Beliefnet
Reprinted with permission from the October 10, 2001 edition of Education Week.

At Wolf Creek Elementary School in Broken Arrow, Okla., Principal Ron Beckwith wanted to join the national surge of patriotism that has followed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

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Other schools in his 15,000-student district had put "God Bless America" on their marquees, but Wolf Creek doesn't have such a message board. So Mr. Beckwith went out and spent $100 for a cloth banner that displays that slogan and shows an American flag. The banner now hangs in front of his school, where past messages have touted school fund-raisers and the like.

"I just felt it was a positive message for the school and for Broken Arrow," said Mr. Beckwith.

Across the country, schools are displaying similar patriotic slogans and symbols. Meanwhile, schoolchildren are reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in greater numbers and with renewed spirit, educators report. And in some public schools, more students are gathering for prayer sessions.

While most such activity went mostly unquestioned in the immediate days after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, in more recent weeks there have been eyebrows raised in some communities about the propriety--and constitutionality--of some practices.

Some civil libertarians have quietly suggested that not every patriotic or religious response to the attacks in schools is the right, or legally sound, approach.

Those quiet suggestions have drawn loud and fierce counter-reactions in some communities. Many people argue that rules against mixing church and state should be different in a time of national crisis.

In Roxbury, N.J., Superintendent Louis Ripatrazone last month ordered two elementary schools to remove "God Bless America" signs to show respect for those with different religious views. The schools replaced them with the slogans "Stand Up for America" and "Proud to be an American."

After a strong backlash from local residents, however, Mr. Ripatrazone relented and allowed the schools to restore "God Bless America" to their signs.

In Tucson, Ariz., some parents objected to a sign that said simply, "Bless America." Who was blessing America, one parent asked school officials, if not God? After consulting with its lawyer, the Tucson district allowed God back on the theory that the slogan was primarily a patriotic message, not a religious one.

In Broken Arrow, meanwhile, school officials heard complaints from a few constituents about the display of "God Bless America," so they sought legal advice.

Being Atheist in America After 9/11

Members discuss religion, church and state, and mourning on the message boards.

Complete 9/11 coverage

"We did have some complaints," said Steve Cowen, the spokesman for the Oklahoma district. "One woman showed up at a school and asked that the sign be removed. It turned into an emotional deal."

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