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School removed God reference from first-grader’s poem

An elementary school in North Carolina censored a first-grade student’s Veterans Day poem by removing a line that referenced her grandfather’s belief in God.

The West Marion Elementary School student was supposed to read the poem at a Nov. 8 Veterans Day ceremony to honor her grandfather, a Vietnam veteran.

The deleted line read: “He prayed to God for peace, he prayed to God for strength.”

An attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom, which advocates for religious rights and freedoms, criticized the school’s decision.

“America’s public schools should encourage, not restrict, the constitutionally protected freedom of students to express their faith,” said Matt Sharp, legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, in a statement. “Students should not be censored when speaking about their faith or honoring those who valiantly served to protect our freedoms. … The censorship of this young student’s poem about her grandfathers is repugnant to the First Amendment rights of all students and sends an impermissible message of hostility towards religion.”

The alliance sent a letter to the school district asking administrators to refrain from censoring students’ religious views in the future. (RELATED: Elementary school parent complains about ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ field trip)

But in an interview with CBS News, First Amendment Center president and CEO Ken Paulson said the school was legally obligated to delete the reference to God, because public schools cannot sanction religious messages in captive environments like classrooms or assemblies.

“When the little girl wrote the poem and included a reference to God, she had every right to do that,” Paulson told CBS News. “The First Amendment protects all Americans. She had every right to mention God, [but] that dynamic changed when they asked her to read it at an assembly.”

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