Florida Judge Allows Graduation Ceremonies At Church This Year, But Lawsuit Will Proceed

Americans United's Lynn Says Legal Battle Over Constitutional Issue Is Not Over

A federal judge's decision to allow several Florida public high schools to conduct commencement ceremonies in a church will not end the legal battle over the constitutionality of such events, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

This afternoon, Judge Gregory A. Presnell of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida turned away Americans United's request to order Brevard County school officials to move this year's high school graduation ceremonies from the Calvary Chapel in Melbourne to a neutral site. Presnell said there was too little time to find alternative venues.

But the judge did indicate that he agreed with Americans United's assertion that Brevard County officials should have scheduled commencements at a neutral location. The judge also ruled that the case, Musgrove v. School Board of Brevard County, would proceed to determine whether the future public high school commencements would be allowed in religious settings.

Calvary Chapel, where the graduation ceremonies will take place, is dominated by a large Christian cross that looms over the sanctuary.

"We are disappointed that graduating students will have to attend church to receive their diplomas," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Nonetheless, the judge did side with us on the key constitutional issues involved and said this case will go forward.

"We must ensure that next year's graduation ceremonies will not be held in a church sanctuary beneath a huge cross," Lynn continued. "These are public school events that should not be conducted in a place where some families feel unwelcome."

Americans United is representing two families with students at Palm Bay High School, one of four Brevard County schools with commencements scheduled at Calvary Chapel.

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.

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.