McKinley sued
over ‘God’ code

The ACLU goes to bat for a
student who claims the school
is endorsing a religion

By Debra Barayuga

A McKinley High student has filed suit against the state Department of Education seeking to remove the words "love for God" in the school's Code of Honor.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii filed the complaint yesterday in U.S. District Court on behalf of student James Ornellas, who is challenging the constitutionality of the Code of Honor as a school-sponsored endorsement of religion. The code reads, in part, "As a student of McKinley, I stand for ... Love For God and all Mankind."

By placing the code in classrooms, the school handbook and school song, McKinley High is promoting religion and or belief in and love for God -- specifically a Judeo-Christian God, the complaint said.

The code implies that anyone who does not worship God is dishonorable and students who are nonbelievers or belonging to minority faiths are less than honorable, said Brent White, legal director of the ACLU of Hawaii, who would like the honor code revised to include all students.

"I'm not sure if God exists or not, but I don't think it's right for the school to tell me, or any other student, that I should love God," Ornellas said in a written statement. "To me it is the same as the school telling me to love Buddha or Allah."

Retired Buddhist minister Alfred Bloom said it took courage for Ornellas to take a stand on inappropriate expressions of religion, particularly when so much pressure is put on youth in the schools to not stand out.

"These kinds of expression really are an imposition on the private and personal faith of individuals who don't need the sanction of the state or institutions to validate their faith," Bloom said.

A plaque engraved with the code, originally composed by students in 1927 for a contest sponsored by a private corporation, was rediscovered in the late 1990s and was subsequently placed at the main entrance to the school. It was also printed on posters, displayed in classrooms and around the school.

The Hawaii Citizens for Separation of State and Church wrote principal Milton Shishido late last year asking that the code be removed from all public property and materials at McKinley.

Greg Knudsen, spokesman for the Department of Education, said the department generally does not comment on pending litigation. But he referred to a Jan. 17 opinion by the state Attorney General's Office that the code, like the national motto "In God We Trust," is a code and not a prayer.

According to the complaint, schools Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto, in a Jan. 18 letter, indicated that the school would not remove the language in the code nor remove the code from school materials or property.

Hamamoto and Shishido could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Shishido and other defenders of the code previously have said that it is a historic document that encourages school pride, not a religious belief.

E-mail to City Desk


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2002 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --