HAWAII — McKinley High School officials agreed to nolonger mention a religious code of honor during official school functions, inthe school handbook and on the school Web site.The concessions were madeduring a settlement reached Jan. 28 between the school and a student, who waschallenging the constitutionality of the “love for God” portion of the76-year-old honor code. Last July the American Civil Liberties Union filed afederal lawsuit on behalf of 15-year-old James Ornellas, who claimed the codeviolated church and state separation.The ACLU was asking the court tomandate that school officials remove either the phrase or the entire code fromschool property. A non-jury trial was scheduled for April 29.Althoughthe school will eliminate all official references to the honor code, theoriginal plaque, made in 1927, will remain in the school’s hall of honor amongother school artifacts. Former student Mun Chee Chun, now 93 years old,composed the code, which read in part: “As a student of McKinley, I stand forlove of God and all Mankind.” Staff members rediscovered the code in theschool’s storage in the 1990s and prominently displayed it and reprinted it inschool publications. The code also began to be recited aloud at graduationceremonies and student assemblies.Brent White, ACLU legal director andattorney for Ornellas, said this settlement reaffirms that a public school hasno business telling students what they should or should not believe in relationto God.”The code is simply not appropriate as an official school code intoday’s multi-religious, multicultural society,” White said.At the timeof filing the lawsuit, Ornellas said he thought the code suggested that it ishonorable to believe in God.”I am not sure if God exists or not, but Idon’t think it is right for the school to tell me, or any other student, that Ishould love God,” Ornellas said.The Hawaii Department of Education andthe state attorney general had expressed support for the honor code, saying thehonor code, like the national motto, “In God We Trust,” should not be considereda prayer.
Read previous coverage
- Student sues Hawaii school over ‘God’ phrase in honor code News Flash, 8/12/2002