When first-grader Georgia Rose Crawley was censored from mentioning God in a poem honoring her veteran grandfathers at her school’s Veteran’s Day program, she couldn’t have dreamed it would ignite months of controversy. But she also couldn’t have anticipated that it would kindle a passionate community in support of veterans and religious freedom.
Georgia's class-assigned poetry honored both of her grandfathers, veterans who served multiple tours of duty during the Vietnam War. But after seeing the printed Veteran’s Day program, a parent objected to the use of “God” in the poem. The “offensive” line read, “He prayed to God for strength, He prayed to God for peace.” The school administrators at West Marion Elementary School in Marion, North Carolina, consulted with a First Amendment “expert,” who claimed that “public schools have to steer clear of religious references.” The administrators forced Georgia to remove that line in order to recite it during the program.
Local pastors, concerned parents, students, and many others packed school board meetings to express their outrage. “The faith community has been wounded,” said Reverend Carl Manuel. “As a third generation veteran, I’m appalled and I find this unpatriotic,” another member of the community added.
After being contacted by several concerned community members, Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Matt Sharp sent a letter to the school, explaining that deleting the student’s reference to God violated her right to free speech, and asking for the school district to revise its speech policies to prevent censorship. The efforts of Georgia, the community, and Alliance Defending Freedom paid off. The school board instituted a new policy that protected the rights of students to talk about their faith at school, on homework, and any other class assignments, “an important victory for the First Amendment rights of every student in the district,” Matt Sharp stated.
After the new policy went into effect, community members once again packed into the school board meeting, but this time, for a performance. Georgia Rose Crawley read her complete poem, followed by enthusiastic applause from the audience of board members and faithful community supporters.
We applaud Georgia and the community members who stood up for her for showing young students that their country and their faith are worth fighting for.