Student sues Hawaii school over ‘God’ phrase in honor code

HAWAII — In the wake of the national controversy overthe phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance,a McKinley High School student is challenging the constitutionalityof the "love for God" portion of his school’s honorcode.

On July 16, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federallawsuit on behalf of 15-year-old James Ornellas seeking a courtorder to mandate that school officials remove either the "lovefor God" phrase or the entire code from school property.

The honor code reads in part: "As a student of McKinley,I stand for love of God and all Mankind."

"It’s saying that to be honorable, I need to believe inGod," Ornellas said. "I am not sure if God exists ornot, but I don’t think it is right for the school to tell me,or any other student, that I should love God."

The lawsuit states the "love for God" phrase "conveysthe unequivocal message that the school and its officials endorsereligion, and specifically endorse the monotheistic concept ofthe Christian or Jewish ‘God.’" Ornellas and the ACLU arearguing the honor code violates the establishment of religionclause of the First Amendment.

"It violates his right to go to school and not be subjectto governmental endorsement of religion," said Brent White,the legal director for ACLU of Hawaii.

The ACLU, in coordination with Hawaii Citizens for Separationof State and Church, has contested the "love of God"portion of the honor code since January 2002.

The challenge to the code prompted the state attorney generalto release a statement saying the line "did not promote theadvancement of religion unconstitutionally."

The school and the Hawaii Department of Education continueto support the honor code.

Former student Mun Chee Chun, now 93 years old, wrote the honorcode in 1927. Staff members rediscovered the code in the school’sstorage in the 1990s and prominently displayed it and reprintedit in school publications. Chun has said he is "disgusted"by the lawsuit and told the school historian to "burn thatcode of honor."

A public forum of students, civil libertarians and Christianactivists convened in April to discuss the "love for God"line. School officials did not change their stance on the code,leading Ornellas to turn to the ACLU.

The first scheduling conference for the trial is set for October.