LI Student Triumphs in First Amendment Crusade


Ward Melville High School student, John Raney, was told he couldn’t start a Christian club at the school because of its religious nature. Ward Melville is in a wealthy suburb in Suffolk County, Long Island.

John Raney wants to form the club to teach ‘young adults to sow the seeds of Christian charity, love and tolerance.’

During a Board of Education meeting in which the matter was discussed, one resident, Ron Wood, said, ‘Bibles are discouraged in schools, but encouraged in prisons. If more people were allowed to read them in school, they might not end up in prison.’

John Raney asked the Board, at the same meeting, to allow the club and, by all accounts, he spoke eloquently. Raney said he wants to have open dialogues about faith to fight poverty, suicide, and drug use among other things.

Long Island has a serious drug problem. Students buy heroine because Oxycondin has become more difficult to find and heroine is plentiful and it’s cheap. Students are being brought into the local hospitals regularly. One small hospital near me admits a student overdosing on heroine about once every two weeks. Many of these children die. That’s only one of many hospitals seeing this tragic loss of young lives.

In John Raney, we have someone who wants to do something about it.

The committee that approves clubs denied his petition for a Christian club called Students United in Faith. Raney said that WMHS Assistant Principal Michael Owen told him the committee had denied the request based on its religious nature. He had earlier told Raney to not count on the club being approved.

High school principal Alan Baum said the decision ‘had nothing to do with faith or religion, and had to do with dollars and cents.’ The district would have to pay an advisor to run the club, he said.

Baum said they have had a Bible Club, a Muslim Club and a Hebrew Culture Club that melted away due to lack of interest. They can’t spend the money for an adviser for a club that has few members. Raney’s club now has volunteers who might be able to serve as advisers.

Catholics for Freedom of Religion organizers directed two families, including John Raney’s, to the Liberty Institute for help with the situation.  The attorneys at Liberty Institute began with a letter to the district.

Raney said school officials repeatedly told him religion-based clubs were not permitted in a public school. After a week of email exchanges started Nov. 1 between Trudy Fischer, Raney’s mother, and Ward Melville Principal Alan Baum, Raney was called to the assistant principal’s office and again told his request was denied ‘because it was a religious club, and not because of the merits,’ Liberty Institute wrote in the letter to the district.

John Raney 16 year old junior

A very happy John Raney, the 16 year old junior at Ward Melville High School who fought for his First Amendment rights.

Newsday reported today that the district has made a complete 180 and will allow the club. The school’s PR firm stated in press release that ‘Unfortunately, we have determined that the reason for the initial rejection of the proposal was apparently inaccurately conveyed.’

The principal and assistant principal didn’t communicate?

Hopefully they don’t mean that the Assistant Principal erroneously told the truth or they decided they didn’t want to deal with a First Amendment case.

Whatever the truth of the matter, John Raney is to be applauded for courage and steadfastness. He is a special young man who wants to help others. We need a lot more John Raneys.

Long Island is changing and these types of incidents keep happening all over Long Island.

In Kings Park, Long Island, the children sang Silent Night without any religious references during their ‘holiday’ concert. ‘Holy Infant’ and ‘Christ the Savior’ were removed from the song and some parents weren’t happy. All of the parents should have been unhappy. What next? Book burnings? School officials have since apologized and promised it won’t happen again.

If they don’t like the words, they shouldn’t sing the song at all.

What we do have to learn from both these incidents is that people must remain vigilant.

More reading at the North Shore of LI newspaper.