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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. GetOverIt

    So, those who don't know all the facts, like me, feel it's their right to judge. Funny, that's one of the tenants of the Christian church – don't judge – let judges and God do that. I'm thankful they found someplace where they can accommodate all the people who want to come and celebrate the students graduating. If the option is have only two guests be allowed to attend but have it at the National Guard Armory or in the high school gym OR have it at a church and be allowed ten guests, what do you think makes the most sense to the most people?

    January 22, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
  2. Cherokee County Resident

    Hey, Chuck In Jasper, Kennesaw is in Cobb County not Cherokee. My son graduated from this venue two years ago and my daughter is scheduled to graduate from a Cherokee County school this May, I don't care where they hold it; a Mosque, synagogue, or church. Other venues that will hold the amount of people attending have been looked at but are too expensive. The school pays $2000 per school to use the church other venues this size in the area charge $40000. I'm proud of the school board and their willingness to fight for this and stand behind them 100%.

    January 22, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
  3. alm122

    AWESOME! The Chinese have stolen the technology for a 5th generation stealth fighter which they unveil at the same time Secretary of Gates visits China. The Chinese dictator has no idea it was unveiled. Obama hires the CEO of GE who has sold classified secrets. WE are about to hit our debt ceiling again. The President of Afghanistan is one running the second most corrupt government in the world. And what are we concerned with? The location of graduation. Rock on!

    January 22, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
  4. edr

    I wouldn’t go to a protestant church, I’m Catholic. Why go to a place that I believe doesn’t like me or the Holy Mother Church. I will always stand with Irish Catholics.

    January 22, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
    • Tam

      A bit narrow-minded? You're an insult to other Irish!

      January 22, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
  5. Edwin

    The more I think about this issue, the more I realize that the problems are in the implementation, not the idea. If this is the best building for the graduation, it may in fact be a great idea. But effort should be taken to downplay the religious aspects of the venue.

    I have attended events in many churches, and the tone varies greatly. There are events I will never attend again, because I felt very uncomfortable by the overt religious paraphernalia and such. There are others where I would never have known it was even a house of worship if I had not seen the name on the directions to the place.

    The devil is in the details, so to speak. And CNN has not provided many - it costs time and energy to provide those details, and they tend to lessen the conflict (which is contrary to CNN's bottom line).

    There SHOULD be people looking into this. But they should have actual facts, not outrage, to back up their decisions.

    January 22, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
  6. Ray B

    Once again, anti-Christian blowhards from liberal elite cities (ie Washington DC) want to tell the residents of Georgia how to live. I live in Cherokee County Ga....the only location available that can hold the number of people attending this graduation is Woodstock Baptist...it is huge (like an arena) and makes perfect sense. Some here say double standard? I think not. This is and always has been a predominiately Christian Nation. Why there is any concern over this is ridiculous...as the left likes to say about their immoral movies, it you don't like it, don't watch....same here, if you don't like it, don't attend, but why anyone would have an issue is beyond me.

    January 22, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
  7. CEL1

    Being a Christian of another denomination, I find it offensive that it is held EVERY year at a Baptist Church. If they are going to have it in churches, they should rotate it among the churches in the county. And, if there is a mosque or synagogue, those should be in the rotation, too. Separation of church and state arguements will come to an end when the government agrees to end separation of church and state and starts taxing the revenue stream of every church. It needs to happen. Oh, and government needs also, to end the flow of USD via churches to foreign countries under the guise of "Foreign Misions".
    I can hardly wait for the end of separation of church and state, we need the tax dollars.

    January 22, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
    • Tam

      Maybe the Baptists have the biggest building? It's a matter of SPACE!

      January 22, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
  8. PS

    I am an atheist who believes in the separation of church and state. However, if they cover the crosses/religious symbols, avoid attempts at converting people, and don't discriminate, then I don't have a problem with graduation being held in a church.

    I do agree with the double standard, though. If this was a mosque, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and Sarah Palin would be furious!

    January 22, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
    • Edwin

      PS,

      It is probably a moot point. American mosques are typically in larger communities (which have other venues available) - or are too small to hold large ceremonies.

      January 22, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      PS ,

      No more furious than the bloggers I am reading now. I am a conservative but Christian first! I would say who cares if they get furious, I don't ! This matter is NOT their concern either! !

      January 22, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
  9. mauricio cardona

    God blesssss america

    January 22, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
  10. Jerry

    Is the church "donating" use of the building or is the school board renting it? Not one cent of taxpayer money should go into the coffers of an organization that preys on the weak-minded, the fearful, and the delusional like a church, (or the Democratic Party, really.) Giving them tax dollars does, indeed, violate the "establishment clause", which is as much about freedom FROM religion as it is about freedom OF religion. Giving our tax dollars to a church and forcing kids to enter a religious edifice if they want to be part of the graduation ceremony is akin to a Republican being FORCED to join a Communist organization (i.e. "union",) to get or to keep a job and to let them steal his hard-earned money from his paychecks so they can spend it trying to get Democrats elected! (This practice was found unlawful, forcing the unions to give the proletariat (workers) an "opt-out" on allowing any portion of their stolen cash to be spent on politics.)

    If the church donates use of the building and removes or covers all religious artifacts I suppose it would be acceptable. I'll still enter a temple of lies when someone who matters to me is getting married or buried. As long as no tax money ended-up in the preacher's grubby li'l hands I suppose I could sit through a graduation ceremony. Otherwise, I'd have to be outside picketing.

    January 22, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
    • Ken from Omaha

      Some things to consider. If you had any understanding of any religeon, you would understand that the "church" is the body of people that form to do whatever worship they support, not the building per-say. Also, The members did a very stately process of voting on this. It's not being forced down anyone throat. Isn't that what our freedom is about? Letting people choose what they want? They chose unanimously to hold it there, not one objection. Sure tax payer money is going to the owners of that building but isn't it doing more "public" good to only pay $2500 for the building as opposed to $14000 for a "publicly neutral" building? It's funny that you mentioned Communist organization. Isn't that what communist do? Tell people what they can and can't do? Not allow them to vote on what they want?

      January 22, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
  11. DN

    Let the parents decide if they are ok with this or not. If the parents vote unanimously in favor, then so be it.

    The school board and all the others who don't live there and don't have their kids attending the schools around there, respect the parents' choice and don't complain

    January 22, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
    • Edwin

      DN,

      Asking parents in a small community to speak up for their beliefs puts them at risk - for ostracizing, at the very least (but probably vandalism and threats of violence). Their kids may well be beat up at school (and clearly the school board is not going to be anxious to stop it).

      It is dangerous, in many small communities, to go against the flow. You ask people to put themselves at risk to defend their rights. That is not reasonable.

      January 22, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      Edwin,

      If what you say is the case then I would add that behavior would not be Christian at all. Why does everyone assume the worst?

      January 22, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
  12. someoneelse

    The separation of state and church was what finally allowed society to stop fighting as much (cause we sure still do, especially about religion) and aided the progression of science and culture. Let's not step backwards.

    January 22, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
  13. eufauxria@yahoo.com

    My daughter's charter school rents rooms/space within an Assemblies of God church, but they are legally not affiliated. whats the difference in this case? I'm not offended in my case and I am not a member of the church. People need to get a different hobby and let these kids celebrate their graduation.

    January 22, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
    • Edwin

      As long as the religious paraphernalia is removed from the area prior to the ceremony, there is no problem. But the church in question kept its large crosses up, and the minister apparently opened the ceremony (according to others on this blog).

      The devil (so to speak) is in the details, not in the overall concept.

      January 22, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
  14. Smokey

    My graduation was in a church, and rightly so. Nobody made a stink about it. The modern concept of "freedom of religion" is so far from that originally intended by the Founders, it is hard to make sense of how a high court which claims to follow the philosophy of "strict construction" could possibly endorse it. "Freedom of religion" is supposed to protect faith from the overwhelming influence of the state, not to allow the state to intervene in matters of faith whenever it expands its insidious reach so far as to bring new areas under its authority! "Freedom of religion" as it is understood and defined today is a devious example of Orwellian doublespeak; what it really means is the "Establishment" (in exactly that legal sense of the word) of secularism as the official worldview of the American government and indeed of all public matters.

    January 22, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
    • Edwin

      Smokey,

      Freedom of religion is supposed to protect faith from the influences of state, as you stated. But this is not a case of faith needing protection, at least not christian faith. It is a case where non-christians are forced to go to a christian house of worship in order to proceed with a GOVERNMENT ceremony.

      Can you *honestly* say you would feel as comfortable if the ceremony had been held in an Islamic mosque??? If you can truly say you would have welcomed a graduation ceremony in a mosque or jewish temple, then your argument might have merit. Otherwise it is hypocrisy.

      January 22, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
    • Jerry

      Actually, you're completely wrong. The "Establishment clause" was not intended to protect religions from undue government influence, it was intended to protect THE PEOPLE from religion. It's sole purpose and intent was to prevent the government and/or any religious group from being in a position to force beliefs on the citizenry. Most nations of the period had established State Religions and were extremely intolerant of any who held different beliefs. The State-sponsored persecution of these "heretics" led many of them to escape to the Americas and the fear of such happening here – especially when there was nowhere left to escape to – is what led to the clause. It's as much about freedom FROM religion as it is about freedom OF religion.

      January 22, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
  15. Jeepers

    I'm not at all religious, and I strongly believe in the separation of church and state...including taxpayer funded education...but I really see no problem with this. It may be that's the place with the most seating in the town. It's just a building...as long as it doesn't turn into a religious ceremony, I think it's no big deal.

    January 22, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
  16. Stacey

    As long as there are no religious rites or ceremonies or literature being imposed on the event or on the people attending, it should be okay. Perhaps it is a space issue, I don't know.

    I have heard of Muslim groups having to pray in church halls while their mosques are being renovated. It's not that big of a deal for them because the church hall was just a space. No Christians were trying to convert them. The two groups understood each others' needs and accommodated, because there was friendly communication. And in the end, it probably made for better relations.

    My point is, we should let the groups involved make their own decisions based on their needs and mutual understanding. A group in DC should not interfere with what's going on between two groups in Georgia. And if there is religious interference, let's allow those who are graduating and their school decide what they need to do.

    January 22, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
  17. Lilarose

    And they MUST allow me to give the prayers. My OWN prayers. Just the way I want to say them! They have decided to go religious and it has to be MY religion, no one elses.

    January 22, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
  18. RIALgal

    We vote in churches all over the country. What's the difference?

    January 22, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
    • Lilarose

      Well, ah, gosh, gee. I have never voted in a room, no matter where it is, where they have prayers or religious study. So, what are you suggesting??????

      January 22, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
    • RIALgal

      I'm suggesting that a room is a room, a space they are using, not a place where they have prayers or religious study going on at the same time as the graduation or election. I too would object if preaching were included in the graduation ceremony or if voters were approached by the church. The fact of using the building does not imply anything other than it's a big enough space for the gathering. I once voted in a church of a different denomination from mine and guess what - it didn't rub off and my vote counted! As kids might say, period, end of story.

      January 22, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
    • WillJ

      I believe, Lilarose, that what RIALgal is suggesting is that the states and federal government see no violation of the separation of church and state by allowing polling places to be housed in churches during elections. This is a good point, seeing as how the most basic display of our political environment occurs during elections. If the deeply political act of electing government officers while in a church building is not seen as being a marriage of state and religion, then how can holding a public school commencement in a church be a problem? If there are no religious prayers or doctrinal teachings foisted upon the students, then what are we offended by? A building? If so, then I fear that America has indeed become much too sensitive.

      January 22, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
    • RIALgal

      Thanks, WillJ, that's exactly what I was trying to say. We truly are getting too sensitive about things that don't matter. The "my way is the right way and everyone else is wrong" mentality these days is troubling at best. We can't all be right!

      January 22, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
    • Edwin

      When people vote in churches (as they do in many places), the voting booths are set up in rooms other than the primary worship rooms. It is a far different thing to go to a back room of a church to vote and to go to a prayer hall for a graduation ceremony.

      I sing in a private choir. We perform almost exclusively in churches (because of acoustics). I can tell you honestly, there is no way these large rooms can be mistaken for other than worship rooms. I would NEVER let my daughter go through a taxpayer-based PUBLIC ceremony in any of these types of rooms.

      January 22, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
    • WillJ

      Edwin,

      I assume you have visited every polling place in the U.S. during an election year? If you did, you would have noticed that my hometown in Maryland has voting booths set up in a small room of the local church where crosses and religious iconography are rampantly displayed and where prayers are regularly offered. My new home town in Indiana does the same thing. The difference is that during the elections there are no parishioners, priests, ministers, rabbis, or imams offering prayers or giving sermons. As I stated earlier, I am an Atheist and am not offended by religious icons. They hold no mystical power nor possess the ability to alter my state of mind in such a way as to make me magically profess to being a Christian, Muslim, Jew, etc. Atheism/Agnosticism is quickly becoming an organized "religion" in its own right by trying to persuade all people that it is the only true philosophical position that any rational person can take. This seems to sound very familiar to me as it almost smacks of the mentality of the Dark Ages church...how ironic. Let's stop trying to go on the offensive so much and try to better our society, which was the original point of the Enlightenment.

      January 22, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      Not just voting but how many times have you seen politically liberal candidates stumping in predominantly "black" churches and no one said a word! I will guarantee the group pursuing the lawsuit is liberal! Talk about double standard! I can hear it now...what about Huckabee? What about Huckabee? As a licensed minister, Mike Huckabee was not stumping but instead preaching!

      January 22, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
  19. AlexSD

    This is just sick! Church should stay out of schools. Those people who say opposite are brainwashed.

    January 22, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      No more brain washed than those who oppose!

      January 22, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
  20. Rob

    The story doesn't make clear whether they are simply using the church facility for the graduation, or whether their is an accompanying religious component to the ceremony. If it is the former, I have no problem with it. However, if there is a prayer service or something similar, then it is clearly illegal and the school board deserves to be sued.

    January 22, 2011 at 6:32 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.

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