Americans United for Separation of Church and State today hailed the U.S. Supreme Court’s announcement that it will not hear an appeal of a lower court’s ruling striking down a Wisconsin school district’s use of an evangelical megachurch to hold commencement ceremonies.
“There was no need for the U.S. Supreme Court to take this case,” said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “The matter was resolved correctly by the court of appeals. This case should serve as a warning to public schools that it’s not appropriate to hold important ceremonies like graduation in a religious setting.”
The Elmbrook School District had sought review of a July 2012 decision in Doe v. Elmbrook School District, in which a 10-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 7-3 in favor of Americans United. AU filed the suit in 2009 on behalf of nine students, parents and graduates of the Wisconsin school district.
At the graduations, students received their diplomas underneath an immense Christian cross. Parents and children sat in pews filled with Bibles and hymnals, “Scribble Cards for God’s Little Lambs” and church promotional cards that asked them whether they “would like to know how to become a Christian.” The church’s lobby was filled with evangelical pamphlets and postings, many of which were aimed at children and teens.
“No student should ever be forced to choose between missing their own graduation and attending that seminal event in a proselytizing environment inundated with religious icons and exhortations,” said Alex J. Luchenitser, Americans United’s associate legal director, who argued the case. “We are very pleased that the decision of the appeals court will stand.”
Luchenitser has litigated the case in consultation with AU legal director Ayesha N. Khan and co-counsel James H. Hall Jr. and F. Thomas Olson of the Milwaukee civil rights firm Hall Burce & Olson.
Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas issued a dissent, saying the high court should have taken the case or sent it back to the lower court.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.