updated 2/5/2004 12:19:43 PM ET 2004-02-05T17:19:43

A second-grader was suspended for a day for telling a classmate he would go to hell for saying, “I swear to God.”

Brandy McKenith, 7, was suspended for swearing for saying the word “hell,” but her family says she was referring to the biblical location of fire and brimstone.

She served the suspension Tuesday.

The Pittsburgh Public Schools’ student code of conduct prohibits profanity, but doesn’t provide a definition, spokeswoman Pat Crawford said. The school would not comment further.

Brandy’s father, Wayne McKenith, said when he learned about the suspension, he thought perhaps his daughter had said something worse, so he called the teacher for details. He was told another student overheard his daughter say the word.

“I said, ‘Hell? She got suspended for that?”’ McKenith said.

He said he asked the school to evaluate its profanity policy.

“‘Hell’ is like the least of the words in school today,” McKenith said. “You go home and turn on the TV tonight and tell me how many times you hear the word ’hell.’ And I mean network TV, not even cable.”

Without a clear definition, the district could run into problems enforcing the policy, said Witold Walczak, legal director of the Greater Pittsburgh chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“The school’s policy says ’no profanity’ and that’s not further defined,” Walczak said. “How should this little girl know that ‘hell’ is not allowed?”

“It’s questionable whether ‘hell’ is even a profanity, and it certainly isn’t in the way that she used it,” he added.

McKenith, a suburban Pittsburgh police detective, said family members aren’t “religious fanatics,” but there’s a healthy respect for the Lord, so he accepts her daughter’s explanation.

“She’s under the assumption that good people go to heaven and ... bad people go to hell,” he said Wednesday.

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