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School rejects ACLU complaint over 'God Bless America' sign

By The Associated Press, staff


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(Editor's note: An American Civil Liberties Union representative said Oct. 9 that the group doesn't plan to sue the school district, the Associated Press reported.)

ROCKLIN, Calif. — Parents, students and administrators are defending a Rocklin school's decision to keep a "God Bless America" sign up despite a demand to remove it by a civil liberties group.

The school district posted the message on a marquee-type sign outside Rocklin's Breen Elementary School in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The American Civil Liberties Union argues the sign violates the constitutional requirement of separation between church and state.

The group has threatened to sue if the sign is not replaced, KCRA-TV in Sacramento reported on its Web site.

In a letter Oct. 3 to school officials, Margaret Crosby, an attorney for the ACLU of Northern California, called the sign a "clear violation of the California and United States constitutions, as well as the California Education Code," the Sacramento Bee reported.

Crosby said the phrase "must be replaced immediately."

However, school district attorney Phillip Trujillo said the words are a patriotic, not religious, expression.

His written response to the ACLU on Oct. 5 dismissed the group's assertion as "absurd." The ACLU has said the phrase represents a "hurtful, divisive message."

"I would like to think that the ACLU would not attempt to preclude or inhibit the free expression of patriotism and goodwill at a time when it is most appropriate, helpful or even healing," Trujillo said, according to the Bee.

Crosby suggested that many schools are flying American flags as an acceptable symbol of national unity, while religious expressions may be upsetting to children of minority faiths.

"By displaying a religious message, the Breen Elementary School is dividing its young students along religious lines," Crosby said Oct. 5, according to the Bee. "School officials are hurting and isolating their schoolchildren of minority faiths when they should be supporting them and the values of pluralism and tolerance."

Crosby added that displaying the phrase is not only unconstitutional "but implies (that) only students who share the faith are truly patriotic," the Bee reported.

The ACLU said one parent has complained about the sign, while Rocklin Superintendent Kevin Brown said he received calls from two people asking that the statement be removed.

About 250 people, many clad in red, white and blue, rallied in support of the message Oct. 5, and district officials said they would not remove it.


The aftermath: School lessons in free expression send mixed messages
Teacher faces job loss for burning flag in class; student wins court suit after suspension for protest slogans on locker; law firm offers defense for 'God Bless America' postings; education secretary asks nation's classrooms to recite special Pledge of Allegiance.  10.10.01

Terrorism sparks debates on school prayer
‘Kids can pray; we're just really careful about organized prayer in school,’ an Idaho principal notes.  10.13.01

Lawmakers bless 'God Bless America' displays
House passes nonbinding resolution urging public schools to post message as a show of patriotism.  10.17.01

Surge of patriotism in schools leads to questions about right to dissent
Albuquerque, N.M., teacher says her research has found that even before Sept. 11, many students didn’t feel safe expressing their opinions at school.  10.18.01