Court to Reconsider Church-Held Graduation

     CHICAGO (CN) - A full 10-judge panel of the 7th Circuit will rehear arguments on whether a Wisconsin high school violated the First Amendment by holding graduation ceremonies in a church.
     The Elmbrook School District has held graduation ceremonies at Elmbrook Church, a nondenominational Christian parish in Brookfield, for years. The school district said the building's use was intended to provide comfort and space, not to promote Christianity.
     Responding to First Amendment concerns, Superintendent Matt Gibson asked the church to cover its large cross in the sanctuary above the graduation stage. The church refused and a lawsuit followed, filed by nine pseudonymous plaintiffs, sponsored by Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
     Last September, a divided three-judge panel ruled in favor of the Elmbrook School District, finding that the use of rented church space was "neither impermissibly coercive nor an endorsement of religion."
     Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook and Judge Kenneth Ripple made up the majority in the original decision. Judge Joel Flaum wrote a 13-page dissent, concluding that the ceremony's location "has had the unfortunate side effect of fostering the very divisiveness that the establishment clause was designed to avoid."
     On Thursday, the court agreed to rehear the case. No date for oral arguments has been announced.
     The ACLU, American Jewish Committee, American Center for Law and Justice and Alliance Defense Fund all filed amicus briefs in the case.