The Cherokee Ledger-News reports that a new group has formed urging the Cherokee County School District (CCSD) to keep graduations at First Baptist Church Woodstock. The group, known as H.U.S.H. (Help Us Stop the Harassment) of Cherokee County, was formed by Cherokee High School graduate Anthony Cammarata and his friends, with a mission to bring the voices of Cherokee County taxpayers and students before the school board on Jan. 20, when it is expected to decide whether or not to continue holding graduations at the large church facility or to move them to another location.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AUSCS) has threatened to sue CCSD if it continues to hold graduation ceremonies at the church, charging that holding the ceremonies in a house of worship is unconstitutional. Through the H.U.S.H. website and its Facebook page, Cammarata said they hope to gather signatures of high school-age kids and adults to present to the school board when it is set to make its decision Jan. 20. If the board votes to keep the graduations at the church and Americans United files a lawsuit, Cammarata hopes H.U.S.H. can raise money for the district’s defense. School board attorney Tom Roach has said he would offer his legal services for free to the district. Cherokee Parents Against Moving Graduation also support keeping graduation ceremonies at the church.
After receiving a complaint from a Cherokee County resident, AUSCS sent a letter to the school district, urging them to move the graduation ceremonies. On Oct. 12, CCSD and Sequoyah High School received a letter from AUSCS noting the practice of holding graduation at the church, and saying the situation “is magnified … because a large cross is displayed above the stage where the graduates receive their diplomas.” The Cherokee County school board discussed the graduation issue at its Dec. 2 board meeting but decided to table it, as three new board members will take their seats behind the dais this month.
School officials have said the cost is minimal to hold the graduations at the church facility ($15,000, compared to the $40,000 cost to rent the Cobb Energy Centre). They also have said the site was selected because it allows graduates to invite many family members, instead of issuing tickets and limiting the number of guests per graduate.
Source: Cherokee Ledger-News, 1/12/11, By Erika Neldner
[Editor's Note: In July 2010, a Wisconsin federal district court ruled that a school district did not violate the First Amendment Establishment Clause by holding graduation and senior honors night ceremonies at a local Christian church. A summary of that opinion, which includes a link to a summary of Connecticut federal district court's opinion, based on similar facts, that issued a preliminary injunction barring a school district from holding a graduation ceremony at a church, is available below.]