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Texas group vows suit if Wantagh school doesn't allow Christian group

Liz Loverde, of Wantagh, speaks during a press

Liz Loverde, of Wantagh, speaks during a press conference after being denied the right to form, "Dare to Believe," a Christian club at Wantagh High School, held at the Marriott Hotel in Uniondale, Monday, Nov. 17, 2014. Credit: Steve Pfost

A second Long Island student says her school district has denied her request to form a Christian faith-based school club, the district denied it has come to a decision and a Texas-based conservative religious group said it would force the issue in court.

Wantagh High School sophomore Liz Loverde, 15, said she presented her principal with a proposal to form the club in September but was told she could not because it would be illegal. "I felt terrible," Loverde said Monday. "I felt really disappointed. It was such a good idea."

The club, Dare to Believe, would involve students studying the Bible, helping at soup kitchens, singing songs to elderly people, organizing toy drives for poor children and raising money for charity, Loverde said.

Wantagh school officials denied the proposal was rejected and said it is still under study.

"The district has not denied access to form a student Christian Club called Dare to Believe," Maureen Goldberg, superintendent of the Wantagh Union Free School District, said in a statement. "As it is required with all student clubs, proper protocol and procedures must be followed and implemented before the club can be formally recognized."

She continued, "The district is currently reviewing this request with the Board of Education and legal counsel. To date, there has been no decision based on this club."

Jeremy Dys, an attorney with the Plano, Texas-based Liberty Institute, which is advocating for Loverde, said the group is giving the school district until next week to reverse its decision or the institute will start legal action.

"Students of faith in New York public schools have the same freedom to form and have the school recognize a religious club as other students who want to form a Rube Goldberg Club or the Animal Rights and Recycling Club," Dys said, referring to two other clubs at Wantagh High School.

"School officials on Long Island do not seem to understand that the Equal Access Act of 1984 makes it illegal to deny students -- and especially a minority of students -- the right to form a Christian club on campus," he said.

In the last year, Three Village school district officials have twice denied a request to start a Christian faith-based club at Ward Melville High School -- and twice reversed themselves following pressure from the Liberty Institute.

The Ward Melville group, Students United in Faith, led by senior John Raney, was allowed to start operating again last month. The group helps combat poverty, suicide and drug use -- issues Raney says he has seen among his peers.

Loverde said she decided to start the group because of bullying and depression among students at Wantagh High School, and because religion helped her overcome some of her own problems. "I found my answer in Christ," she said.

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