Tuesday, June 17, 2014
Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Appeal Over Graduation Ceremonies Held in Evangelical Church

Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Appeal Over Graduation Ceremonies Held in Evangelical Church

The U.S. Supreme Court refused on Monday to hear an appeal by a Milwaukee-area school district that held its graduation ceremonies at a local evangelical church because its school gymnasiums were too small for the event.

Elmbrook School District took its case to the U.S. Supreme Court after a federal appeals court ruled in July 2012 that the public district had violated the separation of church and state by holding its graduation ceremonies at the local Elmbrook Church for much of the 2000's. Three high schools within the Elmbrook district chose to have their graduation ceremonies at the church because their school gymnasiums were too hot and uncomfortable.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed the lawsuit against the school district in 2009, arguing that the public school system had violated the First Amendment's guarantee for a separation of church and state. Although the cross in the church was covered during the first year of graduation ceremonies, it was visible in subsequent graduations, as were Bibles, church banners and religious pamphlets.

According to NBC News, two Supreme Court justices, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, said they would have heard the Supreme Court case. The two justices referenced the Supreme Court ruling earlier this year in Town of Greece v. Galloway, in which the court determined that Christian prayers could be said ahead of local government meetings.

Scalia wrote in the dissenting opinion that just because some may take offense to a Christian presence, it doesn't necessarily mean bystanders are being coerced into a Christian influence against their will. "It is perhaps the job of school officials to prevent hurt feelings at school events. But that is decidedly not the job of the Constitution."

Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, said in a statement that Monday's decision proves religion should be left out of the public school system. "This case should serve as a warning to public schools that it's not appropriate to hold important ceremonies like graduation in a religious setting."

David Cortman, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal group, said in a statement that the government should not discriminate against a church building simply because it is associated with a certain religion.

"Church buildings should not be treated like toxic warehouses simply because they normally house religious activities," he said in a statement, according to the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. "That has never been the intent of the First Amendment."