(RNS) The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday (June 16) let stand a lower court ruling that a Wisconsin high school acted unconstitutionally when it held its graduation ceremonies in a local megachurch.

Elmbrook Church, Wisconsin's largest, was the site of multiple Elmbrook School District graduation ceremonies. An appeals court ruled that holding the ceremonies there was unconstitutional, as it violated the separation of church and state principle. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied to hear the case, effectively affirming the lower court's decision.

Elmbrook Church, Wisconsin’s largest, was the site of multiple Elmbrook School District graduation ceremonies. An appeals court ruled that holding the ceremonies there was unconstitutional, as it violated the separation of church and state principle. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, effectively affirming the lower court’s decision. Creative Commons image by Sergeantjoe

The case, Elmbrook School District. v. Doe, involved a high school in a suburb of Milwaukee that rented the nondenominational Elmbrook Church for its graduation exercises multiple times through 2009. In 2012, the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals called the event “offensive” and “coercive.” The church’s banners, pamphlets, Bibles and other religious materials remained in the sanctuary during the graduation.

As is their custom, the justices did not give a reason for declining to hear a challenge to the 7th Circuit ruling.

Monday’s decision may be a signal by the court that despite its approval of sectarian prayers at public meetings in the Town of Greece v. Galloway decision in May, it draws the line at exposing children to religious symbols when they have no choice about it.

Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented in the decision to let the lower court ruling stand. They argued in a seven-page opinion that the Greece v. Galloway decision undercut the 7th Circuit decision in Elmbrook.

In the dissent, Scalia, a Catholic, likened the exposure of children to religious symbols at graduations to his own distaste for the public playing of “rock music or Stravinsky,” implying he — and they — have to put up with it but are not damaged by it.

“It may well be . . . that the decision of the Elmbrook School District to hold graduations under a Latin cross in a Christian church was ‘unwise’ and ‘offensive,’” Scalia wrote. “But Town of Greece makes manifest that an establishment of religion it was not.”

Reaction from religious liberty groups was divided.

“Church buildings should not be treated like toxic warehouses simply because they normally house religious activities,” said David Cortman, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Arizona-based Christian law firm that specializes in First Amendment cases. “We hope the Supreme Court will clearly affirm in a future case that government neutrality toward religion is not achieved by treating it like asbestos in the ceiling tiles of society.”

“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, associate legal director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the attorney who argued the case on behalf of the plaintiffs. “We are very pleased that the decision of the appeals court will stand.”

KRE/AMB END WINSTON

23 Comments

  1. Kimberly, Thanks for bringing good news today.

    Despite the positive result..
    In his dissent, Scalia reveals that he has fascist leanings:

    “Scalia, a Catholic, likened the exposure of children to religious symbols at graduations to his own distaste for the public playing of “rock music or Stravinsky,” implying he – and they – have to put up with it but are not damaged by it.”

    That is a disgraceful display of fascism.

    And it is a shocking lack of concern for Americans who are offended by deference to God’s rape, God’s slavery, God’s genocides, God’s disgraceful hate for humanity.

    “I have come to burn the world” – Jesus.

    I wonder if Scalia would feel as calm about children being ‘unaffected’
    by having their graduation in the home of Jeffrey Dahmer!

    Your article goes on:

    “Church buildings should not be treated like toxic warehouses simply because they normally house religious activities,” said David Cortman.

    Well too bad, David Cortman!
    That is what Churches are. Indefensible toxic warehouses of
    humanity-shattering nonsense:

    :-( OFFENSIVE CRUCIFIX:
    A devastating monument to the claim that God turned into his own son
    Had him shot up with the first century’s version of an AK-47, had him tortured and forced him to bleed to death – as a remedy for God’s mistakes of ensuring Original Sin to save mankind from the eternal Hell God created in the first place.

    :-( OFFENSIVE STAINED GLASS:
    A religious motif for stating the ‘unknowability’ of god’s ways – the inability to see ‘through’ to God’s kingdom. In effect a celebration of ignorance.

    :-( OFFENSIVE PRIESTS AND PASTORS:
    People who LIE to children that there is a place called ‘Hell’
    and that if they do not think AS THEY ARE TOLD to think they will go there.

    :-( OFFENSIVE CANDLES:
    Needless fire hazard meant to squeeze a few bucks
    out of grieving families as they enter or exit the church and to elicit the most pointless and undignified of all religious activities; to stop and light a candle and ‘say a prayer’ to the God who shot up his son with an AK-47.

    :-( OFFENSIVE PEWS:
    The seats of followers, not leaders.
    The seats of the closed minds, not the inquiring minds.
    The seats of wish thinkers, and deniers of evidence.

    :-( OFFENSIVE AISLE OF FAITH:
    The walkway of those who have FAITH; an insidious and repressive word which adds up to ‘pretending’. As the Christian embraces the Aisle of ‘faith’ he UNWITTINGLY nods his full approval to all the other Aisles of Faith around the world: the quackery of David Koresh to the faith-based suicide bombers of Islam – ALL of it rests on one insidious superficial notion: the AISLE OF FAITH.

    Today Chitzen-Itza in Mexico is a museum. The Mayans once sacrificed people to their god and rolled the dead heartless bodies down the sides of the pyramids.

    Perhaps people like Scalia would not see the slightest problem
    if everyone just had their graduation as such despicable monuments.

    I guess I’m too decent and sane for such nonsense.

    • Youre not too sane, just too ignorant. Your comments are full of ignorance and a basic lack of understanding on virtually everything you say. I hate to be unchartible , but this is simply the truth. You dont make any sense because nothing you say reflects the truth about Christianity.

      Its complete insanity to believe that children are “damaged” by the presence of Christian or other religious symbols in religious buildings used for public school graduations. Perhaps you have failed your children to such an abhorrent degree that they would be damaged by such a school graduation, but most normal children are fully aware of other belief systems and cultures to understand there are differences of belief and practice. But apparently that difference is too challenging for your sensibilities. I dont find Scalias thoughts fascist to least but your need to completely secularize public life is entirely totalitarian.

      • @Mickey,

        Bring it on!

        I’m not against your right to your religion.
        And I’m not Totalitarian, good grief!
        I fully support our US Constitution 100%
        including your religious freedom and the establishment clause.

        I’m just telling you what your religion looks like.
        And YES, IT IS DAMAGING NONSENSE. And yes, Justice Scalia is fascist to DECIDE FOR ME what is damaging to my children and what isn’t!
        He was wrong to be a dissenter of this court decision.

        And Christianity and Churches are deeply disgusting and inhuman.

        So A man was tortured and shot up for your personal benefit
        and you think this is virtuous and moral?

        How do you feel about fathers who shoot their children
        when you read such stories in the news? Do you worship them??

        So Yahweh shot Jesus. What is impressive about this?
        And it is revolting and inhuman that people would worship such nonsense.

        Believe it if you wish – it is your right and will never deny your right.
        But this Court decision was too close for comfort.

      • mickey,

        While Atheist Max may be a little strident at times, I have to admit that he’s on the right track. Religion has done much good in the world, but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that that’s outweighed by the bad. Religion is behind the current violence in Iraq–no surprise there. The history of organized religion is bloody and dark. Even the famous religion scholar and life-long Christian Huston Smith has said that if God was looking for an organization to represent him, you would think he could have done better than the church.

        Religion probably won’t go away, but it will go away in its present form. That’s been predicted before, but things are different now, especially the rise of a predominantly liberal and secular youth. That makes me hopeful.

      • @Mickey,

        You said, “You’re not too sane”

        As Iran’s Shia population prepares for war
        with all the Sunnis (All the other Arab countries) you may ask
        ponder the question of sanity a bit more.

        One must have faith in God to believe Christianity.
        One must have faith in God to believe Islam
        One must have faith in God to believe Judaism

        As you can see faith MUST NOT be very reliable if it
        validates all of these contradictory conclusions.

        Faith is the magic button where we pretend
        something is real, when it isn’t and it never was.

        To be “sane” is to understand this.

  2. The Christian religion, with all of its faults and shortcomings, some that have been described here, is still the brightest light for good works and loving attitudes the world has ever known.

    • @billysees,

      “The Christian religion, with all of its faults and shortcomings… is still the brightest light for good works and loving attitudes the world has ever known.”

      This will come as big surprise to Hindus
      And Muslims
      And Jews
      And Confucians
      And Tibetans
      And Atheists
      And Native Americans
      And Native South Americans
      And Africans who were taken as slaves
      And Rwandans who were slaughtered by Catholics
      And Witches
      And ….

      • Chaplain Martin

        Brother Max we meet again. Gosh do you ever sleep? In one of my comments to you I invited you to maybe join in the fight against child abuse. Channel your anger to help protect children from child abuse. Guess what? It’s not all in the church.
        It takes a lot of energy to stay angry at a god who doesn’t exist. There is so much good in you, why waste it? I see that the most attention you get is negative, I guess that beats no attention at all. Well, my 74yr old body is tired. I’ll just leave you up to the loving God I believe in. Beyond the Bible and even religion there is God. Goodbye my friend, I’ll not respond again. Be blessed know peace and love.

        • @Chaplain,

          As religious fanatics sweep to and fro
          across the Middle Eastern and African countries
          inciting killing in the name of Allah and Jesus and Yahweh

          It seems to me the most immoral position
          is to shrug it off and just go to breakfast.

          And though you speak of ‘Peace’ and Love
          I see none of that in religion and it baffles me – where do you see peace or love in religion?

          I see all the tranquility of
          David Koresh, Jim Jones, Al Queda, Zionists, Witch burnings
          And Jesus himself: “I have come to burn the world”

          Fight child abuse? You are practically ensuring it will never end!
          I can’t understand your ‘peace’ at all.

      • I’m sure I didn’t exclude any of the groups that you mentioned. They all have good works too and are not void of loving attitudes either.

        Whenever I mention the exceptionally good works of Christianity, I think I should be specific and say that those kinds of works are more noticeable in the West where it also seems that civilization is at its best.

  3. Having praised a certain religion, we can’t forget how good the secular is too.

    Thomas Edison’s invention of the light bulb is an excellent example. Undoubtedly, the most important discoveries that have greatly benefited the entire creation have come from secular people and institutions.

    We must be ‘grateful for every good thing’ because it helps us live in this world.

  4. As usual and as expected, Scalia and Thomas, at least, would unconstitutionally side with religion in this case. There is no limit to their contempt for the constitutional separation of church and state, no limit when it comes to injecting their personal prejudices, religious and otherwise, above constitutionality.

    It is interesting that two justices who try to appear so bound to their Catholic Church would be so ready to violate our Constitution in favor of religion. Neither of them, nor Thomas’ wife Virginia, have any qualms about accepting huge speaking payments or organizing groups to oppose the enforcement of our Constitution or the religious precepts of Jesus, including prejudice toward the middle class, the poor, and all minorities.

  5. Oh poor, poor, pitiful people. You can’t even bear the sight of a Bible, cross or other religious symbol. You must experience great trauma for just being exposed to something you don’t like. Injured for life…what will you do?? Idiots!!

    • @Jimmy,

      “I tortured and shot my son with an AK-47 and made sure his flesh was ripped and that he bled to death just for your personal benefit. And if you don’t believe me I’ll do worse things to you after you die.”
      – Yahweh

          • @Jimmy,

            Sorry. It didn’t happen at the graduation.
            It happened a long time ago.

            The kid’s name was Jesus. The venue for the graduation
            was a church which exists because Jesus’ dad had him executed for your personal benefit. And if you don’t believe this happened his dad is going to shoot you too – for eternity in his own shooting gallery called Hell.

            Not traumatic for kids at all. Right?

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