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Group Renews Call for Cherokee Schools to End Graduations at Church

Monday, a federal appeals court ruled that two Wisconsin high schools violated the U.S. Constitution when they held graduations in a church.

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

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Holly J July 26, 2012 at 12:22 PM
That's a bit of a loaded question- would the school board candidates fight this lawsuit. If they say "Yes", folks will holler about wasting tax dollars on legal fees (which will be substantial). If they say "No", folks will assume they are God-less liberal atheists. I'm not sure there's a good answer for this. I don't have a problem with the ceremonies at FBCW. I understand the reasons for using that location. But, I don't want to see us go the way of DeKalb schools, whose budget crisis was worsened by millions in legal fees to sue all those crooks who messed around with the construction bids. Anyone running for the BOE needs to be overly cautious about what they propose to spend our money on in these days of lower and lower funding.
KaTee July 26, 2012 at 12:27 PM
I keep questioning why it matters to them that its held in a church? Then I'm reminded that Satan fears God.
Rick Paul July 26, 2012 at 12:58 PM
Church and state? I thought this was a school? The only good in Wis was that the courts could meet on a case at all. I have a hard time grasping a non believer beleiving? They must in order to hate something dont they? This is just another part of poor education to find fault with this.
Terry Tucker July 26, 2012 at 03:11 PM
Substitute "church" for "mosque". Graduation is being held at a local mosque. Your tax dollars are going to an institution you may or may not believe in. Do you still feel the same way?
hope July 26, 2012 at 03:20 PM
Thank you Terry Tucker! US Constitution violation. Period.
R.L. Federalist July 26, 2012 at 05:02 PM
Hope - No it's not. Period. Terry - Save the "Your tax dollars are going to an institution you may or may not believe in" worries for the various faith-based initiatives the previous and current Presidential administrations support. We're talking about Cherokee County and it just so happens that a church is the only venue that can accomodate the ceremony. Why go to a smaller, more expensive venue 30+ miles away? To stop the bleating of a small number of hypersensitive attention seekers? No thanks. Quite frankly, I don't care if it's a church, a synagogue, a mosque or a wiccan fairy garden. As long as there's no proselytizing, why does it really matter? Is the sight of a cross really that threatening?
miamigirl July 26, 2012 at 08:17 PM
Last I checked there were churches being used as voting precincts on Cherokee County, why is that ok but a graduation ceremony in an affordable and accommodating venue not? Why should this matter or be the business of anyone other than the students, faculty and families of Cherokee County? No one here is complaining. I am not baptist but I would sure rather watch my kids graduate in the comfort of their air conditioned church with a great sound system than in a blazing hot football field or cramped gym.
miamigirl July 26, 2012 at 10:13 PM
And don't forget that many of the schools in this county rent out space to churches on Sundays...sometimes it is OK for "church and state" to work together instead of always being separate.
Frank Jones July 26, 2012 at 11:47 PM
@MiamiGirl...like you said, it is sometimes OK for "church and state" to work together, and it OK for the state to rent facilities to churches. That said, when the church and state work together and have business relationships, the state should not discriminate as to the churches with whom it works. If the state is willing to rent to a Baptist church, it should be willing to rent to a Mosque or Temple. If the state is willing to rent from a Baptist church it should also be willing to rent from a Mosque or Temple. As to your comment that "no one here is complaining", are you 100% sure about that? Are you sure that no student or his family is uncomfortable attending graduation at FBCW. In our county, there is a lot of scorn for anyone that isn't WASP. In the case of FBCW, it is my understanding that the church rents the space at BELOW MARKET RATE, plays a video welcoming those in attendance to come to their services and there are religious symbols throughout. In effect, they're using the graduations to market their church and their beliefs on others. In they charged, FMV rent, didn't play their video and covered the religious items, there would be no issues. Lastly, people need to realize that some in this community impose their religious beliefs on others. For instance, coaches having prayers before a child's ball game without parental consent.
Marci July 27, 2012 at 12:44 AM
In reality, if the price is right, what's the problem? If the ones who are opposing it are willing to pay the difference to rent a different place that offers the same seats and comfort, then do so. If this is about having it below "market price" then should anyone care about a little "advertisement"? If you believe in something else, the advertisement won't make you change your mind. I think this has more to do with how much money someone can make suing the county than anyone's religious beliefs. BTW, I'm not Baptist.
Frank Jones July 27, 2012 at 02:32 AM
@Marci...let's use some critical thinking. If the KKK offered the county their services at a discounted price and provided a little advertising to our kids, that would be fine with you? If the Muslim Brotherhood offered services at a discounted price and provided a little advertising to our kids, that would be fine with you? If the Gay & Lesbian society offered education or consulting services at a discounted price and provided a little advertising to our kids, that would be fine with you? If Planned Parenthood offered free sex education to our kids (nothing better than free) and in turn provided a little advertisement to our kids, that would be fine with you? If you're fine with all of the above, you are one open-minded person and I must commend you. If not, you're a hypocrite. My wife and I have our own religious beliefs and aren't likely to change them. That said, not all people attending graduation ceremonies are adults. The video and religious items could reasonably be construed as trying to influence the minor children. And, if I recall correctly, many people in the Republican party don't believe that schools, gov't, and others should be trying to contradict the beliefs of the parents. Again, hypocrisy.
Terry Tucker July 27, 2012 at 04:19 AM
I am not worried about faith based initiatives because most are struck down. Tax payers pay for the venue. If the venue promotes a particular agenda I understand people's concern. Schools have football stadiums. I graduated outside and survived.
Norman July 27, 2012 at 12:11 PM
I guess I'll get my checkbook ready to help Cherokee fight this ridiculous argument. I've had 3 kids graduate at the church with another on the way in about 3 years. They do NOT play a recorded message in the beginning, nor is there a prayer. A person *might* be subjected to Christian symbolism if they raise their eyes high enough to read the scripture on the wall outside of the sanctuary. But really? So what. It's no different than viewing a cross on top of a church as you drive by...or the dome of a mosque. Is that the next target? There is no attempt to draw people into the church or its services or force beliefs on anyone. It IS a great venue that seats a huge number of people comfortably, with ample parking, good acoustics, good lighting, provision of Internet video so that my kids grandmother could watch it live from her home in North Carolina. The benefits clearly outweigh any concerns. This is one of those times that "the good of the many outweigh the good of the one". Sorry, but I've had enough kowtowing to people because they feel "uncomfortable" and I will help Cherokee County Schools fight this to the Supreme Court if necessary.
Norman July 27, 2012 at 12:15 PM
Frank, buddy, educate yourself and don't spread misinformation. Go to a graduation there next year and see for yourself. Based upon your comments it is clear that you are making statements from 'what you've heard". Well, go experience, like I did 3 times. Then come and make some educated comments.
Frank Jones July 27, 2012 at 01:25 PM
Norman, in due time I will attend a graduation when it's my child's turn. I did base my comment upon what I've seen written and your comment is the first I've read that refutes the video. FWIW...your comment about it being no different than driving past a church with a cross or a mosque is wrong. The difference is that to see your child graduate, the school system forces you to attend a place of worship that extols beliefs that are fundamentally different than your own while subjecting you and your children to religious influences. As long as there is no video message from the pastor/church and reasonable attempts are made to lessen the religious influence, I have no issue. On the other hand, if there is a video and no attempt to lessen the religious influence, then yes there is a problem for some people.
Terry Tucker July 27, 2012 at 02:52 PM
You made some valid points mixed in with some absurd ones. The best argument you make is the "benefits clearly outweigh the concernes." I would rather Cherokee County not pay for a venue at all since they are cutting teachers and raising taxes (not this year).
Marci July 27, 2012 at 03:00 PM
@Frank… how could you miss my point? I thought I was clear enough. And yes, I try to be an open-minded person. We are talking about RELIGIONS here. So, let’s keep the subject in context if you don’t mind. I’ll try to explain my “critical thinking” here once more… what I mean is that (and please, don’t change/add anything extra)… I don’t mind to have my child graduate in a Catholic church, Baptist church, Buddhism or Hinduism temple, Jewish synagogue, Muslim mosque, I really don’t care. If you care, and you are willing to pay the difference of $38,000 to have your child graduate, by all means, do it. I won’t mind either… just don’t ask me to pay for it. I’m not afraid my child will be “influenced” by watching a video for a few minutes if that's the case (I haven't been to one yet). Besides, what’s wrong learning about other religions? Knowledge is power. Are you afraid your child will change his/her beliefs by watching a video for a few minutes? BTW, your non-sense comparison just make me more convinced that the matter has more to do with how much money someone can make suing the county than anyone's religion.
Holly J July 27, 2012 at 03:54 PM
Everyone is all for graduating the kids out of the school stadium, until it's their child. Then, the don't want to sit in the heat/rain (depending on the conditions) and be told "You can only have 2 members of your family attend due to space constraints." You have to remember how large the classes are now- 350-400+ students, plus parents, grandparents, and whoever else. That's a lot of people for the stadium, and forget the gym if it rains. No way that many folks can fit and not break fire codes. That's why they started having the ceremonies at FBCW. That, and it made for a more appropriate atmosphere- when I first began teaching at Etowah, guests were known to start tossing beach balls during graduation in the stadium.
Holly J July 27, 2012 at 03:57 PM
I am all for not spending tax dollars on litigation OR the Cobb Energy Center. Both would be colossal wastes of money that could be put to much better use. And don't forget, we wouldn't be the only ones wanting the Energy Center or KSU's auditorium. Cobb County schools get first dibs on those places and there are a LOT more of them.
miamigirl July 27, 2012 at 04:59 PM
It amazes me that some people can be so thin skinned that any exposure to a belief that is different from their own offends and outrages them. Are you so weak in your own faith or lack of faith that just the very sight of a cross or a crescent or a star will influence you away from your core beliefs? No one is forcing you to attend a worship service, you are just entering a building. Get over it. Are you equally offended by Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, because I presume that you don't believe in them either. Why don't you let those folks who want to graduate at FBCW stay put and then the families who are offended can have a separate ceremony on school grounds? There will probably be less than a dozen of you so you should easily fit in the gym.
Jesse Geise July 27, 2012 at 08:23 PM
It's time for all Christians to say enough is enough with these people. These people need to be sued all the time and keep them tied up in court for violating our religious freedoms. I believe we will be judged for not fighting hard enough for our God given liberty, plus may I remind those of you who believe there is a separation between church and state it doesn't exist you closed minded people. Why don't you read the constitution for once and you'll see what it actually says. God bless you and God bless America. Fight the good fight.
Terry Tucker July 27, 2012 at 08:58 PM
The US Supreme Court says it does exist. "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion..." President Jefferson.
Frank Jones July 28, 2012 at 12:38 AM
Marci...For an argument to be sound, it must apply consistantly and thus I broadened it to other hot topic items. Your argument of "if the price is right" fails. Your other argument of "if you have a problem with a location, you pay the difference" also fails for the following reason...Why are we spending money for a location when we have football stadiums? I graduated in the South, in July, outdoors on a hot steamy day. If your child must graduate indoors with air conditioning, then you should pay the cost. I don't have a problem with learning about religions - I know a lot. The issue that I have, and that you forget, is that the state should not impose a religion upon the people. This is what occurs when graduation is held in a church where the minister/church plays a video promoting itself. This isn't about money! It's about respect for differing opinions and freedom OF and FROM religion. Far too often, I'm approached by people who begin to offer their religious beliefs. Coaches unilaterally decide to say prayers, a teacher told a friend's child with a life-threatening health issue "There's one person who can save you and his name is Jesus Christ". Enough with forcing your religion on people. My wife was a Baptist but left the church in part to their belief that men are the spiritual leader of the home, that women are to submit to the husband, and women cannot be ministers. Not exactly everyone is created equal!
Frank Jones July 28, 2012 at 12:41 AM
miamigirl...Separate but Equal isn't Constitutional.
Frank Jones July 28, 2012 at 12:43 AM
Holly...hey, graduation is a celebration. What's so wrong with some beach balls. I've know graduates to bring their own.
miamigirl July 28, 2012 at 01:06 AM
Nice try, but no one is forcing anyone to be separate...it's purely voluntary if you don't want to participate in the graduation with everyone else.
miamigirl July 28, 2012 at 03:31 AM
Probably the only thing more annoying than a pushy, self righteous Christian is a Militant Athiest. Both of these groups presume to think that they know what is best for everyone else and that their beliefs are superior. If you are truly an Athiest, a TRUE non-believer, then the LEAST threatening environment for you to be in should be a church. If religion really is "make believe and mythical and pretend" then what is your qualms about being inside of church? Why would you care what is on the walls or in the pews? If it really is meaningless then why does it mean so much to you? One would think that you would be the FIRST one in line and more than happy to freeload off of the bargain deal that some dumb church is willing to offer the school district so that you can enjoy your child's graduation in air conditioning surrounded by family! So what if you have to see a cross or see a video? If there is no God, then what's the harm? Why do you act like you are being asked to drink poison or that lightening could strike at any moment? If you dont believe in God then why is God is so threatening to you? Just be happy that you are getting a cheap deal! No one is asking you to believe in anything. And IF by chance someone invites you to go to the church (GASP! THE HORROR!), just be polite and say NO. We don't live under the Taliban in America. You can just say thanks, but no thanks. That is what freedom of religion means. As a believer, I promise to respect your position.
Jesse Geise July 28, 2012 at 04:41 PM
To: Mr. Terry Tucker, God bless you sir but I differ because the Supreme Court is made up of men and women who judge in the affairs of man, which means they do get it wrong from time to time. All we have to do is look back on previous Jim Crow times and see just that. So all I can say and kindly as I can is that the first amendment states that congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. This is why we can freely worship in whatever capacity we choose. Congress cannot establish a state religion like it was in England. Most of all of our fore fathers were christian all you have to do is go to DC to see that. Congress still prays before the peoples business begins and the ten commandments are posted before the Supreme Court. All I wish is for men and women think critically with an open mind and take a look at our constitution, federalist papers and be responsible americans because we are losing our country. With the likes of many in Washington seem hell bent on speeding up the process. God help us all ..I hope you all have a restful wonderful weekend, spend time with your family. God bless.
Urly August 06, 2012 at 08:12 PM
So what's next with our population being too large for graduation at school stadiums. Renting out Phillips Arena? Maybe they should have separated graduations by grade level? In my day high school was 8 through 12 grades. So split up the the ceremonies into 2 or 3 depending on the split of grade levels in the school. As to the church as a venue, the churches should not be paid a cent since they pay no taxes. They should offer their place free of charge as a show of gratitude and community concern. The schools can hire their own janitors to clean up what little mess should there be any. Separating by classes is the most economical way since churches aren't going to show their community spirit (pun intended) by offering their space for free. All graduation ceremonies I've attended were in the stadium or indoor gymnasium (Kennesaw State).
Urly August 06, 2012 at 08:16 PM
Thank you Terry Tucker. I don't know why this fact is so ignored by many people. Separation is law.

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