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Nevada, Christian School Clash Over Phone-Book Ad

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The Mountain View Christian School of Las Vegas, Nev., has a tiny advertisement in the local Yellow Pages promoting a "Christian education" for students in pre-kindergarten through 7th grade.

The ad is illegal, the state of Nevada says.

The state's stand is unfair and possibly unconstitutional, respond Mountain View's leaders and national Christian-school activists, who vow to wage a First Amendment court battle if the state takes further action against the school.

The controversy stems from the state's private-school law, which exempts any school run by a nonprofit benevolent or fraternal organization, such as a church, from having to become licensed by the state education department. The statute is consistent with the way many states treat private religious schools.

In Nevada, some 50 of a total of 75 private schools are exempt from licensure.

But the state law also says such schools may only serve members of their organization or congregation and their immediate family members.

"The Department of Education has taken the position that such schools are not free to advertise and solicit to the public at large," said Melanie Crossley, a deputy state attorney general. "If they want to en8roll the world at large, they have to become licensed."

State officials last year sent a notice to the school, an arm of the Mountain View Assembly of God Church, advising that the telephone-directory ad did not comply with the law, said David Kachele, the school's principal.

"If we did run an ad, what the state wanted us to do was say we were serving only members of Mountain View Assembly of God Church and immediate family members," Mr. Kachele said. "But we are evangelical. We really want people to know we are out here."

The school, which serves 350 students, recently moved into a new facility and has plans to expand through the 8th grade next year and eventually to the upper grades.

The law has apparently not been a problem before because other exempt schools either were smallel15land did not advertise or were not subject to the restrictions.

"When the law came into effect, a 'grandfather' clause allowed some schools to be exempt from the [advertising] restriction," said Holly Walton-Buchanan, the state education department's private-school consultant. "Catholic schools are allowed to advertise, and that has caused a bone of contention."

While his school plans to become accredited, Mr. Kachele said he has no desire to be licensed by the state, which would involve oversight of curriculum and other matters.

"One of the greatest draws of the Christian school is that we have the freedom to pray with kids and talk about the Lord," he said. "We really don't want the state involved."

Mr. Kachele has solicited the help of the Association of Christian Schools International, a California-based group whose lawyer has been in contact with state officials to discuss the matter.

The controversy has also been mentioned by the television evangelist Pat Robertson on his show, "The 700 Club."

"This is the first time we have heard of such a thing," said Burton Carney, coordinator for state legislative issues for the acsi, referring to the advertising restriction. "It is such a serious violation of the Constitution that we are willing to take it to court."

Mr. Kachele said the matter is at "a standstill."

For its ad in the next Yellow Pages, which is not due out until January, the school plans to say that it serves "our brothers and sisters in the Lord," or similar language. The school may also buy a newspaper ad before then with similar wording.

"We hope the state will consider that in compliance," Mr. Kachele said.

If not, then "we would have to go further to pursue a First Amendment issue," he added. "We are hoping that the state is not hostile to us reaching out to the public and drawing people to a Christian school."

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