Long Island student fights for school club, religious expression

by Karen L. Willoughby |

Liz Loverde encourages other students "dare to believe." LIBERTY INSTITUTE

WANTAGH, New York (Christian Examiner) – Life wasn't going well for Liz Loverde, a sophomore at Wantagh High School on Long Island near New York City.

"Life appeared to me as something not worth having or living," she said in an interview with WesternJournalism.com. Another publication referred to the self-harm she was doing by cutting herself.

Then she found a new life with Jesus. Now, "I want to help kids," Loverde said.

"I see that my school is filled with bullies and depression and it's sad to just walk in it every day, and I found my answer through Christianity and so I just want to share that," Loverde said. "Through 'Dare to Believe" Christian Club I want students to know that while they're going through these tough times – depressions, parents' divorce, self-harm, suicide, anxiety, bullying – Jesus Christ offers them another view of life; a view that is truly beautiful."

But her school principal said a Christian club would not be allowed.

In her four-page proposal, Liz stated her objective to reach out to the community through visiting nursing homes and holding toy and food drives. She wanted to share with fellow teenagers that "love is louder" than any problems or struggles in their lives. Liz also said learning about biblical principles made a difference in her life and she knew this could do the same for others.

Her principal at first agreed to take the request to the board of education, but days later changed her mind.

Loverde turned to Liberty Institute, a 40-year-old nonprofit in Plano, Texas, that focuses on religious freedom issues.

"On behalf of Liz, Liberty Institute delivered a demand letter this week to the Wantagh High School principal, and two other Wantagh Union Free School District officials demanding they reconsider their position, approve Liz's proposal, and grant official recognition to her club, Dare to Believe, by Monday, November 24, 2014," according to the LibertyInstitute.org website.

"All students have a right to meet on campus," said Jeremy Dys, the Liberty Institute attorney working with Loverde. "They can't be denied simply because of their faith."

Loverde's situation comes fewer than two months after Ward Melville High School officials, in East Setauket, New York, denied club status for Students United in Faith, a group formed by student John Raney.

Liberty Institute took that case, and won. Liz was encouraged then that something could be done regarding her stalemate.

"I felt terrible," Liz said at a press conference on November 17, 2014, which took place hours after the demand letter was delivered. "Wantagh High School has over 30 clubs, and they wouldn't recognize mine because it was faith based."

Liz and fellow students who have joined her group have been denied equal access, Dys said.

"[T]hat's a gross violation of the Equal Access Act of 1984 which was established to protect students in religious discrimination situations just like this 30 years ago. ... School officials on Long Island do not seem to understand that the Equal Access Act of 1984 makes it illegal to deny students the right to form a Christian club on campus."

Liberty Institute wins more than 90 percent of its cases, according to its website.