NY high school cancels Christian club, lets 60 others remain

ADF attorneys file suit against Board of Education of Half Hollow Hills after officials shut Christian student club down

2/18/2010

CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed a lawsuit Thursday against the Board of Education of Half Hollow Hills Central School District on behalf of a student who was told that school officials cancelled, without her knowledge, the Christian club she helps lead. School officials claimed that unspecified budget cuts and a lack of student popularity spurred their decision, even though the club had more than 55 student attendees last year and approximately 60 other student clubs, including the Gay-Straight Alliance and Amnesty International, were allowed to continue.

“Christian student groups in public schools shouldn’t be discriminated against simply because they are religious,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel David Cortman. “Singling out a religious student club while letting the vast majority of the others remain constitutes viewpoint discrimination and is unconstitutional. In addition, it’s simply false that this club is not popular with students. More than 90 students signed a petition in favor of allowing the club to continue meeting.”

At the beginning of her freshman year at Half Hollow Hills High School East, the student was told that the Ichthus Club, a student-led group where she was one of the leaders, had been cancelled without any advanced notification. Four years earlier, her older brother met strong resistance before the club was finally allowed to form. Once he graduated, the school cancelled the club, even though the existence of clubs is not dependent upon a particular person’s leadership.

Instead, school officials claimed that a budget crunch was a key factor spurring the decision to cancel two or three clubs, including the Ichthus Club, yet officials provided no response when ADF attorneys asked to see evidence in support of their decision. Administration also asserted that the club’s lack of popularity was another reason for its cancellation, even though more than 55 students were on the club’s attendance roll last year.

The student leader worked diligently to negotiate with the administration to keep the club, even offering to cut expenses by meeting every other week and finding a club advisor who would volunteer, but officials and the school board declined the offer.

ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit J.P. v. Board of Education of Half Hollow Hills Central School District with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Robert W. Dapelo, one of more than 1,600 attorneys in the ADF alliance, is serving as local counsel in the case.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.
 
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