Optimum Customers: Your Newsday access has been extended until Oct 1st. Enroll now to continue your access.

60° Good Morning
60° Good Morning
Long IslandEducation

Student didn't get enough members for faith group, says Three Village school district

Ward Melville High School is shown in East

Ward Melville High School is shown in East Setauket on May 7, 2011. Photo Credit: Jasmin Frankel

The Three Village school district has denied a student's request to continue operating a Christian-based faith group at Ward Melville High School, saying the student failed to get enough members to join the club.

But Liberty Institute, a conservative religious group based in Plano, Texas, said the district is violating the student's right to religious freedom and threatened legal action.

The student, senior John Raney, started the club last year after a back-and-forth with the school district, which initially denied his request. At the time, Raney said that district officials told him religion-based clubs were not permitted in a public school.

The Liberty Institute argued that Raney had a right to create the group under the 1984 federal Equal Access Act. In December, the district said the reason for its rejection of Raney's request was "apparently inaccurately conveyed" to the student, and he was allowed to establish the club.

Monday, Three Village school officials said Raney could not continue the group this year, partly because he lacked the required minimum of 20 members to form a school club.

"The religious club called Students United in Faith was denied because contractual guidelines regarding minimum participation (20 students) in student co-curricular programs was not met, nor did Ward Melville High School have the financial means to fund this program," superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said in a statement.

Hiram Sasser, Liberty Institute's litigation director, said in a statement, "This is not a complicated issue. Simply put, public schools cannot discriminate against religious clubs and must treat them the same as other student clubs on campus."

Pedisich said there was no discrimination and the district was following its guidelines.

"The district does not have a practice of discrimination of any kind," she said. "We embrace our diverse school community and strive to maintain an environment that promotes tolerance, understanding and respect for all."

Raney and his mother, Trudy Fischer, could not be reached for comment Monday.

In a statement provided by Liberty Institute, Fischer said, "I was shocked when I heard that the school officials denied SUIF again, but our son said he is ready to stand for religious liberty and we back him 100 percent."

Raney, a member of the Church on the Sound in Stony Brook, has said he wanted to form the group to help combat poverty, suicide and drug use -- issues he said he saw among his peers.

Latest Long Island News

Important message for Optimum customers

Your Newsday digital access is changing as of 10/1

You recently received an email from Optimum’s parent company, Altice USA, informing you that Altice will no longer offer free Newsday digital access with Optimum's online service. Through an exclusive trial offer for Optimum customers, Newsday is pleased to extend your digital access at no cost until the end of the year.

I understand, no thanks