January 21st, 2011
04:04 PM ET

Georgia county's graduations to be held in a church

The Cherokee County, Georgia school board in voted unanimously Thursday to continue holding graduations at a church, with more than 200 people showing up for the vote.

For the past several years, all of North Georgia's Cherokee County high schools have held their graduations at First Baptist Church in Woodstock, but recently, a Washington, D.C.-based group threatened to sue the school district on the basis of separation of church and state.

Read the full story on WSBTV.com
- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Church and state • Georgia • Teens

soundoff (250 Responses)
  1. WillJ

    I graduated from a state university 4 years ago and the commencement for my academic program was held at a local church and has been as long as I can remember. No one has ever complained or threatened to sue. There were Muslims, Jews, Christians and a good number of atheists (including myself) among the 400+ students in my graduation ceremony and not a single one of them openly voiced any concern over graduating in a church. For us that day, our focus was on one thing: walking across that stage to get our diplomas. There was no anger, no offended parties or threats of legal action. The church was just seen as a building that served a particular purpose that day. And no, the crosses and Christian iconography were not covered up. None of us saw this as a violation of the separation of church and state and we were all Political Science students! We had more important things to worry about than a petty religious/anti-religious squabble. Why can't this be the case across the rest of the country? Incidents like this one in GA is what makes those of us with Atheistic/Agnostic views look bad to the rest of society. Let's stop trying to snuff out religion and just let people believe what they choose to believe. As long as religious doctrine is not being preached at the commencement, I really see no problem with it.

    January 22, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      Well said WillJ!

      January 22, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • Pacster

      The question is would you say the same if it was in a mosque or in some satans cult place? We are used to christian churches in our life....so we can easily ignore their religious meaning. It would be much harder for you with a religious building that you are not used to. That is where you fail to be objective/fair.
      Yes, you can likely have a decent ceremony in a grave if you are nervous/distracted enough to ignore everything around you....but if you got the choice: Is that really where you want your ceremony to be held? That's the point....

      February 7, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
  2. Mark From Middle River

    I do think it is because the event is being held in a church that has caused such a uproar in some of the athiest here. I remember a few weeks ago a old 100 year old church was in danger of defaulting on it's mortgage and some athiest here were over joyed. I mentioned how I have been to the south and these mega churches were springing up in different towns. The responce was that the end of a small church was a great sign. Never mind that the church was in the same area as at least two mega churches.

    I think what more upsets folks is that a Christian church is so massive, big and well equiped that it out classes everything the private sector and government has to offer in that area. So while they rejoice over a church in trouble with a less than 50 person congregation the growth of the mega 2000 congregation churches have cropped up.

    The issue for some athiest is not that the graduation is being held in a church but that there is a church in that town big enough to cater such a event.

    January 22, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
    • Pacster

      Yeah, but maybe you should add into your calculation that those mega-churches are this big exactly for recruiting reasons(cause they shall impress people already by size). The bigger the better.

      I don't know about american schools and townhalls...but in germany they are big enough for such events. Is that a sign of bad american infrastructure?

      February 7, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
  3. April

    As long as religion is not pushed and they are just using it as a building, what's the problem? A lot of churches in my area freely offer their basements or gyms for political votes because it is the biggest room available in town. I live in a rural area, so sometimes we have to use what we have. And no, I would not have a problem with my child's graduation being in a mosque provided that the ceremony was free from religious rhetoric.

    January 22, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
  4. pastor peaches

    As long as the grad ceromony is not being held doing church services it is not a violation of church and state. Elections are held in church bldgs all the time.I totally agree with Sammy.

    January 22, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
  5. Catie

    Oh my gosh, people, really, do you ever listen to yourselves? It is a graduation for crying out loud. Who cares if it is at a church? I seriously doubt one ceremony will convert someone to a Faith if they dont want to be converted, by mere presence. Needed, big building, available, big building, use it, ....idiots

    January 22, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
  6. Traveling Man

    i think everyone is missing a point here. the church is the only building to accomodate thousands of people. the vote went 7-0. clearly, this community all shares the same thinking and mindset. and it is in no way our business to tell them how they should think and act in there own community. it's time people for us all to accept the fact that we are not the same. at all. there should not be a federal government forcing us all to act the same and feel the same and follow the same rules. it's time for the states to leave the union and strengthen their own beliefs and communities instead of destroying them for the sake of similarity and control. it's about time, don't you think?

    if you ever travel to a foreign country, why will you never see a "america town" or "little america"? it's because there is no "American". Nobody hates americans more than americans!! we are not together on anything and i think the state barriers are a good begining for the separation of our interests so that we can begin to live "freely" again.

    January 22, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
    • Lilarose

      I think the South tried to leave the United States. It was called the Civil War (or to put it nicely, the War Between the States). I had family on both sides, unfortunately. My great great grandfather from Kansas was incarcerated at Andersonville, your illustrious murder prison. Fortunately, he survived. My gr-gr-gr-gr grandfather, Rev. John Bachman who was pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church in Charleston, was beaten by northern troops. His wife died in Columbia, having fled there to avoid the invasion of the north. Her husband never saw her alive again. My great niece and nephew are half African Americans and they are adorable, well educated, multi-lingual kids with great futures. Thank God they aren't growing up in the South!

      January 22, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • Loren

      Lilarose, are you kidding me? My sweet niece Jada is also biracial and lives in a very rural part of Georgia where she not only fits in but thrives. You people have a very skewed view of a state you know NOTHING about.

      January 22, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  7. longsuffering

    This has gotten way out of hand. It is a building, period. Having a graduation in a church building no more implies a state endorsement of religion than having a rock concert in Yankee Stadium implies the Yankees are guitarists. It's high time a judge took a stand and verbally pinned back the ears of these so-called "offended" protesters, threw them out of his courtroom, and told them to come back when they had a real issue that didn't waste the state's time and money. This has absolutely, positively, nothing whatsoever to do with freedom of or from religion. It has to do with common sense, which unfortunately has become an oxymoron. The whole bunch on both sides need to get over themselves, *shut up,* and let these students have their ceremony in the most sensible place, which in this case happens to be a building that is used, at other times and on other occasions, for church. So what.

    January 22, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
  8. CosmicC

    It's not so much about minority belief students being exposed to evangelical religious symbols as it is about the power dynamics. When political power is seen to be vested in a particular racial, religious, or social group, those outside of that group feel disenfranchised. Holding a graduation in this church aligns the school district, a governmental organization, with the church. Anyone not a member of the church will feel to be an outsider to one extent or another. Conversely, members of the church will, at some level, see the alignment of church and schools as elevating their social/political position. In cases such as this, perception is what matters.
    It does not matter if there are only a few students who are not part of the church. In fact, the smaller the minority, the more important it is to protect their rights.
    The district should do what ours does; hold the graduation in the football stadium. If it rains, then hold it in the gym and restrict the number of guests.

    January 22, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
  9. Chuck inJasper, Ga.

    This is after all Georgia. Should be enough said. The City Kennesaw in Cherokee County has a law on the books that every household must have a gun owner. Liquor stores are closed on Sunday and there are almost as many "churches" on every corner as there are Mosque's in Saudi Arabia. The "bible belt" as they refer to it. They are also some of the most ignorant, uneducated, and closed minded people I have encountered in the world. In a lot of respects quite a few of them remind me of Islamic fanatics. They just speak a different language... REDNECK.

    January 22, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • Loren

      Oh my, please leave!!!!! Its a great place to live and there are plenty of areas without crazy extremists! Also, all states have crazy uninforced laws! Arkansas has a law that says a man can beat his wife, but only once a month. Obviously if you beat your wife at all in this state they could/would bring charges against you. Your drivel is tiresome. If you hate it so much, LEAVE!

      January 22, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
  10. Mike in SA

    Good for them; at least they're graduating. Now, if they were also being sujected to prostletizing?? No.

    January 22, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  11. aintnocowboy

    I agree, the students should not be preyed upon -pun intended- by the pastor as they enter. That's crossing the line. As I see it, the rest of this conundrum is the product of some left-wing, atheist with a brother-in-law that works for the ACLU. You know the type that scream bloody murder if they feel someone is forcing their will upon another, yet it's fine for them to threaten lawsuits to force their beliefs, or lack thereof, on others. Here's a novel idea, let the kids decide. One vote per student, majority rules.It's just that simple. After all, it's THEIR party. If any object, too bad, stay home, your diploma will be mailedto you.

    January 22, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
    • Earthling

      No. Just because you are in the majority doesnt mean you should be able to subject those in the minority to your religious beliefs.

      January 22, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)


      A simple High School graduation. If there was preaching then I would agree with you. Until then take a deep breath!

      January 22, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
  12. Candy Cain

    If jesus freaks wish to be jesus freaks in their jesus freak center, then let them be jesus freaks. They will never get it anyhow.

    January 22, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      Get what?

      January 22, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • Philip

      I am a proud Jesus Freak. Jesus loves you, therefore I also love you. I don't agree with your tone or words, but I will still pray for you.

      January 22, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)


      I am a proud Jesus freak as well! God bless you , brother!

      January 22, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
    • Pacster

      And what are you praying for? A sudden sunstreak of brainwashing power?

      "I don't have to think about your words...let alone discuss them with you...as long as I can just pray for you. That's much less work for my brain cells".

      February 7, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
  13. jennifer pc

    well I don't see anything wrong in having a school event in a church they are not saying a prayer and when I was in school we always said a prayer in the morning oh wait that was until the non christen (muslims and jews) students parents complained but the teacher asked those students to pray in their own way as well so no one was left out we wanted us all to come together and have unity though religion because sometimes that's how you truly know and understand people. the problem comes when you don't want to understand you want them to be just the way you are so nothing gets complicated so nothing changes and change happens all the time. it shouldt matter if it was in a church maybe more people need to have faith in God cause the world is crappy right now and its not gonna get better with out Him. oh and to Mark from MiddleRiver ur comment about the GG and Ricky G not speaking on Islam.... well there's NOTHING funny about that religion because it breaths hate for everyone .everything I have learned about Islam has shown me that it is the most hateful religion maybe people have turned it that way but Hate and killing people is nothing to joke about and since those killings were so called done in the name of God makes it even worse because God doesn't want people to kill or judge or hate.

    January 22, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • g

      Of course, Christians have never killed in the name of their mythology, errr.. religion..

      January 22, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • Chuck inJasper, Ga.

      There is an old saying you may be familiar with.. ignorance is bliss. If not, you should be.

      January 22, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
  14. Michael Daily

    I think this issue is a genuinely legitimate conflict. They can probably rent the church pretty cheaply, but there's no way the students can graduate there without being exposed to a lot of evangelical religious symbols and ideas, which in Georgia they are already overloaded with.

    January 22, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • Catie

      Oh my and they are so young and impressionable. They are exposed to religious symbols everywhere I doubt having them at the ceremony will do any harm. Half of them will probably be wearing skull and crossbone tee shirts underneath their clothing anyway.

      January 22, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
  15. fxdidan

    more pagan believers,I wouldn't show up to my graduation if it was in a pagan place of so called worship,proud that I don't believe in any pagan gods!

    January 22, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  16. Taylor Potter

    I wish that things like this would exclude all religion. There is a need for seperation of church and state. Atleast in my opinion that is.

    January 22, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  17. sameeker

    Instead of suing, Why don't the group build and maintain an auditorium or civic center for the schools to use? There are always losers who want to start trouble. I bet the kids could care less. They are just happy to be graduating.

    January 22, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  18. TomKas

    I stopped reading posts when I realized many of you just feel better when you can tell others what they should or should not do. Even if they thousands of miles away. How pathetic?

    January 22, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • Billy

      I live and pay taxes in Cherokee County, so my opinion does matter. While I may be an atheist, I don't care if they have it in a church if needed. However, what people here don't understand is the phony requirement for 7500 seats. Cherokee HS only has < 500 kids graduating. You don't need a space that big for that many students. In fact, a place half that size would be appropriate. If you want more than 4 people per student, you need to hold it out of doors with an alternate rain date. That's an appropriate use of tax dollars.

      January 22, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  19. GJ

    This is most certainly a conflict of interest and crosses the line separating church and state. Unless this is a private, religious school–the graduation most certainly should never be held at a church. I suspect there would be an uproar even more if it were held at a mosque, temple, or the like. It makes it ok, however since the majority of the students come from Christian families? I don't think so. They should expect to be sued, and rightfully so!

    January 22, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • sameeker

      How much are you donating to the new auditorium? Let me guess, you want the taxpayers to pay for it while you tell them what to do.

      January 22, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  20. Maureen

    Everyone on this thread who complains about a school using the largest local auditorium space for its graduation, has just volunteered to donate to a fund to build and maintain an auditorium all year for this school. Of course, it'll be empty most of the time but will still have to be heated, cooled, cleaned, given security, etc. at your expense. How proud I am that you plan to supply such a savings for the local taxpayers, forever!

    January 22, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.