabold Elementary School’s practice of proclaiming ‘God Bless America’ each day must cease immediately. Please inform us in writing of the actions you are taking to remedy this constitutional violation so that we may inform our complainant.”
Barber’s immediate action was to forward the letter to school district Solicitor Mark Sereni whose legal opinion was clear. The district — Sabold in particular— was in error of the broadcasted addition of the phrase. Sereni indicated, whether customary or not, it appeared to have become part of the Pledge of Allegiance.
Sereni stressed, most importantly, “The difference is children repeating it said by an administrator versus a child choosing to express it.” The latter is still each child’s option.
Sereni advised Barber to instruct Brigg to curtail saying the phrase over the P.A. system.
“After the school district’s receipt of your letter, Sabold Elementary School has ceased its practice of announcing the slogan ‘God Bless America’ over the loudspeaker immediately following the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. None of the schools in the school district currently engage in this practice,” Barber wrote to Line and the foundation.
A posting on the district’s website to that effect was made May 3.
“The only thing that has changed is that (Principal Brigg) doesn’t announce it over the public address system. In the technical sense, we made a mistake. We have an obligation to every child in the school and district to respect their rights, and we will not censor them,” Barber said, further referencing the First Amendment.