ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A Virginia school district has agreed to change its policy that prevented an honors student from receiving honor society credit for teaching and mentoring children at a church activity instead of a non-religious activity. The decision successfully settles a lawsuit that Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed on behalf of the 12th grade student at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.
“Community service and charity work should be encouraged by schools regardless of where it takes place,” said ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Matt Sharp. “The school district has done the right thing in granting honor society credit for this student’s service and in revising district policy so that this will not happen to other students in the future.”
The student performed the same types of community service activities with children for which other National Honor Society students receive credit: playing games, singing songs, teaching lessons, working on crafts, and providing mentoring and guidance to children from different nationalities, children with behavioral problems, children with special needs, and children in abusive family situations.
Although only required to perform 12 hours of service to maintain her National Honor Society membership, the student dedicated over 46 hours to working with the children, but Fairfax County Schools originally said the student’s service did not qualify for any credit because she performed them as part of her church’s “Kids Quest” program.
“If these types of activities count when performed in a non-religious context, then they should count in a religious context,” explained ADF Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “Otherwise, the government is sending the message that religious children and students are somehow inferior to others and that a religious point of view is somehow less valid than a non-religious one in our society. The Constitution prohibits that kind of hostility toward religion. We hope other school districts with similar unconstitutional policies will follow the lead of Fairfax County Schools and agree to respect their students’ constitutionally protected rights.”
The Fairfax County School Board’s revised faith-based service policy allows students to receive credit for student-initiated service projects performed through faith-based, civic, or political organizations. Prior to settlement of the ADF lawsuit, credit for such activities was not allowed unless they had a “secular purpose” and did not “include preparation or participation in the performance of religious services.”
ADF-allied attorney Timothy Bosson served as local counsel in the lawsuit, S.S. v. Fairfax County School Board. Because the school district granted credit for the student’s faith-based community service hours and changed its policy, ADF attorneys filed a voluntary dismissal of the case Friday with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division.
- Pronunciation guide: Tedesco (Tuh-DESS’-ko)
ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.