by Peter Grady –
The Alliance Defense Fund is helping an honor student in Alexandria, Virginia after she was denied community service credit because her volunteering was faith-based rather than secular in nature.
Matt Sharp, litigation counsel with the ADF, says his client, 17-year-old Sarah Stites, is claiming discrimination because she was denied any credit toward her 12 required community service hours because her work was done at her local church. She had gone well beyond the requirement, completing 46 hours of service at “Kid Quest,” a Sunday school program. Other students at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology were credited for doing similar work in secular venues.
Not only did the district failed to give Stites credit for those hours, they penalized her by requiring an additional four hours and threatened to remove her from the National Honor Society if she did not make up the hours.
Sharp said beyond the rule being blatantly unconstitutional, being kicked out of the honor society could have grave consequences for the student because membership in the National Honor Society is something that a lot of universities look at when considering admission. Being removed from the society could also affect Stites’ ability to obtain state grants or scholarships for college.
Sharp goes on to add that the National Honor Society does not have a problem with the student performing community based service at a church. The problem is that the Fairfax County school board’s Faith-Based Service Policy says that faith-based volunteer hours “must have a secular purpose and may not include preparation or participation in the performance of religious services.”
Following the filing of the suit, the district backed down and has given Stites credit for the faith-based service.
Despite the school’s change of heart, Stites is not dropping the lawsuit saying she wants the district to formally change the rules so other students will not have the same problem she faced.
In an interview with Fox News, Stites said, “Community service is community service, no matter where it’s done. I think that as long as it’s at a nonprofit organization it should be recognized because I know that most of what I do in Sunday school is what any preschool teacher would do, beyond teaching the kids biblical values.”
The school claims the incident is nothing more than an “honest mistake.”
The district’s rule is similar to one that was part of legislation signed into law by the President last year. The bill, HR 1388 originally had a section listing prohibited activities during the period individuals were fulfilling their community service requirements. Among the prohibited activities were; attempting to influence legislation, organizing in protests, petitioning boycotts or strikes, activities designed to influence the outcome of an election for public office, participating in religious instruction and being forbidden to engage in any form of religious proselytization.
Obama’s former chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel, coauthored a book in 2006 called “The Plan: Big Ideas for America.” In this book he called for three months of compulsory civil service for all Americans aged 18 to 25.
The Obama/Biden campaign website, change.gov, proclaims Obama and Biden have “set a goal that all middle and high school students do 50 hours of community service a year.” HR 1444 called for a study to determine whether “a workable, fair, and reasonable mandatory service requirement for all able young people” should be developed across the United States.