Three Village school district reverses denial of student religious group

John Raney, 16, a junior at the East

John Raney, 16, a junior at the East Setauket school, will be allowed to launch immediately Students United in Faith, pending the availability of a club adviser, Three Village school district officials said. (Dec. 18, 2013) (Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan)

A Ward Melville High School junior will be allowed to start a Christian faith-based group at the school, after district officials conceded a decision to bar the organization was a mistake.

"I'm excited to start our club," John Raney, 16, a junior at the East Setauket school, said in a statement through an attorney.

Raney will be allowed to launch immediately Students United in Faith, pending the availability of a club adviser, Three Village school district officials said.


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"Unfortunately, we have determined that the reason for the initial rejection of the proposal was apparently inaccurately conveyed," the district said in a statement issued by its public relations firm, Syntax.

Raney, a member of the Church on the Sound in Stony Brook who considers himself a "very religious person," said he sought to launch the group dedicated to combating poverty, suicide and drug use -- issues he sees among his peers.

"I look around my society, and I see a lot of people who are lost. And I see Christians who are ostracized and can't talk about our faith," Raney said. "We're really just looking forward to meeting other Christians at school."

Raney had the right to create the group under the 1984 federal Equal Access Act, said Jeremy Dys, a West Virginia-based attorney for Liberty Institute, which had written to school officials on Tuesday, urging reconsideration of the denial. Raney's family had contacted the conservative religious group, which is based in Plano, Texas.

"Public school administrators can't treat students like they are subversive of American ideals simply because they want to form a club at school," Dys said.

Raney said he submitted a request to create the group to the office of Assistant Principal Michael Owen on Sept. 24.

By Oct. 21, 32 new clubs had been announced on the school district's website. The list did not include Raney's club.

Raney said school officials repeatedly told him religion-based clubs were not permitted in a public school. After a weekslong email exchange started Nov. 1 between Trudy Fischer, Raney's mother, and Ward Melville Principal Alan Baum, Raney was called to the assistant principal's office and again told his request was denied "because it was a religious club, and not because of the merits," Liberty Institute wrote to the district.

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