An elementary school in New Jersey has barred children from saying "God bless America" after the Pledge of Allegiance, following a complaint from the ACLU.
Glenview Elementary School Principal Sam Sassano in South Jersey revealed that the American Civil Liberties Union warned him that the practice supposedly violates the separation of church and state, NBC10 Philadelphia reported on Tuesday.
Sassano defended the practice, however, noting that students began saying the phrase following the 9/11 terror attacks.
"It has been our view that the practice is fundamentally patriotic in nature and does not invoke or advance any religious message, despite the specific reference to God's blessing," he said.
The school principal revealed, however, that the decision has been made to stop using the phrase, in order to avoid legal fees and a constitutional battle.
"We will explore alternative methods of honoring the victims and first responders of the 9/11 tragedy," Sassano told parents in a letter.
Ed Barocas, the legal director of the ACLU of New Jersey, told NBC10 that the invoking of God's blessing at an elementary school level is both "improper and unconstitutional."
"Parents, not the government, have the right to direct the religious upbringing of their children. If they're looking for something patriotic there are a number of ways, including the phrase 'United We Stand,' that can do that, without having the requirement of children as young as kindergarten to make this daily recitation asking for God's blessing," Barocas argued.
Fox News reported that several parents at the school have spoken out against the ban on using the phrase.
"I'm very, very upset about this," said Debi Krezel, the parent of a sixth-grader. "Being a daughter, a sister, niece and cousin of veterans and first responders — (as well as) an American and a taxpayer — why are my rights and my child's rights being taken away?"
Krezel admitted, however, that she understands why the district had little choice but to concede to the ACLU.
"I don't think it's fair to us or our children," the parent added. "What are they going to take from us next? We are slowly chipping away the values and beliefs and traditions that (the nation) was created upon."
The God bless America phrase at school has been protested against on a number of occasions by atheist groups.
Back in February 2015, Yulle High School in Florida also decided to bar students from saying the phrase in morning announcements, after the American Humanist Association wrote a letter of complaint.
The secular group revealed that two atheist students had contacted them to report on the religious phrase, which prompted the group's legal arm to act and send a letter to Drake and Nassau County Schools Superintendent John L. Ruis.
Nassau County Schools agreed to tell the student delivering announcements to drop the phrase, though the district argued that no harm was meant by the religious sentiment.