Non-Christian Student Okay With School Graduation Ceremonies at Church

A non-Christian high school student of a Wisconsin school system embroiled in a church-state court case does not believe school officials violated the First Amendment when they held graduations at a local church.

Raga Komandur, a 15-year-old student of Brookfield Central High School, wrote in a column published Monday in the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel that Elmbrook School District "did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment."

"I am a student in the Elmbrook School District and am not a Christian, but I don't think the district did anything wrong when it held graduation ceremonies at Elmbrook Church," wrote Komandur.

"Just because a few people objected does not mean that the district had to refrain from all business relations with the church. Therefore, there is no realistic endorsement of religion just based on the fact that the district rented out a building for its graduation ceremonies."

Komandur also wrote, "I do think the district should have given more consideration to the feelings of non-Christians to avoid the appearance of insensitivity."

"The First Amendment is there to protect everyone. This was a close call for the district, and it provides a lesson to all that religious minorities have a voice and should be recognized and respected," wrote Komandur.

In 2009, Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed suit on behalf of some parents against Elmbrook School District over the school system's decision to have a couple high schools hold graduations at a nearby church.

U.S. District Judge Charles N. Clevert Jr. heard the case and issued a ruling in favor of Elmbrook. From there the case went before a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals who also ruled in favor Elmbrook in 2011.

However last July, the full court of the Seventh Circuit ruled 7 to 3 against Elmbrook, concluding that graduation ceremonies held in a church with visible religious imagery participants was unconstitutional.

The two Elmbrook high schools, Brookfield Central and Brookfield East, have not held a graduation ceremony at the church since 2010. School officials maintain that the auditorium at Elmbrook Church was used due to a lack of space at public schools and other secular venues.

Komandur's opinion column comes as Elmbrook Schools seeks an appeal at the United States Supreme Court against the Seventh Circuit decision.

In December, Simon Brown of Americans United wrote a blog entry on "The Wall of Separation" arguing that the Supreme Court should not hear the appeal.

"The Elmbrook case has been decided correctly by a lower court, and further consideration of the matter would be a waste of the high court's valuable time," wrote Brown. "As the Journal Sentinel noted, the U.S. Supreme Court accepts less than two percent of the thousands of petitions it receives annually. Let's hope the Elmbrook case is among the 98 percent."