Nearly 30 years ago, Lee Greenwood wrote his famous patriotic ballad, “God Bless the USA.” It became a timeless symbol of patriotism following the horrific terrorist attacks of 9/11.
Yet, in one New York City school, being “proud to be an America” has been deemed inappropriate for kindergartners.
When Greta Hawkins, the principal at PS 90 in New York City, found out that “God Bless the USA” would be performed at a kindergarten graduation scheduled for next week, “after marching in on a rehearsal,” according to the N.Y. Post, she had the song removed from the program. She told teachers at the school that the song was not “age appropriate” and that she was concerned that it could end up “offending other cultures.”
The school’s chancellor and even Mayor Bloomberg don’t have a problem with this ban.
How far has our politically correct society gone? How could being “proud to be an American” be offensive or inappropriate for children?
According to the New York City Department of Education, the song’s opening lines, “If tomorrow all the things were gone/I’d worked for all my life/And I had to start again/with just my children and my wife,” were just too much for 5 and 6-year-olds to handle.
Really? I’ve read those lines over and over trying to come up with why, out of the entire song, that particular line could possibly be inappropriate for children.
Greenwood says that he wrote that verse about his grandparents who lost their farm --about times being tough but the resolve to move forward --certainly traits I hope are worthy of teaching our children.
In fact, Greenwood was just as shocked as anyone as to how his song could be banned from school. Via the L.A. Times, he issued a statement, saying:
I wrote “God Bless the USA” about the love I have for this country and the struggle we have gone through to remain free. Our country was founded on the principle that it welcomes people of all cultures and gives them the same rights we have as citizens. However, I feel compelled to echo the faith or our forefathers who all believed in God and a respect of a higher authority. Personally, denying the children of PS 90 to sing “God Bless the USA,” offends me as a Christian. My song is about hope, faith, spirit and pride. How could that be wrong on any level?
Greenwood is right, but it’s bigger than this particular song being banned from this particular school.
This is just one more example of the assault on patriotism and our Judeo-Christian heritage as a nation. It was one year ago this weekend that NBC inexplicably censored “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance during its telecast of the U.S. Open. It has become an all too familiar occurrence to see patriotic expression attacked.
The fact that Hawkins has agreed to include “America the Beautiful” in the children’s program does not resolve the issue. She is still making her point that we need limits on patriotism--picking and choosing what she deems acceptable expressions of patriotism--that some patriotic songs are inappropriate for children or offensive to some cultures. And the New York school system is acquiescing to this principal’s imposition of selective patriotism.
Some have highlighted the fact that Principal Hawkins is a Jehovah’s Witness (as reported by the N.Y. Post) and that her religion prohibits her from participating in certain patriotic exercises like reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. But this entirely misses the point.
We believe in the religious freedom of this principal to refrain from participating in this song. But it is an entire other matter to ruin it for everyone else. This is America and patriotism unites our multicultural society.
We just sent a letter to Mayor Bloomberg, Chancellor Dennis Walcott, and Principal Hawkins on behalf of thousands of concerned citizens, outlining the fact that there is absolutely no legal impediment to the students’ performance of this patriotic song. In fact, “the song’s message of self-sacrifice and patriotism furthers principles that are set forth in New York education law.”
Mayor Bloomberg and the leadership of the New York school system should reverse this ban on “God Bless the USA.”
Regardless of whether New York’s education leaders do the right thing and remove the ban or not, it is encouraging that students and parents are planning to sing “God Bless the USA” on their own following the ceremony. This is patriotism at its finest.
Jordan Sekulow is Executive Director of the American Center for Law & Justice and writes for On Faith’s blogging network at the Washington Post. Matthew Clark is an attorney for the ACLJ.