Now that a federal appeals court has ruled that two Wisconsin high schools violated the U.S. Constitution when they held graduations in a church, a group that threatened to sue the for doing the same thing said local officials "must stop this anti-liberty and repressive practice."
, the president of the North Metro Atlanta Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said Wednesday that he, along with the leaders of Georgia's two other AU affiliates, "unequivocally renew the call to stop the inappropriate use of religious venues for public school graduations.
"We live in a faith diverse and free nation. No student of a public institution, and of any belief or non-belief, or sexual orientation should be made to feel uncomfortable because of non-relevant beliefs imposed on them during a celebration of their success."
It was 2010 when . At the time, Selman said the group intervened after "a member of the community asked AU for help in stopping this constitutional violation."
The request, and the potential for litigation, sparked a community uproar in Cherokee, which had held commencement exercises at since 2005.
Parents started grassroots organizations such as Cherokee County Parents Against Moving Graduation and Help Us Stop the Harassment of Cherokee County. They rallied the troops on social media. They . They presented a petition of more than 1,500 signatures. And they offered to help the district financially if a lawsuit was filed.
Supporters contended that Cherokee's venue choice had more to do with space than religion. It was about economics, and ensuring that all family members had an opportunity to witness their students reach an academic milestone.
Locally, the district said in 2010, there weren't any sites comparable in size or price to First Baptist Church of Woodstock, which has a seating capacity of 7,500 and a price tag of $2,000 for each graduation.
, on the other hand, costs $40,000 and seats half the number that First Baptist does.
Despite the potential for litigation, the Cherokee Board of Education didn't budge. In January 2011, , and more than 2,000 graduates walked across the First Baptist stage in May 2011. No suit ever materialized, and the debate seemingly faded away.
Selman, AU's North Metro Atlanta president, previously told Patch that the group was waiting on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling, which came on Monday.
In a 7-3 decision, . In the court's eyes, families were exposed to "an unacceptable amount of religious endorsement and coercion" in the form of the cross, evangelical literature and more.
Selman said Wednesday that "it is our intention and preference" to settle the matter in Cherokee out of court.
"However, that possibility remains as a very last resort to maintain all citizen's right of belief."
Graduations at Church: A Decision
- Open the attached PDF to read the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals' decision, which can also be found here: http://www.ca7.uscourts.gov/tmp/K317FUMW.pdf