Adjunct Law Prof Blog

Editor: Mitchell H. Rubinstein
New York Law School

Monday, October 15, 2012

Holding Graduation In Church Violates First Amendment


Doe v. Elmbrook Sch. Dist., No. 10-2922 (7th Cir. July 23, 2012) (en banc). The Seventh Circuit held that a Wisconsin school district violated students’ rights under the Establishment Clause when it held graduation ceremonies for two of its high schools at a local Christian church.

After analyzing the facts under the test established in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971), and the endorsement and coercion tests, the majority concluded that the sheer religiosity of the church ran afoul of the “primary effect” prong of Lemon, in that it created a likelihood that high school students would perceive a link between church and state, conveying a message of religious endorsement. The majority stressed that its ruling was of limited scope, and should not be read as constitutionally condemning any government use of church-owned facilities, nor “as critical of the cases permitting governmental use, in the proper context, of certain church-owned facilities.” The decision also contains a concurring and three dissenting opinions.

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