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Appeals court upholds schools' use of church for graduation ceremonies

CHICAGO - A federal appeals court panel said it was okay for two public high schools in suburban Milwaukee to hold their graduation ceremonies in a church.

Three judges on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago voted 2-1 today to strike down a legal challenge by the Americans United for the Separation of Church-and-State. The group said Brookfield East and Brookfield Central high schools violated the constitutional rights of graduating seniors, by holding their commencements in Brookfield's double-decked Elmbrook Church.

The two schools had held their graduation ceremonies in the church for almost a decade when the religious group filed suit in 2009. They said it created an atmosphere that made non-Christians uncomfortable. But a federal district judge in Milwaukee upheld the practice - and so did the appellate panel. It said the graduates were not forced to take part in anything that resembled religion - and the ceremonies themselves were completely secular.