Supreme Court Upholds Decision Barring Graduations in Church
The Supreme Court announced Monday that it will not reconsider a lower court ruling that bars school districts from holding graduation ceremonies in a church or any other religious setting.
The Supreme Court’s decision to let the 2012 ruling by a federal appeals court “stand” is being described as a “rare and surprising victory” for church-state separatists.
The case stems from the past graduation practices of Wisconsin’s Elmbrook School District. According to various reports, the district began holding its high school commencement ceremonies in the sanctuary of a local church in 2000 because the school’s gymnasium lacked the space – and the air conditioning – to allow for a comfortable ceremony.
But a handful of students and parents found the religious setting to be even more uncomfortable. While all moveable religious symbols were cleared out of the sanctuary and no religious references were made during the ceremony, students still had to walk past a 20-foot cross to receive their diploma.
Judges involved in the 2012 ruling somehow concluded that the act of walking near a Christian symbol constituted an improper government endorsement of religion, Bloomberg.com reports.
Some say that argument is not only weak, it’s also at odds with the Supreme Court’s recent ruling to allow prayers at town meetings.
“Just last month, the court cleared the way for a larger public role for religion when it upheld a town council’s practice of opening its monthly meetings with Christian prayers delivered by a cleric,” The Los Angeles Times reports.
That ruling is why representatives and allies of the Elmbrook School District were asking the high court to reconsider the lower court’s ruling, Bloomberg.com notes.
Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas wanted the court to reconsider the district’s case, but were overruled by their peers.
In a seven-page dissent, “Scalia wrote … that the Constitution doesn’t protect students from being offended or made uncomfortable by public displays of religion. He likened the students’ position to his own when someone plays music he dislikes in public,” Bloomberg.com reports.
Justice Anthony Kennedy addressed the inconsistencies between the two decisions by noting town council meetings are different from graduations because they involve “mature adults” who are free to leave the room during the prayer, Bloomberg.com reports.
Kennedy said students at a graduation ceremony are a captive audience and are not free to leave, the L.A. Times adds.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the entire case is that Elmbrook School District officials were still fighting for their beliefs in court, even though commencement ceremonies have been held in the district’s new, more accommodating gymnasium since 2009.
That says something very positive about the character of the men and women who are leading that school system.