Students exercise
their rights with
religious kit project


Many public school students are distributing religious packages to their fellow students when they are not in class.

HAWAII education officials have stumbled in the past when dealing with students' First Amendment rights, but they are acting correctly and decisively in allowing students to hand out religious material during their free time. Some parents and teachers are angered by the distribution of the packets, but the students have every right to exercise their freedom of expression.

Three years ago, Waianae High School officials removed a 10-foot-tall tiki of Kanaloa, a god in Hawaiian mythology, from the campus, after community members and Christian pastors protested that it violated the separation of church and state. The officials eventually came to their senses and allowed the tiki, carved by 25 students, to be returned to its base.

Five years earlier, the valedictorian at Kailua High School initially was barred from thanking God in her commencement speech. The Department of Education finally relented to her constitutional right to free speech.

This week, 1,500 teenagers at all public middle and high schools began passing out 70,000 kits that include a CD, the New Testament, other religious literature and the same "Jesus" video that was mailed to Hawaii residents earlier this month. The Jesus Hawaii Project is a joint effort of 185 Christian churches in the state.

"As you are aware," Schools Superintendent Pat Hamamoto advised school administrators in an April 8 memo, "students have a constitutional right to distribute literature in a peaceful manner as long as the materials are not libelous, obscene, likely to create substantial disorder or invade the rights of others." The distribution is allowed on campus only during recess, lunchtime and before and after school.

The key point is that students -- not the schools -- are initiating the project, even though many students probably were prodded by parents. Adults should in no way be allowed to participate directly in the on-campus religious project.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2000 barred Texas schools from officially sponsoring student-led prayers before football games. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that religious liberty "is abridged when the state affirmatively sponsors the particular religious practice of prayer."

School officials should not sponsor religious activity. However, they should allow students to engage in religious activity as they wish away from class, and that is what the Department of Education is doing.


Kapolei Library gets
the money it needs
to open -- finally


Funding to buy books and equipment for Kapolei Library wins legislative approval.

STATE lawmakers have put the key in the lock that may open the doors of a public library in Kapolei that, except for a reading room, has remained empty for nearly a year. Better late than never.

With legislative approval of a $1 million appropriation, Kapolei Library could be ready for business by year's end if the books, equipment and furnishings can be acquired in time. Another hang-up that could delay the opening is that another $1.6 million needed to hire library staff won't come until July 2004. Until then, administrators will have to shift workers from other facilities, but half a loaf is better than none.

Since it was proposed more than four years ago, the library has been a contentious issue with politicians dueling for facilities in their districts, community groups stacking differing agendas and State Librarian Virginia Lowell and lawmakers battling over funding priorities.

Lowell early on had sought full appropriations for books, materials and staff as well as for construction, but legislators -- pressured by revenue shortages -- cleared money in increments and twice turned away her budget proposals for books and operations. As a result, the $6.9 million structure completed last May remained empty but for donated books and publications in a reading room.

Earlier in the session, discussion about Lowell's budget request set off a barrage of criticism from legislators and Governor Lingle when the librarian outlined her plan to deal with cuts by reducing hours at facilities. It appeared that money for Kapolei was in jeopardy, but lawmakers seem to have set aside their complaints. Or it may be that the public embarrassment about a brand-new building standing empty finally hit home.



Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Frank Teskey, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, Editor, 529-4791;
Michael Rovner, Assistant Editor, 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, Assistant Editor, 529-4762;

Mary Poole, Editorial Page Editor, 529-4748;

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