Lifestyle

'We brought God back into school and it's legal'

By JODY ALLARD

Staff writer

Each Tuesday afternoon, a small group of Thomas Jefferson High School students gathers with two teacher advisors to take part in a school-sponsored club meeting.

Unlike other campus clubs, this club isn’t about sports, foreign languages or improving the extracurricular activities section on college applications. This club serves just one purpose -- to worship God.

Teens at Jefferson were “hungry for some change in their school and shared a vision God revealed to them, to show the love of God” to the school, said junior Stephanie Hansen.

That hunger led to the founding of the MORE club last year. The club originally began by holding weekly prayer meetings at local churches, but late last year successfully petitioned the school’s Associated Student Body to become an official ASB-sponsored club.

Gaining ASB status has made it easier to publicize the club and its special events. School supplies and media, such as the school television station and newspaper, are now available to MORE’s members.

The club also now has two faculty advisors -- student support teacher Bill Wakefield and math teacher Dave Hunter -- and is allowed to meet on-campus after school each Tuesday.

“Because we are an ASB-sponsored club, they don’t really discriminate against us,” said MORE president Jason Weichert.

With a recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court upholding students’ right to participate in religious-affiliated clubs at school, Federal Way Public Schools has had to re-think its policy on such clubs.

The policy has always been based on the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitution, said district deputy superintendent Mark Davidson. But, with that interpretation in flux, district officials find themselves coping with changing regulations.

Although policymaking is left up to the courts, determining how best to implement the policy isn’t always easy.

“Districts all over the country felt that the separation of church and state would lead to one set of conclusions, but there have been some laws passed and decisions made that have changed the landscape,” said Davidson.

Currently, student clubs can meet on Federal Way Public Schools campuses under two federal guidelines –– the court ruling and the Equal Access Act. Under the latter, school grounds are open to any organization for peaceable meetings outside of school hours. For a club to have access to school supplies and media, and be allowed to engage in school-sponsored fund-raising events, a club must be chartered by the ASB.

With high school ASB representatives determining which clubs can receive charters, the district is caught between ensuring that federal guidelines are met and allowing student governments the freedom to choose their own clubs.

Of paramount importance, district officials say, is ensuring that the aims of the club meet the aims of the school and the district.

“Becoming an ASB club allows you more access to the mainstream of the school,” said Davidson. “Obviously we wouldn’t allow the Ku Klux Klan.”

Where and when to draw the line is something the district has yet to determine.

Davidson acknowledges that a Muslim or Wiccan student club would meet a different reaction than a Christian club -- from both student ASB representatives and district officials.

“I wouldn’t want to say at this point that we wouldn’t allow a club of this type or that type,” said Davidson. “But, we’d certainly want guidance for it.”

Concerns over whether club decisions might be made “based upon an illegal filter” is one of the many reasons Davidson says the district’s attorneys are researching laws and decisions relating to religious clubs.

“I think the court has been more inclusive than school districts would have been,” said Davidson. “I don’t know that our policy has caught up with the law. But we believe the message is pretty clear about religious-affiliated clubs. Whatever the court decides, we will follow the law of the land.”

Although Davidson said he isn’t aware of any non-Judeo-Christian religious-affiliated clubs at any of the Federal Way schools, the road is not smooth sailing even for a Christian club.

Students say there are differences between MORE and the other clubs at Jefferson. Unlike other clubs, MORE members say they aren’t encouraged to share their faith or beliefs during school hours.

“God spoke to us and now we have our club,” said Hansen. “Our vision is to see our school change day by day from the light that is in us.”

MORE member say their vision is to teach their classmates that there is more to life than getting drunk or high on the weekends. From prayer to support, the teens say they want to teach people that there is a place where people can find encouragement and fulfillment through faith in God.

MORE now has 30 members, and club officers hope that their success will inspire other schools to start their own Christian clubs.

“We brought God back into school and it’s legal,” said Hansen.

Staff writer Jody Allard can be reached at 925-5565 and jallard@fedwaymirror.com

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