Rockville, MD

After receiving several opinion letters from a local law firm advising that it would be legally permissible to hold high-school graduation ceremonies in churches, the Montgomery County School Board decided to revisit its policy requiring Montgomery County high schools to hold graduations in secular venues. AU wrote a letter to the Board, correcting several misstatements of law made in the opinion letters, and informing the Board that its current policy was the only way to protect students’ First Amendment rights. After receiving AU’s letter, the Board nevertheless voted to allow Montgomery Blair High School to hold its 2007 commencement exercises at Jericho City of Praise, a Pentecostal church covered with religious iconography, including a large sign declaring, “Jesus is The Lord!!!” But the superintendent of schools reversed course one day later in response to public outrage and AU’s continued protestations, setting aside funds to allow the high school to rent a neutral venue. (AU had once before addressed this matter in a 2005 letter to the District, taking issue with a plan to hold several high-school graduations in local churches. That letter resulted in those graduations being moved to secular venues, and led to the passage of the policy barring District schools from holding commencement exercises in churches.)