School Sued for Holding Graduation at Church

Four Florida high schools are holding their graduation exercises in a church, after a federal judge declined to issue an injunction, largely on procedural grounds.

Judge chastises Brevard, but lets graduations go forth at church (AP)

A federal judge Wednesday gave four Brevard County public high schools the go-ahead to hold graduation ceremonies at a Christian church, but he chastised the school board for choosing a religious facility. U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell refused to stop the ceremonies at Calvary Chapel in Melbourne because the plaintiffs – a student, her Buddhist father and another parent who is an atheist – filed their case too late. Bayside High’s graduation is Thursday; the commencements for Eau Gallie, Melbourne and Palm Bay high schools are set for the two days afterward. “I don’t necessarily approve of the school board’s decision because it seems clear to me that a secular facility without these religious icons should have been chosen,” Presnell said from the bench after a brief hearing Wednesday afternoon.

School officials argued that there is nothing out of line with the venue. “This is a graduation ceremony; it’s not a religious ceremony,” said Sara Stern, spokeswoman for Brevard Public Schools. “We’re handling it as a purely secular purpose. Therefore, because there are no religious icons other than the cross in the back (of the interior), we feel that the facility is not unconstitutional.”

Although the graduations will go on as planned, Presnell’s decision did nothing to halt the lawsuit against the school. “The writing’s on the wall, to use a religious analogy, that the school board cannot pull this kind of stunt for commencement exercises in the future,” said Mark Tietig, the attorney who filed the suit.

If there is a secular purpose for doing this–for example, the school gymnasium is inadequate to accomodate the expected crowds–there’s nothing illegal about this. Indeed, the reverse is often true: schools rent their facilities out on Sundays for church services. Churches are used for all manner of civic activities, including things as fundamental as voting.

FILED UNDER: Education, Law and the Courts, Religion,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. carpeicthus says:

    Agreed. I gave my convocation speech in a Catholic church because it was the nicest large building around. No problem with that scenario. Of course, I wouldn’t have cared if it were in a Ziggurat devoted to Marduk, but I doubt everyone is so viewpoint-neutral.

  2. bryan says:

    Egad, these people need to grow up. I guarantee the church facility is probably cheaper than any general use secular facility around the area. From a purely financial standpoint, it’s in the school district’s best interest.

  3. Kappiy says:

    Of course the real issue here has to do with woeful funding of schools in Florida. What kind of school doesn’t have room to accomodate a graduation? Namely, ones in a state where the governor is hostile to the will of the electorate and the school system.

    Ever since the voters passed the amendment to the FL constitution demanding smaller class sizes, Jeb Bush has failed to comply and has exhibited arrogance at implementing a hugely popular referendum.

    Luckily the FL senate has resisted his efforts to overturn the democratic will of the state’s voters.

    If the folks in Broward were politically savvy, they would hold graduation ceremonies in the defining architechtural marvel of the Florida school system: a double-wide trailer.

    The dominant

  4. ob1 says:

    Jeb Bush did not create the problem with Florida schools. He inherited the problem that has been there for decades. It all comes down to the fact that FL has a lot of old people who have nothing better to do in their lives than vote. Most of these old people are stingy bastards who just want more for themselves and they consistently vote against funding schools/education.

    The problem existed during times of Democratic Governors and they couldn’t solve it either, so save your Bush bashing, Krappiy.

    As for why these schools are being held in churches…perhaps the other large structures in the area were damaged in last year’s 4 hurricanes? Just speculation.

  5. Just Me says:

    I went to a fairly small school, and while our auditorium was large enough to hold most students, it was not large enough to accomodate graduation ceremonies, because they couldn’t hold all the people coming to watch the graduation.

    We were in a University town though, and could access one of several places there.

    But I don’t see anything wrong with using a church, if the school was unable to locate other facilities, as long as the service wasn’t religious in nature.

  6. David Harris says:

    Shouldn’t the atheist fire his lawyer for openly using a “religious analogy”?

  7. IcallMasICM says:

    K – your post is self parody

    Just use the handy Troll guide

    It’s all because of(Insert banal antiBush/antiChristian/antiCapitalism/antiAmericanselection here)!!!!!

  8. Hope4agape says:

    I live in Brevard, and find the whole issue to be nonsense.
    The main issue here is not seperation of church and state. It is the safe high school commencement ceremony.
    Brevard county is prone to lightning strikes with out notice. The one school that did not hold thier cermony at Calvary last year was interupted by a storm.
    I commend the school board and the Schools for considering and protecting the Constitionally protected right of the lives of the students and thier extended families.