Virginia School Says Community Service Cannot Be Faith Based

Many high schools’ honor societies have started requiring students to do so many hours of community service to remain in the honor society.  The arena of service is broad, allowing for many types of service, especially those related to medical, the elderly and children.

However, Thomas Jefferson High for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia has a restriction on the type of community service allowed: it can’t be faith based.  Fairfax County School Board has a faith-based service policy that states volunteer hours “must have a secular purpose … and may not include preparation or participation in the performance of religious services.”

Unaware of the policy, a seventeen year old honor student at the high school completed 46 hours of community service with Kid Quest, although the school only requires 12 hours of service.  Kid Quest is Sunday school based.

After turning in her community service paperwork to the National Honor Society leaders at the school, she was informed that it violated policy and that she still had to do 12 hours of secular community service plus an additional 4 hour penalty for being late if she wanted to remain in the National Honor Society.

The ironic thing is that other honor students did virtually identical community service with kids, only it was done in a secular setting rather than a church setting.  That being the difference, they refused to accept the hours submitted by the one student who actually performed nearly 4 times the amount of hours required.

Matt Sharp, a litigation counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund has come to the aid of the student, who at this time has asked to be anonymous.  Speaking on the case, Sharp said,

“[The district] failed to give her a single hour of credit for all of her hours and told her, You’re in violation of our policy. You haven’t performed enough hours. You need to remedy this immediately by performing those 12 hours, plus an additional four hours that we’re going to penalize you with. Otherwise, you’re going to be removed from National Honor Society.

“National Honor Society is something that a lot of universities look at when considering admission. There are lots of scholarship opportunities that come through being a member of that — and leadership opportunities [as well], and because of the school’s discrimination against our client, she risks losing all of that.”

Sharp says that they believe the school’s policy is a form of discrimination and are hoping that the school will see their error, accept the student’s community service hours already served and that a full blown lawsuit can be avoided.

I don’t see how the policy of the Fairfax school district could be understood as anything but discriminatory and a violation of the First Amendment right to freedom of religion.  If other students are allowed to perform similar tasks and have it count, then what difference does it make whether it’s done in a secular or religious setting?  The only difference is the prejudice of the school board.