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Tenn. school censors ‘God Bless the USA,’ ‘In God We Trust’

School orders references to God and prayer covered up on posters

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund filed a lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of parents and students at Lakeview Elementary School in Wilson County after school officials ordered “God Bless the USA,” “In God We Trust,” and other phrases referencing God and prayer to be covered up on posters before they could be displayed in the school’s hallways. The posters were hand-drawn by students and their families to announce “See You at the Pole,” a voluntary, student-led prayer event held outside of class time.

“Christian students shouldn’t be censored for expressing their beliefs,” said ADF Senior Counsel Nate Kellum. “It’s ridiculous as well as unconstitutional to cover up these references to God and prayer--one of which is the National Motto itself--on posters announcing a student-led activity. School officials appear to be having an allergic reaction to the ACLU’s long-term record of fear, intimidation, and disinformation, despite a previous court ruling at this very school that said students can observe these types of events on school property.”
The American Civil Liberties Union previously sued the school to stop it from recognizing such events, including “See You at the Pole” and the National Day of Prayer. In May 2008,  a federal judge refused to grant the ACLU’s request.

Each year, students and parents affiliated with Lakeview Elementary School in Mt. Juliet have placed posters in the hallways of the school informing students of the “See You at the Pole” event. This year, each poster, made on personal time without the use of any school funds or supplies, included the disclaimer: “See You at the Pole is a student-initiated and student-led event and is not endorsed by Lakeview Elementary or Wilson County schools.” Nevertheless, the students and their parents were ordered to cover up references to God and prayer and any Scripture passages on the posters or else they could not be posted.

After a school employee told the parent of one student, “You can’t hang up those posters. They have the word ‘God’ on them,” the school’s vice principal and director reinforced the policy, explaining that posters containing religious references, like “In God We Trust,” “God Bless America,” and “come and pray,” are precluded by school board policy and prohibited in the hallways as inappropriate.

“The Constitution prohibits government officials from singling out religious speech for censorship, but this is exactly what Lakeview school officials did when they ordered these words to be covered,” Kellum said.

ADF-allied attorney David L. Maddox is serving as local counsel in the case.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.