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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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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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