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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 29, 2003

McKinley drops 'love for God'

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer

The words "love for God" will disappear from the McKinley High School honor code under a settlement agreement announced yesterday in federal court.

School officials will remove the code from posters and fliers posted in classrooms and no longer will endorse or promote the code.

But the 1927 plaque that outlines the honor code in the school's Hall of Honor can remain in place. And students who want to recite the 1927 honor code cannot be restricted from doing so.

The agreement ends a lawsuit filed in July by the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai'i on behalf of McKinley High sophomore James Ornellas, who said the code violated students' freedom to form their own religious beliefs and the separation of church and state.

"The idea is that the school should not actively promote a code of honor that requires love for God," said Brent White, legal director of the ACLU of Hawai'i. "We don't have a problem with students advocating their religious beliefs. Students can do whatever they want on their own. They can pray among each other. When it rises to the level of a school-sponsored activity, it's not permissible."

McKinley's principal could not be reached for comment, but Department of Education spokesman Greg Knudsen said the school could decide to keep the honor code and remove the reference to God.

The code, written by students in 1927, says: "As a student of McKinley, I stand for honesty in all I do and say; for industry in study, work, and play; for purity in spirit, thought and deed; for courage to meet life's every need; for brotherhood of races all combined; and love for God and all mankind."

The code has been recited at graduations, put to music by the school's choir and included in the school's handbook and other materials.

Knudsen said the settlement recognizes the value of the honor code as a part of the school's history, by allowing the 1927 plaque to remain in place and by allowing historical references to the code. McKinley High, founded in 1865, is one of the state's oldest schools.

"This one was always viewed as having more a historical setting in the same way the Pledge of Allegiance or having 'In God We Trust' on money was viewed as having," Knudsen said. "Had someone written it in the present day it would have probably been flagged."

The ACLU lawsuit, filed against state schools Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto and McKinley High Principal Milton Shishido, contended that the inclusion of "Love for God" in the honor code "conveys the unequivocal message that the school and its officials endorse religion, and specifically endorse the monotheistic concept of the Christian or Jewish 'God.' "

Supporters of the code had argued that it passed the "Lemon Test," based on the 1971 ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court that asks: Does it have a religious purpose? Does it advance religion? And does it foster an excessive government entanglement with religion?

The state attorney general's office at first answered "no" and said it was prepared to defend the code in court.

Reach Jennifer Hiller at jhiller@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8084.