Group Sues Over Church Graduations

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Two Wisconsin schools are now under fire for hosting graduation ceremonies at an area church.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed suit Wednesday claiming the Elmbrook School District in Milwaukee violates the rights of non-Christians by forcing them to attend a ceremony at a church.

For several years, students at Brookfield East and Brookfield Central high schools have voted to have graduation at Elmbrook Baptist Church. School officials said the decision was primarily because the church's auditorium is larger, more comfortable, and handicapped accessible.

The AU, however, says the events amount to "coercing" students to being "exposed to religion." Their lawsuit aims to prevent two graduations from taking place at the church in June.

"The fact that it's a lovely place to hold an event does not justify violating the constitutional rights of students by essentially forcing them to show up and see the symbols and icons of a faith with which they disagree," claimed Rev. Barry Lynn of the group.

After the AU threatened to file a lawsuit in February, Elmbrook school superintendent Matt Gibson had lawyers look into the matter. They found no violations-- even with the display of a large permanent cross behind the church stage.

"It was found to be constitutional because there's nothing religious about the ceremony at all," Gibson said. "It just happens to be held in a church auditorium."

In 2005, the AU sued four public schools in Florida for holding graduation ceremonies at a church. The schools later moved their graduations to 'non-church' locations.

Sources: Wisc.com, The Associated Press

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