ACLU of New Jersey Defends Second-Grader's Right to Sing Religious Song
NEWARK, NJ - The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey today filed a friend-of-the-court brief in a case seeking to uphold an elementary school student's right to religious expression.
The Frenchtown Elementary School student, whose initials are O.T., wanted to sing the song "Awesome God" in a voluntary, after-school talent show. School officials refused to allow the student to sing her song, saying it would give the impression that the school favored religion. “O.T.” remains anonymous to protect her privacy.
"There is a distinction between religious expression initiated or endorsed by school personnel, and speech initiated by individual students," said ACLU of New Jersey cooperating attorney Jennifer Klear of Drinker, Biddle & Reath in New York. "The Constitution protects a student's individual right to express herself, including religious expression."
In its brief, the ACLU argued that no reasonable observer would have believed that the school endorsed the religious message behind the student's song, and that the school therefore had no right to deny her choice of song.
The talent show was open for anyone from the 1st through 8th grades who wished to play a solo instrument, dance, perform a skit or sing karaoke. Students were permitted to select their own songs or skits.
"We are dedicated to protecting the right of individual religious expression," said ACLU of New Jersey Legal Director Ed Barocas. "O.T. has our full support in defense of her right to sing a religious song in the talent show."
The ACLU of New Jersey has participated in other cases involving the right of individual religious expression, including recently helping to ensure that jurors are not removed from jury pools for wearing religious clothing and that prisoners are able to obtain religious literature.
The case, O.T. v. Frenchtown Elementary School, was filed in federal court in Trenton.
For more information on the ACLU’s defense of religious expression, go to www.aclu.org/religion