School District Sued For Unconstitutional Community Service Policy

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Long Beach, CA – Liberty Counsel filed suit against the Long Beach Unified School District on behalf of a 15-year-old high school student, Chris Rand, because the district refused to grant credit for over 80 hours of community service, solely because it was performed at a church.

Starting with the class of 2007, the school district required all high school students to complete forty hours of community service to qualify for a high school diploma. The school’s Community Service Learning Policy manual encourages students to consider their personal “strengths, interests and passions,” to select organizations they “feel positively and/or strongly about,” and to do “something good” for the community. The manual states: “If you are already involved with a community group that performs a service, or a member of a scouting group, or you are already volunteering at a local convalescent home, hospital or museum, that service will meet the needs of the initiative. Examples would be an Eagle Scout Project, or working in a soup kitchen or helping groups like Habitat-for-Humanity.” The manual suggests that teaching, tutoring and volunteering in children and youth services are appropriate choices.

Chris provided over 80 hours of community service to children at the Long Beach Alliance Church. He interacted with them and answered questions, assisted with crafts and art projects, relayed messages, supervised activity time to help ensure safety, appropriate use of equipment, and proper storage of equipment, helped with arts and crafts, and performed other duties. Chris submitted the required documentation regarding his volunteer service, but he was told his service did not count because it was for a church. The district pointed to the manual which states: “Service to your religious community does not count.” If Chris had given the same service in a secular school or in a nonreligious childcare program, he would have received credit.

The lawsuit seeks to remove the prohibition on performing service to religious communities, and the complaint is requesting that his service, which is more than twice the required hours, be counted toward the community service requirement.

Mathew Staver, Founder of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University School of Law, commented: “According to the school district, community service is required to graduate and only service in secular venues is acceptable. This obvious discrimination against performing community service for religious communities offends the First Amendment.”

This press release was originally issued by the Liberty Counsel on October 8, 2007