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How we resolve our disputes

Entries in church and state (1)

Tuesday
Jun092009

Rites or rights of the season

It’s June — time for graduations.  Let’s go down our checklist:

  • take final exams and pass all courses
  • get cap and gown
  • file lawsuit
  • go to church

Hmmm … I don’t remember those last two items being on my checklist when I graduated from high school or college.  But they are today.  A federal judge in Milwaukee recently refused to enjoin a public school district from holding its graduation ceremonies in a church.  The plaintiffs claimed that holding the graduation in the church violated the constitutional doctrine of separation of church and state.  The school district said it could not hold the ceremonies at its schools due to lack of space and the church was the most practical and convenient alternative.  The judge agreed with the school district, at least to the point of refusing to issue a preliminary injunction.  The lawsuit is still pending and a trial date will be set to determine whether the district violated anyone’s constitutional rights.  The plaintiffs have said they will appeal the judge’s decision on the preliminary injunction.  The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel published an editorial suggesting it would be best to drop the appeal and the lawsuit. 

In the meantime, the school district is building larger auditoriums at its high schools (after 6 to 8 years of using church facilities) and will hold graduation ceremonies at the schools next year.  So much for separation of this church and state.  Now, can we separate the schools from the courts?  

If other school districts make their graduates go to church in order to participate in graduation ceremonies, I suspect the courts will once again be called upon to interpret that pesky 1st Amendment.  What does “establishment of a religion” really mean?  For those who would suggest that this is much ado about nothing, I would ask you to substitute the word mosque, Shinto shrine, Buddhist or Hindu temple, or synagogue for the word church in this story, or in my checklist.  Is it still about nothing?