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Students Strike Selfish Pose

November 15, 2003

Just think how much more money schools could spend on educating children if they weren't besieged by lawsuits from parents seething because they and their children weren't given their own way.

The families of the Brothers and Sisters in Christ club at Fountain Valley High School might want to consider that as they demand that the school allow a dozen or so club members to trumpet their religious beliefs in a photo of the graduating class -- or face costly litigation. This particular snit outdoes even the parents who sue over a student's well-deserved D in class.

As they pondered what to wear for the official senior class photo, spread across two pages of the high school yearbook, the students came up with the idea of wearing coordinated T-shirts that, placed next to each other, spelled out such religious messages as "Jesus {heart} U." Spread across so many students in great big letters in the front row, the message would have been the dominant visual theme of the photo. In essence, it would have served as a Christian-themed banner implying that it applied to all 650 students, who are from various backgrounds and many religious beliefs.

That's downright rude, attempting to take over a photo that belongs to every senior. And it's illegal. The school district cannot allow a religious belief to be imposed on its students, especially not in an official photo. How would these kids like it if a group of students stood up front spelling out, "We All Believe There Is No God"?

But when the vice principal tried a few conciliatory suggestions -- that the students separate themselves from each other or move farther back -- the teens acted with all the grace of a thwarted 2-year-old. They walked away, and their parents demanded a re-shoot, with the kids dressed as they wanted, arranged as they wanted to be.

Just as the U.S. Constitution protects the right of those students to meet privately at school, or wear individual T-shirts expressing their beliefs, it protects other students from having the club's beliefs pushed upon them. The Constitution does not, however, have anything to say on the subject of teenagers getting to demand exactly where they will pose themselves at school.

The school district should hold its ground. And the courts should make quick work of any lawsuit that might result, quickly dumping it and awarding legal costs to the school district to discourage any other small group of students from trying to diminish the religious rights of others.

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