For years, high schools have used large buildings in the community for graduation. But church buildings might have to be crossed off the list after a ruling in Wisconsin on Monday.
In September, a three-judge panel ruled it was Constitutional for the Elmbrook School District to conduct graduation ceremonies in a church. But that decision was reversed, largely because students were exposed to “conditions of extensive proselytization” (a cross, religious pamphlets and hymnals). The court also cited the involvement of minors as a reason for the decision.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a complaint on behalf of a group of nine anonymous individuals consisting of parents and students. The initial claim was filed in 2009, but some of the plaintiffs have made claims for monetary damages due to emotional suffering.
“They felt graduation was ruined because it was held in such a deeply religious environment. We’re hopeful this case will have a big impact around the country,” said attorney Alex Luchenitser. “This decision upholds the separation of church and state, it upholds the Constitution. It ensures the students in Wisconsin will not be forced to enter an intensely religious environment as the price of attending their own high school graduation, a seminal event in their lives.”
Similar cases have been tried in Georgia, Maryland and New Jersey.
According to the school district, graduations were held at Elmbrook Church because it was an air-conditioned venue large enough to seat the friends and family of graduates.