It was a tradition that began at the school shortly after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on America. Glenview Elementary School students have been gathering on the playground at the New Jersey school and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance followed by the words, "God bless America" at the end as a way to honor all of the first responders. Over a decade later, the ACLU is saying that publically asking God to bless America is a violation of separation of church and state.
The tradition was started by a couple of kindergarten teachers who are no longer at the school. But when the ACLU caught wind of the tradition, it sent a letter threatening to press charges against the school if it did not put an end to the tradition.
Principal Sam Sassano denies that the tradition has anything to do with preferring one religion over another, explaining that, "It wasn't taught with any intention of having any type of religious overtones. It was taught to show patriotism."
The ACLU argues, "Invoking God's blessing as a daily ritual is unconstitutional and in violation of the Establishment Clause, since it allegedly promotes religious over non-religious beliefs, especially with young, impressionable children."
Sassano submitted to the ACLU's intimidation tactics because, "Budgets across the state of New Jersey are very tight. We have to be very cautious how we spend taxpayer funds. The amount of legal fees to fight something like this in court could really break a budget."
Many parents are not pleased with the decision to end the 15-year tradition. Debi Krezel has a daughter in the sixth grade and said, "I'm very, very upset about this. Being a daughter, a sister, niece and cousin of veterans and first responders - [as well as] an American and a taxpayer - why are my rights and my child's rights being taken away?"
But the fact that she is apparently offended by the ending of the tradition is not an angle that seems to be getting taken into consideration. She adds, "I don't think it's fair to us or our children. What are they going to take from us next? We are slowly chipping away the values and beliefs and traditions that (the nation) was created upon."
Kerri Simon has two children who attend the school who are six and nine. Simon spoke on behalf of her family, saying that, "We're Christians. My brother is in the military, and I think it's a really nice way to honor our country."
Another parent, Giovanna Giumarello, has a fifth grade son who attends the school. She said that, "I was just talking to someone about it, and we said what a great tribute it is, to our country and to free speech and religion. It's really a shame that one person had to have a problem with it, and now it has to change."
Giumarello points out that acknowledging God is not an unusual activity within the lifestyle of many Americans, and that, "It's on our money: 'In God We Trust.' Isn't the person who complained out there spending that money?"
Kim Sergeant has a son who attends the school. She said that the demand to try to put a stop to honoring 9/11 first responders and prevent the students from saying "God bless America" is, "upsetting," and that, "we always prided ourselves on being small school, and doing this in a small setting, having this little tradition."
Debi Krezel has attempted to take some steps to let Gov. Chris Christie's office, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the state Department of Education know that there are many parents who are offended by the actions of the ACLU in their threat to have the school put a stop to the tradition or face a lawsuit. She has asked for their involvement and support of the rights of the parents and their children and their freedom of speech.