Murrieta Valley High School

A number of school-sponsored clubs are holding a World AIDS Day “event” at a California church that will be opened with “remarks” from Rev. Benita Ramsey, but school officials are denying it is in any way school sponsored or religious, even though the same “event” a year ago included a “prayer” meeting.

The dispute arose over the announcement on school stationery from the Murrietta Valley Unified School District, which said the “Murrieta Valley High School will hold an event at St. Catherine’s Catholic Church in Temecula to commemorate World AIDS Day.”

“Students from several school clubs will take part in the event including the Gay Straight Alliance, Black Student Union, Ballet Folklorico, Si Si Puede, MVHS Dance and members of the MVHS Choir, Temecula Valley Choir and Riverside City College Choir,” the school said.

The announcement provided a contact name and number for Murrieta Valley High School teacher Mary Byun-Kallevig.

The announcement drew the attention of Richard Ackerman, of the Pro-Family Law Center, who suggested to the district a separation of the school from the “event,” especially in light of the fact the district previously had tried to stifle Christian students’ speech with a code that imposed a penalty of expulsion for students who said something that made someone feel bad.

“It appears rather obvious to our office that this is an abject violation of separation of church and state constitutional policy,” Ackerman’s letter to the district said. “If you do not take immediate action to remedy the appearance of M.U.V.S.D’s endorsement of St. Catherine’s theology and acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle, we will take immediate action to restrain any further support of this event.”

He noted the same event in 2006 was advertised as starting with a “prayer service,” at 7 p.m.

His request to the district was that officials do one of two things, the first option being to issue a statement that it does not support or endorse such “religious activities” or the World AIDS Day event at St. Catherine’s, and student clubs must make it clear that the event is not “an official district-sponsored club activity.”

The alternative is for the district to confirm that it “openly supports all student clubs/club supervisors, and whatever lawful activities they wish to involve themselves in. If Christian or other clubs wish to invite other students to church services and the like, this is completely permissible and the District will take no action to interfere with evangelism on campus by clubs and their supervisors,” Ackerman wrote.

“These are school-sanctioned clubs,” Ackerman told WND about the groups participating in the event.

He elaborated on the earlier dispute with the district, in which officials considered a policy that could cause students to be expelled for “rejecting” each other, for sharing “unpleasant stories” about each other – even if true – or for associating with like-minded peers in groups if others feel “left out.”

“This is a brutal affront to the First Amendment,” Ackerman said at the time. “Students have a right to associate with each other and should not be punished for dividing themselves into groups that allow individuals to better relate to each other.”

With the new situation developing, Ackerman said, “I’m feeling pretty uncomfortable myself right now.”

“These guys made such a stink about not making someone feel uncomfortable, such a to-do. Now they go out of their way to mix overtly religion and school activities. That is not cool,” he said.

The school board, through its attorneys, responded with a denial there were any problems.

“This is not a school sponsored event and student participation is entirely voluntary,” the letter said. “The District takes no position, one way or the other, regarding the Catholic church or gay rights, but it does recognize the rights of individual students to associate and freely express their views…”

Ackerman told WND it appeared litigation likely would be needed to resolve the dispute.

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