Judge: Schools Can Hold Graduation in Church

Two public high schools in Wisconsin can hold their graduation ceremony in a church auditorium this weekend as planned after a federal judge denied a motion for a preliminary injunction.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Charles N. Clevert Jr. denied the motion of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which argued that a graduation at the auditorium of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield would be "extremely uncomfortable" for some students.

 "Public school graduations should always be held at locations where all families feel welcome," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "This decision fails to respect all students and the Constitution."

Judge Clevert, however, said most people would not view the Elmbrook School District's decision to hold its graduation at Elmbrook Church as an endorsement of the megachurch's beliefs and that any offense suffered by unwilling attendees does not amount to a violation of the Constitution.

"A ceremony in a church does not necessarily constitute a church ceremony," Clevert said during a three-hour hearing last week, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

AU Senior Litigation Counsel Alex J. Luchenitser, who argued the suit before Clevert on May 29, said Tuesday that his group would appeal the ruling to "stop schools from forcing students to go to church in order to graduate with their classmates."

"We are optimistic that higher courts will declare this practice unconstitutional in the future," he stated.

AU had filed the lawsuit on April 22 on behalf of graduating senior and several families in the district who have remained anonymous with the court's approval.

Following Tuesday's noon ruling, Elmbrook Schools Superintendent Dr. Matt Gibson announced to seniors of Brookfield East High School and Brookfield Central High School that graduation practices and ceremonies will be held as planned at the Elmbrook Church Auditorium.

Brookfield East will hold its graduation ceremony on Saturday at 11 a.m. followed by Brookfield Central on Sunday at 2 p.m.

Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, 14 miles west of Milwaukee, is a non-denominational megachurch with an auditorium that seats up to 3,200 people.

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