A federal judge Wednesday ordered a St. Johns County elementary school to not have students rehearse a religious-themed song once scheduled for a year-end assembly.
The preliminary injunction against rehearsing country group Diamond Rio's "In God We Still Trust" says the lyrics "take aim at one [of] our nation's fundamental principles: the separation of church and state."
U.S. District Judge Harvey Schlesinger concluded that "the public interest is well served in preventing the coercion of third-grade students to participate in a state sponsored performance that endorses such an opinion."
Parents of two children at Webster School in St. Augustine sued in March, saying that rehearsal led by a teacher during class made their children feel ostracized because their families don't share the beliefs in the song. The students aren't named in the suit.
The school's principal has taken the song out of the assembly schedule. But school district lawyers argued in court papers there should be no injunction because "school sponsored religious songs are not de facto violations of the First Amendment," which forbids government showing preference for any religion.
Schlesinger wrote that he knew the lawsuit had spurred public debate. He added that if he didn't issue the injunction, pressure from people who wanted the song performed might cause the school district to reverse course and put it back in the assembly, scheduled for the end of this month.
While saying courts agree some religious songs can have a place in schools - for example, choir classes can use traditional church songs - Schlesinger said this case was different.
The Diamond Rio song, the judge wrote, is "a patently religious and proselyting piece" that crosses a line by advocating a specific religious view.
The ruling referenced parts of the song's lyrics that say: "There's no separation. ... We're one nation under Him ... Now there are those among us who want to push Him out and erase His name from everything this country is all about ... Now it's time for all believers to make our voices heard."