A high school volunteer food drive that was forced to change its name wrapped up yesterday before one student succeeded in his goal of resurrecting its proposed title: “Easter Canned Drive.”
The Christian club at Kecoughtan High School in Hampton, Va., was told by its faculty adviser that if it wanted to sponsor the annual event that benefits the local YMCA women’s shelter, it must call it “Spring Canned Drive.” Student organizers with the Warriors For Christ club complied and launched the campaign to collect non-perishable food items about a month ago. But the name change bothered sophomore Andrew Jenkins, who circulated a petition in protest.
“I thought it was a violation of First Amendment rights,” Jenkins told WorldNetDaily. “Everyone was saying ‘this is minor,’ but I don’t agree. Every time they take away a little thing and another little thing, eventually it’s going to be a big thing – maybe even someday the whole Christian club. Somebody had to do something. It had to be me.”
After gathering 75 signatures from fellow students, Jenkins alerted the Pacific Justice Institute, a California-based nonprofit legal defense organization specializing in the defense of religious freedom, parental rights and other civil liberties.
“Students shouldn’t have to cower from what they believe, even if they’re religious,” attorney Brad Dacus told WND. In a legal opinion sent to the school district, the Pacific Justice Institute maintains, “student clubs are protected under the Constitution and the Equal Access Act from such censorship based upon the alleged religious content of their speech.”
Dacus further argues that “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.”
Ann Stephens, a spokeswoman for the school system, told the Washington Times that the school system generally does not refer to religious holidays by their names. For example, “spring break” is used instead of “Easter break,” and the Christmas vacation is called “winter break.”
“It’s to make for harmony in our schools as best we can,” the Times quotes Stephens as saying. “We want to make sure that none of our students feels left out.”
“The club is the Christian club for a reason. No one has a right to restrict the freedom of religion established in the First Amendment of the Constitution,” Jenkins stressed in his petition.
The 15-year-old reports the canned food drive appears to have been a success, despite the controversy.
“I’m happy about what I did. What I did was right,” Jenkins said. “My only regret is that I didn’t have more time.” He plans to continue his push to restore “Easter” to the event title for next year.
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