Wantagh High School sophomore Liz Loverde says believes her First Amendment rights have been violated because she has been denied equal access to facilities at Wantagh High School, a claim refuted by the school district.
Loverde would like to create an extra curricular club called “Dare To Believe,” a Christian club that would “hold charity events, study the Bible and help kids learn about God,” Loverde said at a press conference on Monday at the Long Island Marriot in Uniondale, with her lawyer Jeremy Dys, senior counsel with Liberty Institute, a law firm that defends religious rights to in the public arena. A demand letter was sent to Wantagh school administrators that day, “And we are expecting a response next week,” Dys said. “We hope the club will be meeting as of Dec. 1. This is a good thing for the community.”
In the demand letter, Dys wrote that once the school “grants an offering to or opportunity for one or more non-curriculum related student groups to meet on school premises during non-instructional time, the school must not deny equal access or a fair opportunity to, or discriminate against, any students who wish to conduct a meeting within that limited open forum on the basis of the religious, political, philosophical, or other content of the speech at such meetings.”
Deirdre Gilligan, a spokeswoman for the Wantagh School District, said the club is already meeting informally and the student has not been denied access to form a Christian club.
“As it is required with all student clubs, proper protocol and procedure must be followed and implemented before the club can be formally recognized,” said Superintendent Maureen Goldberg. District policy states that applications for new clubs are to be submitted in early fall, and then are approved in December in order to be included in the budget for the following year.
Gilligan said Loverde’s application was in by the deadline, and is being considered for next year along with two other clubs. The Christian club has already met twice and four to seven students have attended the meetings, Gilligan said.
According to Loverde, she applied to form “Dare to Believe” in mid-September after discussing the idea with her guidance counselor and writing up a proposal to present to Principal Carolyn Breivogel. But Loverde said the principal turned her down and wouldn’t even read the proposal.
Loverde said she went back a second time and presented Breivogel with a copy of the Equal Access Act of 1984 that makes it illegal to deny students the right to form a religious club on campus. Loverde said Breivogel then took the proposal and “crossed out ‘Christian’ and said it must be for all religions. Loverde also said that the principal told her it would be presented to the Board of Education but then “changed her mind” because parents would not like the idea.
Gilligan said none of this is true, and the Board of Education is aware of the student’s proposal and intention to form this club.
Loverde believes there is a real need for her club. “The school is filled with bullying and sadness,” she said. “Jesus saved my life; he saved me and I want to help other kids.”