Uniontown, Ohio – In this small community of Stark County the religious convictions of its residents seems woven into their daily lives.
There are churches of every denomination here. The statue outside the town’s public library is of a stack of books on top of which sits a holy bible. The library is physically attached to the complex that includes Lake Middle School and Lake High School.
So important is faith to the community that a strategic planning committee mapping out the values of the school district added: “We value: Responsibility, honesty, respect, integrity, commitment, belief in God and religious freedom” to the statement.
But in August the Wisconsin based Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a complaint warning the district it faces a lawsuit if it does not remove the name of God from the statement.
Organization spokesperson Annie Laurie Gaylor tells Fox 8 news “we don’t believe there is a God there is no evidence of a God”.
And of the value statement Gaylor says “it’s promotion of a religion, the roster of cases is overwhelming you cannot have government fostered prayer, student lead prayer, cannot have prayer at graduation, how then can a school district say God is a virtue it excludes urge numbers of people”.
The district last month voted to temporarily remove God’s name from the statement, leaving it at “We value: Responsibility, honesty, respect, integrity, commitment, and religious freedom”.
That isn’t good enough for High School Juniors Mackenzie Muchalk and Alex Looney.
They are preparing to literally mount a fight in the name of God to maintain the statement as it was written.
Muchalk and Looney are selling t- shirts at cost that read “We value a belief in God” on the front and “They can take his name out of our mission statement but they can NEVER take Him out of our hearts.”
Muchalk says the hope is to have a room filled with people wearing the shirts at the next school board meeting on February 8th.
“We just want to stand up to who we think of as bullies” Muchalk tells Fox 8 “to tell them its not really going to change anything.”
She realizes mounting a legal battle will cost money and hopes the community will rally with her to fight against the change, but not at the taxpayers expense.
“I can get the free legal aid or if people in our community step up, which i know there have been people who have said they are going to pay for this for us, then i definitely think its worth it to fight it” she tells Fox 8.
But the Freedom From Religion Foundation calls Christians in the community the ‘bullies’. The organization has two sets of parents they say are willing to sue if the value statement isn’t changed, and Gaylor says she expects the board members to “do the right thing”.
When challenged by Fox 8 over whether two sets of parents amounts to a “huge number of people” Gaylor said “They (the Christians) are a bunch of bullies. What an intimidating situation. I think its amazing we have two sets of parents. It is up to parents to teach religion not the school district.”
But Muchalk and her mother, Stephanie, say writing “God” into the value statement does not promote any particular religion.
“When they first started selling these t-shirts one of the first two people who bought them were Muslim, so you know we aren’t talking a christian God it just says a belief in God”.
But Gaylor says that doesn’t matter, any reference to a deity doesn’t belong in the school district’s statement. “What do you call God?” she counters,
Gaylor says the organization does not like to sue ” we don’t like to waste our resources or the taxpayers resources but on the scale of things this is about as agredious a violation as we have seen.” ” its not majority rules when it comes to religion, that’s what our rights protect against”
At Lake High School it seems the effort to fight against the change has a lot of support.
“They want to come here and tell us what to say in our mission statement, that’s fine but if we choose to believe in God then that’s what we believe” said Junior basketball player Logan Wartman”.
Senior Trey Vaughan agrees. “Somebody that’s not really from here shouldn’t be stepping in here and trying to change our mission statement.”
Jennifer Spohn, the parent of a high school student, also thought the name of God should remain in the school district’s statement.
“When it was put in the mission statement it wasn’t just put in there by accident” Spohn told Fox 8 News. “It was voted on by a wide amount of people, different religious backgrounds, some atheists some religious.”
The Freedom From Faith Foundation says it has been contacted by one student who complained that since the complaint was first filed the school’s principal has been adding emphasis to the words “under God” when reciting the pledge of allegiance over the intercom.
Gaylor says they have also been made aware of other “violations’ within the district that she says they are looking into as well.
The schools and administration offices were closed on Monday in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. day. School board members cold not be reached for comment.
Win or loose Muchalk says she is willing to live with the results, because she says in the end it changes nothing about what the majority of the people in the community believe, and what they are ready to fight for.
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