Group says students’ rights violated by Wis. school district’s graduations at megachurch

Wis. school district sued over church graduations

MILWAUKEE — A group of students and parents sued Wednesday to stop a Wisconsin school district from continuing to hold high school graduations in a Christian megachurch.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Milwaukee said the setting violates Elmbrook School District students’ and parents’ constitutional rights by creating an atmosphere that makes non-Christians uncomfortable.

The advocacy group Americans United for Separation of Church and State sued on behalf of a group that includes a graduating student, alumni and parents who are not Christians and had attended the ceremonies at Elmbrook Church. It has hosted the graduations of Brookfield Central High School since 2000 and Brookfield East High School since 2002.

School officials have said the church is larger and more comfortable than other buildings in Waukesha County, about 10 miles west of Milwaukee.

The lawsuit claims a large cross in the sanctuary was covered during the first graduation ceremony, but the church then decided to keep the cross uncovered because it “wants to share its facilities without compromising its identity.”

Graduates and guests must pass religious banners and symbols to enter the sanctuary. Some have read or looked through Bibles and hymnals in the pews during graduation, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit wants this year’s and future graduations moved to a secular location and seeks compensation for students and parents involved in the lawsuit who attended graduations at the church in the past.

Superintendent Matt Gibson said the schools did not have an alternative site and that he has spoken to the church about covering the cross and removing religious items.

“They’ve been willing to remove anything that’s temporary, but they haven’t been willing to remove anything permanent,” he said.

A woman in the church’s office said its leaders had not seen the lawsuit and had no comment.

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