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Speak Out: School Board Sued for Service Policy

Christian alliance says Fairfax policy to accept only volunteer activities with a secular purpose is unconstitutional. Tell us: Should religious activities count toward service hours?

Fairfax County's school board is facing legal action from a Christian group that said denying a student's church-related service hours for National Honor Society requirements discriminates against religious students.

The Alliance Defense Fund, based in Arizona, is representing the student. A spokesman told the Washington Post excluding activities widely considered "community service" in non-religious contexts is "an unconstitutional policy that needs to be remedied."

The student, an unnamed senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, submitted 46 church-related volunteer hours as part of a requirement for membership in the National Honor Society, which requires 12 hours per school year.

The hours were spent as a Sunday school leader, singing songs, doing crafts and teaching lessons to children, according to the suit.

Fairfax County students in grades 6, 8 and 12 can submit hours as part of a service learning initiative to earn recognition at graduation ceremonies. Various organizations within the school system can also have service hour requirements of their own.

The National Honor Society defers to its local chapters to make rules about what kind of community service counts toward its requirements, the Post reported.

The group's adviser told the student the hours did not count because they were done at a religious meeting, according to the suit.

The school system said in a statement to the Post that it was not aware of the situation until it was served with the suit. After it was filed, they credited the student with the hours and reinstated the student's membership, the Post reported.

The alliance plans to continue with the suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, in hopes of forcing a policy change.

For the full story, click here.

Tell us: Should religious activities count toward service hours? Let us know in the comments below.

Mama C March 14, 2012 at 02:24 PM
Very interesting article. I've also read the Washington Post story and the full complaint itself. FCPS policy indicates that teaching children and working with youth are acceptable forms of service, BUT only as long as they are NOT done in a religious community. That does seem unfair. The TJ student has raised a valid point that this policy needs reconsideration by the board. Where service is provided should not be an issue.
Craig Burns March 14, 2012 at 02:55 PM
Giving Community service time to a faith based organization certainly seems like a positive activity. In the past they have allowed it. I have worked with young people desiring community service hours in various capacities in a Christian congregation. Faith based non-profits, in my opiniong should be allowed to offer community service to the community they serve.
Tim Cooke March 14, 2012 at 03:03 PM
Community Service through religious organizations is just as positive as secular ones. What is the difference between working at a Soup Kitchen that's sponsored by a church as opposed to one that's sponsored by a secular organization? In my mind, there's no difference. This is a silly rule and should be overturned.
Jim Daniels March 14, 2012 at 04:11 PM
If it is a public school sponsored activity then religious service should not count. What folks who bray about the separation of church from state don't understand, is that it is there for the protection of the church from government influence as much as it is the opposite. A complete separation, as Madison and Jefferson advocated, is the best way to preserve fundamental rights, of both the individual and the church. I don't know the precise relationship between the school district, the national honor society, and who administers the program locally, so in this case it might be counting those hours is appropriate. If it is, I hope when it comes time to evaluate the service put in by a Muslim student at a Mosque, those complaining about religious discrimination in this case don't go suddenly silent...
Brett Chappell March 14, 2012 at 04:47 PM
I, myself, happen to be what I consider a liberal democrat who attends and serves at my church (by the way, it is a main line Christian denomination). I think that this school's policy is silly, as silly as your overarching stereotypes of liberal democrats.
Mama C March 14, 2012 at 05:24 PM
Jim - I agree that if a Muslim student at a mosque earns community service hours that match the FCPS guidelines that should count as well. This is NOT just a Christian thing and honestly shouldn't fall into a discussion of separation of church and state. Every religious community offers many opportunities for service that mirror those in the broader (secular) community. The real issue is that service to a community (whether secular or religious) should count. Where the service occurs should not be the deciding factor of whether it is valid. The girl in the article taught younger children (songs, crafts, stories), served food, provided assistance to disabled students and served as a mentor/leader to other youth. If she had done these same activities in a non-religious context (say at a community center) they would not have been challenged by the NHS advisor. Even the NHS national group said that they thought these activities showed the leadership skills that met their service requirements at a national level. It is only a local issue that service at a religious community is not allowed. That really is not fair. Community service should not be limited to the secular community (even to meet a public school requirement).
T Ailshire March 14, 2012 at 05:27 PM
It seems to me that the policy needs clarification. I would not include those functions that take place while services are going on (caretaker/babysitter, for example). However, if it's a service the religious organization provides to the community at large, why not?
Jim Daniels March 14, 2012 at 05:33 PM
Leslie - I certainly respect your opinion. And I am not casting aspersions on the work that child did. But if it is a school sanctioned requirement it should not put the school in the position of judging what constitutes strictly community service, and what constitutes church service. That line is not always clear. Having grown up in the Catholic Church I know that there is no public service the church performs that does not have a religious aspect to it. In my opinion, if it falls under the purview of the public school system, service should remain in the secular realm. Also, I am glad you view this as an issue that does not depend on denominational affiliation. But, as the public debate has shown, many Christians are all for religious freedom as long as it applies to Christians only. You only need to look at the statements of some of the Republican candiates to see examples of that.
Jim Daniels March 14, 2012 at 05:39 PM
If there is no religious aspect to that service that is certainly a viable position. But really, having grown up as a Catholic I know there is virtually no service the church performs that does not have a religious aspect to it. The school should not be put in the position of having to judge what is secular and what is not. However, I think the NHS is a separate organization making rules about what constitutes service. If they accept this service I have no problem with that. I just don't want the public schools having to make those kinds of calls.
Eileen P March 14, 2012 at 05:43 PM
Teaching a religion should not count as volunteer service hours. Other types of religious-based services should be allowed, such as soup-kitchens, feeding the homeless, providing clothing/food to the needy, etc. Where churches are very involved in the latter, teaching the religion itself is entirely different, so I don't believe that community service hours should be granted for a service that is not provided to the community, but to only a particular sect. That's a church service, not community service.
What? March 14, 2012 at 06:18 PM
Outrage!!! Outrage I say!!! </sarcasm> From what I read in this article and the Post's article, an individual advisor made the call and then a lawsuit was filed. Did the student and his/her parents attempt to take the issue up the chain of command, or did they just file the lawsuit? And once the "powers that be" received the lawsuit, they promptly reversed the decision. One person screwed up in their interpretation of the rule and was overruled. End of story. This is a complete non-issue that could have been solved by talking to people instead hiring a lawyer. Hope it cost them plenty for that retainer.
Laura B. March 14, 2012 at 08:38 PM
The church is part of the community. I feel that volunteer work at a house of worship, of whatever religion, is just as valid as any other volunteer work.
Jody March 14, 2012 at 08:41 PM
This is a National Honor Society issue but I agree with Anoneemous that our school system is trying to replace service done in concert with one's religion with non-religious "community service." All good things should be provided by the government and not God according to the socialist far-left. Schools should teach actual subjects and not require community service; parents are responsible for the moral upbringing of their children. Colleges should not require community service as part of the admissions process! (See "Race to the Top.") Why are they looking for a way around choosing kids with the best grades and SAT scores? Why are more entities starting scholarships based on community service and not based on scholarship? This is ridiculous. Let parents raise their own children, let kids get college acceptance and scholarships based on academic achievement; not on hours they can't spare helping out at a day care center or whatever. No wonder our kids are falling behind the rest of the world.
Kim March 14, 2012 at 09:39 PM
I, too, am a religious Democrat. Area churches contribute a great deal to the community through the volunteer activities of their parishioners. Reston Interfaith is a good example of many religions working together for the good of everyone, whether Christian or Muslim or atheist or whatever.
Jeffrey Pandin March 15, 2012 at 01:26 AM
This is NOT FCPS policy. I'm on the review committee at Edison High School and we would have accepted church-based activity as long as it wasn't liturgical (ie, singing in the choir or altar server, etc) That said, since the student involved has no damages, this is not a matter for the Federal Court. The family should take it up with the School Board if they want a county-wide clarification of this matter.
Anoneemous March 15, 2012 at 03:28 AM
As US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” As Anoneemous wrote: "The best way to stop discrimination in awarding Fairfax County National Honor Society credit for community service is to stop discrimination for community service on the basis that it is church-related." It's really hard to forget great true statements. Recommend all readers try reading the Martin Luther King speech at the Lincoln Memorial and the case in which Chief Justice Roberts made the famous quote above. Both men speak the truth. Martin Luther King is surely rolling over in his grave when he hears what has happened to his "judged by their character" comment. Thank goodness Chief Justice is alive to give correct meaning to the corruption in the meaning of non-discrimination of any kind, of color, race, religion, sex, etc. This local school board fiasco is but one classic liberal implementation of unconstitutional discrimination.
Bob and Inge Lipp March 15, 2012 at 10:51 PM
The Board is just wrong on this one! Hope they lose the suit.

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