On The Front Lines
West Virginia High School Shuts Down Youth Alive Club’s Inspirational Bulletin Board Over Inclusion of Self-Help Post-It Notes With Bible Verses
WESTON, W.Va. — The Rutherford Institute has come to the defense of Youth Alive, a high school student club that was ordered to remove its inspirational bulletin board display featuring Post-It notes inscribed with citations to Bible verses over concerns that it might be a violation of the so-called separation of church and state.
Warning that the actions by officials at Lewis County High School violate the First Amendment and the Equal Access Act, a federal statute that guarantees religious and political clubs equal rights in public schools, Rutherford Institute attorneys are demanding that Youth Alive be allowed to re-post the inspirational Post-It notes. Included among the self-help topics addressed by the Post-It notes were a selection of Bible verses for those who are feeling broken-hearted, alone, insecure, stressed, confused, needing faith, needing encouragement, and in need of forgiveness.
“What a missed opportunity to support young people in their efforts to find positive, constructive methods of engaging with fellow students who might be struggling with feelings of depression, unhappiness and stress,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “Not only is the removal of these inspirational notes a clear act of censorship that violates the First Amendment, but it also sends the disheartening message to young people that school officials care more about doing what is politically correct than doing what is right.”
Youth Alive, a student club with 18 members at Lewis County High School, is one of several authorized student clubs, such as the Young Republicans, Young Democrats, and Health Ambassadors, that have been formed at the high school in accordance with school policies and customs. The clubs are organized and led by students, not the school. Like the other student clubs, Youth Alive was allowed the use of a bulletin board in the hallway outside of the classroom where it meets during non-instructional time. Clubs use these bulletin boards to communicate with the school community about their activities, purposes and interests.
On its bulletin board, Youth Alive members posted the message “Finding Help In the Bible” and numerous 3-inch by 3-inch Post-It notes inscribed with hand-written references to Bible verses. The verse citations were selected and written by Youth Alive club members and meant to be inspirational and helpful for students in dealing with life issues. The notes could be taken by any school student who might find the passage helpful or encouraging. The notes were too small to be read in passing: a student would have to approach the bulletin board with the intention of finding a helpful passage on the notes in order to know what was on the note. However, when the students returned to school on January 6 after the holiday break, Youth Alive members were informed that the posted material must be removed. Club members, informed that the removal order resulted from a complaint about the material on the board, were told that it was a violation of church and state. At this time, the Youth Alive bulletin board is blank.
In issuing a legal letter to the school principal and superintendent on behalf of the club members and their parents, The Rutherford Institute warned that the removal order violates the federally-protected rights of the club and its members. Specifically, Institute attorney cite the Equal Access Act, which Congress passed in order to forbid discrimination against religious student clubs, and the First Amendment’s prohibition on censoring speech because of its religious viewpoint.