Cherokee County School District Makes Decision About School Graduation January 21, 2011

Cherokee County School District Makes Decision About School Graduation

The Cherokee County School District in Georgia was considering holding their graduation at the First Baptist Church of Woodstock — out of “tradition.” And because the church was cheaper than other venues.

(Don’t worry, though. They’ll cover up the cross. See? How could anyone be offended then?)

Also, while I haven’t been able to verify this, one reader told me:

[The] pastor came on with a nice “Come to church and meet Jesus” video message just before the actual event.

If that’s accurate, this is not simply a church offering a cheaper venue without trying to increase membership. They want to use the service to preach their message.

Last night, the school district finally made a decision regarding what to do.

The Cherokee County school board is keeping graduation ceremonies for Cherokee County high school students at First Baptist Church of Woodstock even if it means a legal battle.

The board on Thursday night unanimously voted to continue holding its graduations at the county’s largest facility, leading to standing ovations.

Twelve people spoke in favor of using the church, the majority of which were students from county high schools. No one spoke against.

They can have all the standing ovations they want. If Americans United decides to go ahead with the lawsuit, the school board stands to lose far more money than if they just paid for a secular venue.

(Thanks to Chris for the link)

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  • Danielle

    Don’t they have a football field or something to hold the ceremony at? That’s where I had mine.

  • Justin

    They really need to pursue a lawsuit. Thing’s like this can not go unchecked. You ostracize everyone that does not adhere to the Christian faith or for the matter of this web site, does not adhere to any faith whatsoever.

  • Defiantnonbeliever

    I agree with Danielle and Justin,
    What’s wrong with graduation ceremonies on the athletics’s field or in case of rain in the gym as happened at my school? The option to get the diploma in the mail is certainly discriminatory, if one stayed away due to the cathedral to anti learning venue. They need to rethink or go to court.

  • Matt

    As long is there is no service, prayer, etc. I don’t see a constitutional or entanglement issue. Hate to see anyone run up a huge legal tab unless there is a real issue.

  • True fact: I went to a Catholic high school (long story), and our graduation ceremony was always held at the large performing arts complex of the nearby state university.

    Maybe we were causing some kind of cosmic deficit that this other incident seeks to ameliorate.

  • I guess I’m the contrarian-*if* the board has reviewed the possible sites and *if* this is the best one on an estalished set of criteria and *if* the christkitsch can be removed/covered up and *if* the pastor/staff have all been advised of the limits on their speech actions then this decision may very well be defensible in court.

    (I know that’s a lot of *if*s)

    What should concern people is that this decision may set precedents that don’t support atheist actions.

    It’s like the legal decisions surrounding school prayer-mandatory prayer was out, but voluntary prayer was in. Better than before, so people considered it a victory.

    If schools were going to permit student prayer groups, they also have to permit others, like gay-straight groups under the same principle. While gritting their teeth about prayer, people saw the creation of the GSA’s as a victory.

    Following these decisions those supporting prayer have framed it as a moment of silence that can be used for prayer if the student wishes-there’s nothing inherently nonsecular about a moment of silence. So the law in question was upheld and a precedent was set that religious folk can attempt to expand upon.

    If the conditions I mentioned above aren’t met, legal action should certainly be considered as there is almost certainly some sort of breach of church-state separation.

    If the conditions have all been met, really good legal counsel should be consulted before rushing into court-the school district isn’t the only party that can be ordered to pay legal costs.

  • Miko

    My high school graduation was in a sports arena, but they covered up the sports equipment, so I wasn’t offended. The unverified anonymous comment sounds bad, but it is unverified and anonymous (to us). There’s no reason the school should seek a more expensive venue if things can be done sufficiently there. As a musician, I’ve performed in churches many times: they make good venues. I see no harm in it. In fact, it’s a positive good. Look at it this way: if the church were only used for religious services, then it would be wasting land that the community could better use for other purposes. By only using it for religious services a fraction of the time and by letting it be used beneficially the rest of the time, the church is less of a drain on the surrounding community.

  • Daniel

    Miko –

    Look at it this way – the church is tax-exempt. If you’re going to have a public school graduation there, it should be free as taxes already support the place indirectly.

    With similar logic, it should be treated as a public building any time it isn’t in use.

    As is, it is wasting land… land whose exclusive use is religious, yet whose tax status means that those who live near it pay for the basic services it enjoys.

  • Chris M

    Is there a nearby mosque that can support a crowd of that size? If there is and if it’s a couple grand, I’ll pay for it out of my own pocket. The school can’t turn that down, right? I’m 100% serious.

  • Stories like this always leave me with conflicting opinions. The high school I graduated from held the graduation in a mega church in the area, they didn’t try to indoctrinate us, but they also didn’t pretend that we weren’t in a church (giant cross at the front, bibles in the pews, etc…). Our district was in a similar situation, the church was the largest venue in the area, was cheap, and most of all, comfortable.

    Our football field was in much need of renovations, and would require families (dressed for a graduation) to sit on metal benches covered in dirt and dried soda from the previous season. Our gym, the other logical choice, also had hard wooden benches and was not air conditioned. Either of those two venues also limited each student to only invite somewhere between 2-5 guests to the event, which, for families with a handful of kids, potentially meant some were not invited.

    While I am now, and was then, not necessarily ok with the school giving money to a church, I can understand the dilemma the school board is put in. If the location of a graduation is chosen to be a church, I would just ask that it be used simply as a venue, not as place to prosthelatize to the students. This can be tough for a lead pastor of a mega church to do, I understand.

    Since I have graduated, my high school has been sued and required to build a much larger gym that is air conditioned, pretty much solely so they can comfortably do a graduation.

    Like I said, I don’t like the idea of government money going to a church, but in some cases and areas, it is the most reasonable option. And we are all for reason here…aren’t we?

  • Vanessa

    I guess I don’t see a problem with it. Its a place to have a graduation. I guess I also don’t see a real need for any of the pastors or church staff to even be there while the graduation is occurring. Can’t they just let people from the school run the graduation and stay out of it? I think that’d be the best option.

  • Usually graduations are held in secular locations, but still include some kind of prayer.

    Sometimes Christians seem like drug addicts, who just need their fix, and part of the process of getting their fix is the sharing. lol

  • Siamang

    Isn’t it sad that our churches are nicer than our schools?

    That’s what this whole thing says to me. Wow, the school can’t afford a nice space… but the Church can. And out of the Goodness of the Church’s Heart they’re willing to let the children and the families of the community use it for a $mall Fee.

    Amazing and sad what people do for a church that they won’t do for a school.

  • Josh

    See this? This is me not being suprised. Not in the least. For one thing it takes a lot of guts to stand up and fight a losing battle against people who get a standing ovation for their not-so-subtle ploy to get kids into church.

    And its important to remember this isn’t an isolated incident. This sort of blurring of boundries happens every day.

  • Silent Service


    I think most fundy Christians believe our schools should be owned by the Church. That’s why they don’t want to fund their local school. The Church can’t own it if the government does.

  • Bryce Chen

    If a lawsuit were brought on, what would be the grounds for the lawsuit?

    I don’t understand what the opposition is to holding a ceremony in a building that can accommodate lots of people.

    So what if there is a cross? What if the walls were covered in rainbows and unicorns? Or leprechauns?

  • Siamang

    Maybe if churches had to pay taxes, churches might look less like palaces and schools might look less like prisons.

  • Jeff ritter

    This doesn’t really bother me too much. Churches have long been a meeting location, in my VERY small town the nearby church is where school kids go in the event of an evacuation. Why? Practicality. It is large, solid safe structure. Close enough to walk to but far enough to be away from the danger that forced evacuation. The basement can hold everyone in bad weather. Also, the church pastors are under strict rules, they’re not allowed to talk to the kids other than a greeting. No preaching is allowed. Fo the safety of my kids I am cool with this arrangement. In this case it appears to have become more about religion and less about the academic accomplishment being celebrated, where is that graduate that spoke out about school prayer? A student like him thanking god that he is an atheist wild be great!! And if the school is saving money don’t hate them for it. If the church or pastor speak in a religious fashion then hit them all up for that.

  • Kell

    I live in Georgia, so I have seen the local news of this story. The school board disregarded the threat of the lawsuit because multiple groups stepped forward and said that they would cover any legal fews that resulted. I take this as an ignorant position, as they are just disregarding the issues behind the now probable lawsuit.

    I have to agree with the “Eh”thiest though. My brother’s graduation this past spring was held at a local non-denominational fellowship and thankfully no reference to religion was made during the ceremony, except for one of the students thanking god in their speech. This was the case for his ceremony but I know that in most cases that would not happen.

    Most of the local schools use this location as it is a large enough venue to contain all of the students and families. If not they would have to go to the Energy Center, the same venue alternative as Cherokee County would have to.

    If they want to continue to use these religious venues, a set of rules need to be put in place. These need to prohibit the mention of anything religious by school officials and members of the hosting location. And if these are broken hefty fines or some other form of penalty needs to be incurred.

  • Steve

    If it were purely secular, yeah sure. Why not? But you just know that these types of people will hold some kind of service or at least a prayer.

  • Hypatia’s Daughter

    Sigh. It is no wonder that the religious can’t grasp the principle behind this issue when so many nominally atheist poster’s here shrug there shoulders & say “No big deal.”
    Yes, the churches usually have the biggest & the best facilities in a community – because they coerce money out of people using the fear of God; they don’t pay taxes on the property they own & the income they bring in; and their members get an income tax deduction on the money they give to the church.
    Meanwhile, these same people are fighting any taxation that might enable the community to build facilities available to all in the community.
    With secular authorities put between this rock & a hard place, in steps the church, who will solve their problem out of “Xtian goodwill”. Anyone who questions the appropriateness is accused of being an anti-Xtian, militant atheist. Because nobody wants to look sour & ungrateful, churches get away with pulling this shtick all the time.

  • Demonhype

    @Hypatia’s Daughter:

    Well said. Thank you! I was waiting for someone to say that. It’s amazing how many ways people miss the Wedge-Document-Effect in motion, not just with religion but in all areas of society.

    Might I remind people of certain church/state violations that the court decided to continue because “no one really complained for ten/fifty/one hundred years”. (Never mind that such a complaint would be a virtual death sentence to the individual at those times, and only now are some of those threats lifting sufficiently for someone to fight back). Silence is perceived as assent, even enforced silence, and oppressors will be all too happy to use it as justification for continuation (and sometimes an extension or increase) of that oppression. The only difference is that those people stayed silent for fear of serious physical/social/economic repercussions and people now stay silent due to some kind of “virtuous” apathy.

    Seriously, I keep thinking of these arguments I have with my mom about various government violations of constitutionally protected rights. She just goes “meh, who cares, I’ll worry when they happen and I get taken away in chains”. And then she behaves as if my passion makes me “just as bad” as the other side, while she is a superior virtuous being for not caring at all. It is so hard to not scream at her. So you have hard-won recourses at your disposal right now to nip this in the bud and keep it from happening and protect your rights, but meh, I’ll just sit on my thumbs, let them pass the odious legislation, and only worry when they actually come to install the cameras in my home or drag me away for the offense of saying Saint Palin is a gibbering moron.

    And there is no virtue in not giving a damn until the offense is sufficiently egregious. Egregious offenses begin with coy little wedging attempts, little tests to see what they can get away with, then to see how far they can extend those violations (warrantless drug testing for jobs that require “safety”, then extending it to the point where to work almost anywhere* you have to submit to such no-cause internal monitoring and has begun to extend even further into mandatory physicals to work at a grocery store or like the University of Akron’s policy of requiring job applicants to give them a DNA sample for them to keep on record at their disposal (thank the FSM for the ACLU, but it still needs watching because it will come up again)–and because it has been so slowly blended into society, people who otherwise would have fought this just go “meh, it’s no big deal” when it actually is. Or the people who have no problem being stripped and groped at airports and have made it clear that the inevitable future cavity searches will be a small price to pay–if they’d sprung this TSA shit on people right away, it might not have gone over well, but since they crept it up with ever-increasing violations, you have plenty of people saying “sure, I’ll bend over” and the rest will eventually follow suit and make up all manner of excuses to assuage their guilty conscience at selling out their rights, just like with a certain unethical corporate practice).

    And it’s become pretty obvious that if you don’t take a firm hand and draw the line clearly and enforce it properly, they take that as an indication to keep the violations coming. They take it as an admission that you are weak and that they are winning. You don’t fight the security theater now, you become corporate/government property eventually. you don’t fight the religious to defend the C/S separation and you find yourself in a theocracy. In both cases, these people do not accept defeat, they do not take no for an answer, they never take a day off, and they never take prisoners. There is no compromise with such people because for them, compromise means “bide your time, find ways to chip at it until then”. Even in a supposed truce, you have to keep a careful eye on them.

    Kind of like that thing about the frog in the boiling pot. They know that an overtly religious ceremony or violation would get a big reaction and would be indefensible, but if they start small and work their way up….well, the meh-atheists will act like the “angry” atheists are just “angry” for no reason, and lend a perceived credence to the religiotard side (see, these “good” atheists–ie. the apathetic ones–don’t care, why are you such an angry bastard?). In the end, the only winners are the churches.

    *There are some companies remaining with a sense of ethics and a respect for the dignity and rights of the worker. They’re hard to find, but you can find them if you look. And I won’t do business with any others.

  • Eric Brazell

    Y’all I am a senior at Sequoyah (one of the schools that uses this facility) there are no other venues within a 10 mile area that are non-religious that will allow for the students to have all the family that they want to come.

    We have the smallest theater and the football field would limit the students to 2 family members max (which is not fair to divorced/remaried families and little siblings)

    we see it as a facility for graduation where we can have friends and family come and if you cant see it that way I have one question…

    What does your small intestine look like because you obviously have your head shoved that far up your ass

  • Eric Brazell

    Also the “religious speech” is solely a video that is thanking people for coming and using the venue and is sending an invitation to come to the service it is meant as a good housekeeping gesture “Y’all come back now ya hear?”

    The teachers do not mention God at any point (I have gone for the past 3 years).

    A good friend of mine is Hindu and he nor his sister(class of 2010) and family have any issue with the venue of the video.

  • All five high schools in Cherokee County held their graduation ceremonies this past weekend at FBCW to little fanfare aside from the expected jubilant fervor one would expect from the Class of 2011 reaching a major milestone in their lives.

    AU is certainly welcome to engage in any legal action they wish. Cherokee County GA is prepared to deal with that situation should it arise.

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