It was the start of a new school year and Janelle Poukamissas was excited as she walked into a planning meeting with the other student leaders of the Ichthus Club, a Christian student club at Half Hollow Hills High School East on Long Island, New York. The Club was a success the previous year, with more than 55 students enrolled, and their annual Christmas party was a huge hit with the student body.
But just as the planning meeting was starting, the Club faculty advisor walked in and informed Janelle and the other leaders that the Ichthus Club was cancelled, effective immediately, and without any notice or explanation. At the next school board meeting, the Board announced that it had cancelled the Club due to budget cuts and a lack of participation by the students in the Club. The Club members were told that their only option was to take a bus to another high school in the district and attend the meetings of its Christian club. However, out of the 60 other clubs at the high school, including a Gay/Straight Alliance, Amnesty International, and Students Against Drunk Driving, the Ichthus Club—the sole Christian club on campus—was the only one cancelled due to the alleged budget cuts or lack of participation.
Janelle refused to stand idly by while the Ichthus Club was shut down. Not only did she circulate a petition gathering over 90 student signatures requesting the reinstatement of the Club, but she also contacted Alliance Defending Freedom for legal help. Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit challenging the school district’s violation of the Equal Access Act, which requires a school grant equal treatment to religious clubs as is given to other non-curriculum clubs. After some time, the school district settled the case, reinstated the Ichthus Club, and changed its policies to remove unconstitutional guidelines for club formation and official recognition. By speaking up against the far too common discriminatory treatment of religious student clubs, Janelle ensured that the religious message of the Ichthus Club was once again made welcome in the halls of Half Hollow Hills High School East.