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8 Days to a Victory: How Approval Was Won for the “Dare to Believe” Christian Club

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November 25, 2014

School district follows the law and authorizes First Liberty Institute client Liz Loverde’s faith-based, extracurricular club

 

This week, First Liberty Institute was notified that Wantagh Union Free School District officials in Long Island, New York, voted to recognize the “Dare to Believe” Christian club—affording it the same recognition and benefits as Wantagh High School’s 30 other approved extracurricular clubs—for the 2014-15 school year.  First Liberty Institute and our client Liz Loverde give thanks that the school district was convinced to follow the law and that we were able to see victory in eight days.

“We are glad the school district has announced that it is doing the right thing by recognizing Liz Loverde’s club, ‘Dare to Believe,’” said Jeremy Dys, First Liberty Institute Senior Counsel.  “It took a lot of courage for a 15-year-old girl to come forward that her principal said Christian clubs are illegal.  It is always a scary position for students to take a stand against government school authorities who hold significant power over their everyday lives.  We look forward to Wantagh High School respecting Liz’s religious liberty at school.”

DON’T TAKE “NO” TO YOUR RELIGIOUS LIBERTY FOR AN ANSWER

When Liz presented her four-page proposal to start her “Dare to Believe” Christian club to her high school principal, Liz was told “NO” because it was a Christian club.  But that didn’t stop her.  To  Liz, this was a serious matter, and in her proposal she shared her objective to reach out to her community through visiting nursing homes and holding toy and food drives.

Liz also wrote about her plan to share with her fellow teenagers that “love is louder than depression, self-harm, pressure, bullying, school, home life, addiction”—and other problems or struggles in their lives.  Liz also pointed to the difference learning about biblical principles made in her life and what she knew they could do for others.  Liz explained:

“Life appeared to me as something not worth having or living.  Maybe, right now, teenagers are feeling the same way I did, and saying that life has nothing for them and that no one would care if they lived or died.  Through ‘Dare to Believe’ Christian Club I want students to know that while they’re going through these tough times (depression, parents divorce, self-harm, suicide, anxiety, bullying, etc.), Jesus Christ offers them another view of life; a life that is truly beautiful.”

Liz was hopeful that her Christian club would receive the full recognition and benefits afforded to other approved extracurricular clubs at Wantagh High School, including Variation Club, a “gay-straight-everyone alliance,” W.A.R.R. (Wantagh Animal Rights and Recycling), and Rube Goldberg.  All of the high school’s more than 30 extracurricular clubs are allowed to make announcements and hang posters to advertise at the school.

But when the principal denied her request, this courageous 15-year-old didn’t back down.  Liz had seen a local television news report about a similar incident of religious discrimination involving First Liberty Institute client John Raney—and his Students United in Faith club in nearby East Setauket, New York—and she knew we could help.

IT ONLY TOOK EIGHT DAYS TO ACHIEVE VICTORY 

Jeremy Dys, as well as Director of Litigation Hiram Sasser and our volunteer attorneys came together to defend and protect the religious liberty rights of Liz and her fellow students—and were able to see victory in this matter in just eight days.

Here’s how it happened:

  • DAY 1:  On behalf of Liz Loverde, First Liberty Institute delivered a demand letter to the high school principal, and two other Wantagh Union Free School District officials demanding they reconsider denying Liz’s proposal to start her “Dare to Believe” Christian club at Wantagh High School in Long Island, New York.  We also demanded the school district approve Liz’s proposal, and grant official recognition to her club, Dare to Believe, in one week’s time.  Along with Jeremy Dys, Liz also spoke at a press conference on Monday afternoon, where she testified:  “Wantagh High School has over 30 clubs, and they wouldn’t recognize mine because it was faith based.”
  • DAY 2:  Along with Hiram Sasser, Liz was interviewed on Fox News’ The Real Story w/Gretchen Carlson.  “We’re going to hold the school’s feet to the fire,” Sasser said.  “And [if they don’t say yes to Liz’s club,] they’re going to have to go to the courthouse, and they’re going to have to have the law applied to them.”
  • DAY 3:  First Liberty Institute ’s #DaretoBelieve campaign quickly got the word out about Liz Loverde and encouraged everyone to sign the #DaretoBelieve Petition to send a message to the U.S. Department of Education—demanding they STOP ignoring the enforcement of religious freedom protections, as afforded to public school students in The Equal Access Act of 1984.
  • DAY 4:  At a Wantagh Union Free School District meeting, school officials discussed whether or not they would approve the Christian club, Dare to Believe, for the 2014-15 school year.
  • DAY 5:  First Liberty Institute shared more detailed information about Liz’s story—including our demand letter sent to school officials and a synopsis of The Equal Access Act—with friends and supporters in our online Liberty Watch newsletter.  We continued to ask for signatures for the #DaretoBelieve petition, as well as for prayer and financial support to help fight this battle for religious liberty in our nation’s schools.
  • DAY 6:  First Liberty Institute client John Raney and his fellow members in the Students United in Faith Club at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket, New York, sent their encouragement to Liz—and the students who want to form the Dare to Believe club—via a special video message.
  • DAY 7:  The #DaretoBelieve campaign was well on its way to reaching approximately 35,000 people via Twitter, seeing more than 51,000 impressions on Facebook, as well as garnering nearly 7,000 unique viewers on FirstLiberty.org.  We also saw more than one hundred friends—including fellow high school students—show their grassroots support for Liz and her Christian club by sharing images of their handmade #DaretoBelieve posters on Instagram.
  • DAY 8:  First Liberty Institute was notified that the school district did the right thing and recognized the Dare to Believe club for the 2014-15 school year.  We applaud the district for following the law!

MORE STUDENTS LIKE LIZ NEED YOUR HELP

We’ll never know victory—and how close it really is in many cases of religious liberty discrimination and violation—unless we stand up for our religious liberties in our nation’s schools.

When students—and teachers—know their rights in the classroom, they are empowered to boldly stand up for religious freedom and exercise their rights.  They’re equipped to stand up to the opposition and make a difference in their schools and in society at large as they freely live out the principles they believe.

Through your financial support and prayers, thank you for continuing to stand with First Liberty Institute and courageous students like Liz.  Together, may we achieve many more victories for religious liberty for students—and all Americans—in the days ahead!

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About First Liberty Institute
First Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. First Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit www.FirstLiberty.org.

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