School Prevents Student Group From Holding 'Easter' Can Drive

July 7, 2008 - 8:03 PM

( - A volunteer charitable drive at a Hampton, Va. high school has been forced to rename the activity because of a reference to Easter. A faculty advisor told the student group that its "Easter Can Drive" would have to be renamed the "Spring Can Drive."

The student-run club called "Warriors for Christ," sponsors the annual Easter Can Drive for the benefit of a local YMCA Women's Shelter. The Kecoughton High School faculty advisor to the club informed the group that the benefit would need to be renamed.

A student of the school who was not a member of the Warriors for Christ contacted the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), a non-profit legal defense organization. The PJI has teamed up with attorney Craig Parshall to try to get the decision of the faculty advisor overturned.

Brad Dacus, president of PJI, said student groups are protected under the Equal Access Act from such censorship. "However, because Easter is both a religious and a secular holiday, the school itself could use the term Easter in naming an event and still survive legal scrutiny," he said.

"The faculty members told the students that the school would not allow it because some students of other faiths may be offended by what the club was doing," Dacus said.

No other explanation was given to the students and no legal precedent was used to justify the name change, Dacus added.

"It's just this obscure undefined pervasive feeling out there in public schools that if it is religious and someone may be offended, then there needs to be intolerance," Dacus said. "Yet, if you have a student flaunting their sexuality, there needs to be tolerance.

These kinds of policies and reactions are flipping the First Amendment on its head, yet it's fairly common."

Dacus said a double standard also exists. "In the 7th grade in California, we have what amounts to outright indoctrination of Islam in the public schools. And yet, we have a double standard in regards to the same kind of benevolent treatment of Christianity," he said.

The PJI has sent a letter to the Kecoughton High School explaining that the school's action was unlawful. Dacus said the only proper response from the school would be to allow the name, Easter Can Drive, to be restored.

Dacus said even if the can drive was canceled, it would indicate a "blatant showing of discriminatory intent, which would invalidate their canceling of the program."

Even the group, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, believes the student-run organization has a right to name its food drive after the Easter holiday. The goal of Americans United is to "protect the constitutional principle of church-state separation, a vital cornerstone of religious liberty."

"As long as it is a private club, a student club running it, there would be no problem with calling it the Easter Can Drive. I don't see any problem with that," Joe Conn, spokesman for Americans United, said.

"It is not a matter of the school endorsing a religious holiday, it is the student club doing so, and under the Equal Access Act, they have broad rights to pray, read the scriptures and do whatever they want to do," he said.

"It sounds like the school officials may have overreached," Conn concluded.

School administrators and the Kecoughton High School Principal, Arnold J. Baker, were in meetings all day Monday and could not be reached for comment.

E-mail a news tip to Matt Pyeatt.

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