Friday, September 11, 2009

Graduation Ceremony in a Church - Oh, Noooo!

In Brookfield, Wisconsin, Brookfield High School has held graduation ceremonies at the Elmwood Church in the past. This brought about a lawsuit from Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU). They say that holding graduation for a public school at a church is unconstitutional.

The very name of AU suggests they focus on the so-called "separation of church and state," which regular readers here know was a metaphor used by President Jefferson to refer to one aspect of our First Amendment. However, Jefferson did use that phrase very often; he was much more likely to use the phrase "freedom of religion" to discuss the importance of the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment. One has to wonder why AU hasn't chosen to name their organization Americans United for Freedom of Religion if they really think that much of Jefferson's ideas.

AU certainly knows that our First Congress, who ratified the First Amendment, authorized several Federal buildings in Washington, D.C. (including the Capitol) to be used for regular Christian worship services. Thomas Jefferson attended these services and even required The U.S. Marine Band to play at them.

One of my children graduated from high school during a year when the public school used a large local church for the ceremony. I am a Christian, and I generally am very aware of Christian symbols around me. When I attend church each Sunday, if I see kids running in the sanctuary between services I get a little distressed (I'm old-fashioned enough to consider that a more sacred place than a playground). But during this graduation, nothing seemed particularly "churchy" to me. I didn't pray or react differently than if we had been in a high school auditorium (except there would have been only about 1/4 the number of people and we all would have been sweating). It was simply the best venue to accommodate the number of people who wanted to attend in comfort. But I assume some day AU will step in and try to change that, and since there is no comparable secular venue in our area, AU would effectively bar many people from attending.

In the case of Brookfield, they now have a suitable facility at the high school and will use it this coming year. However, no one is dropping the suit. It will be interesting to watch for the outcome.

Read more here.

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