Less than two months after high school student John Raney—and his Christian club, Students United in Faith—was unlawfully discriminated against at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket, New York, a gross violation of religious liberty rights has happened AGAIN in another New York public high school.
When 15-year-old Liz Loverde presented her proposal to have her “Dare to Believe” Christian club recognized as a student club at Wantagh High School in Long Island, New York, the high school sophomore was told “NO” by her principal—because Dare to Believe is a Christian club.
On behalf of Liz, Liberty Institute delivered a demand letter this week to the Wantagh High School principal, and two other Wantagh Union Free School District officials demanding they reconsider their position, approve Liz’s proposal, and grant official recognition to her club, Dare to Believe, by Monday, November 24, 2014.
“LOVE IS LOUDER”
In her four-page club proposal, Liz also shared her objective to reach out to her community through visiting nursing homes and holding toy and food drives.
She wanted 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.
“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.”
But when Liz’s principal denied her request, this courageous 16-year-old didn’t back down. She calmly approached her principal again and this time convinced the school official to present Liz’s club proposal to the board of education.
Liz thought she would soon see her club receive the full authorization and benefits afforded to other approved extracurricular clubs at Wantagh High School, including Variation Club, a “gay-straight-everyone alliance” club, 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.
SEPARATE . . . BUT NOT EQUAL
Liz was hopeful Dare to Believe would be able to have equal access just like the other clubs in her high school. But only days after agreeing to present Liz’s proposal to the board of education, she called Liz to her office and told her she had changed her mind.
“I felt terrible,” said Liz at a press conference on November 17, 2014 which was held just hours after the demand letter was delivered. “Wantagh High School has over 30 clubs, and they wouldn’t recognize mine because it was faith based.”
Liz and her fellow students who want to have their Christian club recognized by the school as an official club have been denied equal access—and that’s a gross violation of The Equal Access Act of 1984 which was established to protect students in religious discrimination situations just like this 30 years ago.
“Students of faith in New York public schools have the same freedom to form and have the school recognize a religious club as other students,” said Jeremy Dys, Senior Counsel with Liberty Institute. “School officials on Long Island do not seem to understand that The Equal Access Act of 1984 makes it illegal to deny students—and especially a minority of students—the right to form a Christian club on campus.”
“I HOPE YOU CAN COME AND HELP US”
Because Liz had seen a local television news report about the similar incident involving Liberty Institute client John Raney and his Students United in Faith club, she knew to contact us. “In Ward Melville High School a similar thing happened, and they contacted Liberty Institute and they got a Christian club,” she said. “I hope you can come and help us.”
Liberty Institute exists to help defend and protect the religious liberty rights of people and faith and will continue to work on behalf of Liz Loverde until the matter is resolved.
“All students have a right to meet on campus,” Dys also said at the press conference. “They can’t be denied simply because of their faith.”
In an interview on Fox News’ The Real Story w/Gretchen Carlson, Liberty Institute’s Director of Litigation Hiram Sasser said: “We’re going to hold the school’s feet to the fire and they’re going to allow this club. They’re either going to do it the nice way by just simply saying ‘yes’ or we’re going to have to go to the courthouse, and they’re going to have to have the law applied to them.”
“We just want to study the Bible together and serve our classmates and community by exercising the same freedom that everyone else has at our school,” added Liz. “Wantagh High School has more than 30 official student clubs. Why won’t Wantagh recognize our faith-based student club?”
STAND WITH LIBERTY INSTITUTE CLIENT LIZ LOVERDE
This is outrageous religious discrimination against Liz and her fellow students who simply wanted to start their Dare to Believe club to learn more about biblical principles and participate in community outreach. It is a clear violation of federal law, and it must stop immediately.
But we need your help! Here’s how:
About Liberty Institute
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. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit www.LibertyInstitute.org.