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More Schools Targeted for Religious Meetings

October 15, 1985|BILL BILLITER | Times Staff Writer

High schools in the Huntington Beach, Westminster and Fountain Valley area are the new target of fundamentalist groups that want student religious organizations to be allowed to meet on campus during school hours.

Leaders of two "traditional value" religious groups confirmed Monday that they are targeting the Huntington Beach Union High School District to allow classroom space for church-related activities.

"We're going for it," (the move in Huntington Beach Union High School District)," said Robert L. Simonds, president of the Costa Mesa-based Citizens for Excellence in Education.

The Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, state chairman of the California Coalition for Traditional Values, also said of his group, "Absolutely, we're for it."

Both organizations have been outspoken in efforts to get school districts in Orange County to open classrooms for religious clubs and groups.

Two districts in south Orange County, Capistrano Unified and Saddleback Valley Unified, both resisted the efforts and subsequently voted to bar all non-academic groups, including religious organizations, from use of classroom space during school days.

Newport-Mesa Unified, in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, and the Anaheim Union High School District school boards voted to allow religious groups to have campus access during school days.

The furor over religious use of school rooms stems from a relatively new federal law that bars federal funds if a school district allows some non-academic groups to meet in classrooms but not religious groups. The federal measure, backed by the Reagan Administration, usually is called "the equal access law."

A legal challenge is before the U.S. Supreme Court, which this week is expected to decide on the constitutionality of the law.

Trustees of the Huntington Beach Union High School District have not specifically voted on the new "equal access" law, said Supt. Marie Otto. But she noted that the school board's longstanding policy has been to bar all non-academic groups, including religious organizations.

"Our board hasn't discussed this (at meetings) so far, but it will probably come up at their next meeting," she said.

Otto noted that some students at Edison High School in Huntington Beach are seeking to gain school recognition of their religious-studies groups, including use of bulletin board space.

"The group has been meeting informally for some time," Otto said. "We of course don't oppose that. But the policy has been not to allow any non-curriculum-related group to use classrooms during the school day."

Otto said the school board has indicated that it will take no action until after the Supreme Court has acted.

She added that she has so far received no direct pressure from any parent groups about the Edison High School religious organization's petition. She also said that she knew of no other high school in the district with a religious group seeking classroom space.

In addition to Edison High, Huntington Beach Union High School District governs Huntington Beach High, Fountain Valley High, Marina High, Ocean View High and Westminster High.

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