Two Key Victories For Religious Freedom On High School Campuses
- By Alan Sears
- Posted Jun 12, 2012
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One of the primary goals for the Alliance Defense Fund is to transform what tomorrow looks like in America for your children and grandchildren. Two important cases last month – involving the right of children like yours to live out their faith freely on their tax-funded high school campuses – underscore just how committed we are to that crucial goal.
Two months ago, I told you about a National Honor Society (NHS) student in Alexandria, Virginia who was denied credit for performing the same kind of community service activities (playing games, singing songs, teaching lessons, working on crafts, and providing mentoring and guidance to children from different nationalities, children with behavioral problems, children with special needs, and children in abusive family situations) as other NHS students … simply because her activities were done in conjunction with her church.
Not only did this young woman take a leading part in all the suggested activities, but she completed nearly four times as many community service hours as required by NHS guidelines. The national office of NHS said they had no problem with her having done her good works through her church – but Fairfax County Schools did. As a result, the student not only failed to receive credit for her efforts (and was placed on probation by the local NHS chapter), but she was also denied the opportunity to apply for significant scholarships offered by NHS.
On March 7, Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed suit against the school board on behalf of the student. Within days, the student’s high school granted her credit for her community service hours and reinstated her in NHS. And in May, the board announced that it was revising its policy so that students can receive credit for student-initiated service projects performed through faith-based, civic, or political organizations. In the wake of these actions, ADF attorneys filed a voluntary dismissal of the case on May 29. (ADF-allied attorney Timothy Bosson served as local counsel in the lawsuit.)
Meanwhile, in Newington, Connecticut, ADF attorneys have secured approval for students at Newington High to start an on-campus Christian club – a request their principal had earlier denied, urging them instead to form an “interfaith” or “theology” club to discuss ideas with students from other religious groups. This, despite the fact that the school had already allowed the creation of other student groups with a focused area of interest.
ADF attorneys sent a letter to the principal and the Newington Public Schools superintendent, reminding them that the principal’s denial violated the students’ constitutionally protected rights and the Equal Access Act, which requires schools to provide Christian clubs with the exact same rights, benefits, and privileges that all other non-curricular student groups receive. The school district wrote back, defending the principal. ADF sent another letter clarifying that, while students of other faiths would be welcome to attend the meetings, the principal could not force the students to alter the nature, identity, or beliefs of the Christian club. Three days later, the school district replied that the club would be approved.
Neither ADF nor the students we’re representing are seeking special rights or privileges – only the same rights already secured for all Americans by the U.S. Constitution. Please be in prayer for ADF staff and allied attorneys as they defend students nationwide, of every age and grade level, who are trying to quietly honor God and live for Him, and to shape what tomorrow looks like in America for your children and grandchildren.
Author: Alan Sears