We learned in spring 2005 that a high school in Brevard County, Florida, was planning to hold its graduation ceremony in a local church. The church has a large cross on its dais that the church refused to allow to be covered.
Because our complainants were uncomfortable with going public with their objections, we sought to encourage the School Board to change the venue without the need for litigation, but our efforts were unsuccessful. In the course of our negotiations, we learned that the practice was not limited to a single high school; several high schools and at least one middle school were planning to hold their graduations at the church.
On May 17, 2005, shortly before the first of these graduation ceremonies was to be held, we filed a complaint and a motion for a temporary restraining order in federal district court. The court held a hearing on the motion the following day. After hearing argument, the court ruled that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their claim, but that a restraining order would not be proper at that late date because it would mean the graduation ceremonies would need to be canceled. The School Board then proceeded with the graduation ceremonies as planned.
We later amended our complaint to seek emotional-distress damages for the harm that our plaintiffs suffered as a result of the Board’s decision to proceed with the graduation. The court set a trial date of December 21, 2005, so we quickly proceeded with discovery. On October 25, 2005, however, while discovery was underway, the School Board voted to settle the case with a court-enforceable order prohibiting graduation ceremonies at sites in which religious iconography is visible.
The case concluded with the court’s acceptance of the settlement agreement. All the graduation ceremonies for 2006 were slated to take place at secular venues.