Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Graduation Ceremonies in Churches Need Protection?

You can find other posts on this blog about controversy over churches serving as the venue for high school graduations and some other functions. Often, one group or another will take the matter to court to try to block the use of the church. Sometimes it has worked and other times the school has succeeded with their planned use.

There are some very good reasons that schools have chosen to use churches in these stories. Generally the churches have offered ample seating capacity at a price lower then secular venues in the same areas. Often the churches have comforts not found in high school facilities, such as air conditioning, more comfortable seating with a better overall view, better parking, better sound systems, and large-screen monitors.

That seems logical, and would be considered a good business decision in most circumstances. Perhaps if you are new to this blog, you are wondering what the objection could be. Almost without exception, the issue raised is a violation of the so-called "separation of church and state." As a reminder, the "separation" phrase comes from a letter of Thomas Jefferson. It is not a phrase contained in our legal founding documents, but rather was intended as a convenient metaphor to describe one aspect of the First Amendment. That amendment covers religion, and in fact the first two short clauses are called the Religion Clauses. The first of those two is called the Establishment Clause, and the second is called the Free Exercise clause. The whole First Amendment is:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Clearly the word "separation" is not found there. The context of this is a limitation on the actions of the Federal Government ("Congress"). Many believe the 14th Amendment places the same limitation on the state governments, in that it guarantees that the rights of a citizen under the constitution may not be abridged by any state.

In all of that, where do we justify not allowing a high school to hold a graduation ceremony inside a church facility? Does that establish a state law? Does is prohibit the free exercise of one's religion?

The Liberty Counsel has stepped in now to help various schools in Georgia that may have been threatened with legal action for planning to hold graduations in churches. Matt Staver, the founder of Liberty Counsel, said:

"Clearly, public schools can use religious venues -- churches and other venues -- just like anyone else [and can] make a common-sense decision based upon size, location and costs," he contends. "The First Amendment does not interfere with that decision."

Read more below:


No comments: