The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Contact: (202) 466-3234,Joe Conn,Rob Boston,Sandhya Bathija

Federal Appeals Court Made Correct Call On Religion At School Graduation, Says Americans United


A federal appeals court ruled today
that officials at an Everett, Wash., school district were within their
rights to omit religious music from a graduation ceremony.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case siding with the school district, hailed the ruling.

"This is a good decision," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive
director of Americans United. "Public schools serve students from
diverse backgrounds, so it's vitally important that commencement
ceremonies be inclusive.

"Graduation is an important event, and all students and their
families should feel welcome," Lynn continued. "Public school
administrators are right to ensure that the program doesn't appear to
favor one religion over others. Hymns are appropriate for church, but
not public school graduations."

The dispute began in 2006 when students at Everett School District
No. 2 sought to perform an instrumental version of "Ave Maria," (Latin
for "Hail Mary") during graduation ceremonies.

School officials, mindful of a controversy that had erupted the year
before over religious music at graduation, removed the song from the
program and replaced it with a non-religious piece.

One of the student members of the wind ensemble, Kathryn Nurre,
subsequently sued school officials, asserting that her free-speech and
equal-protection rights had been violated.

The 9th U.S. District Court of Appeals disagreed, ruling in Nurre v. Whitehead that school officials have the right to ensure that a public ceremony like graduation does not have religious overtones.

"[T]he District's action in keeping all musical performances at
graduation 'entirely secular' in nature was reasonable in light of the
circumstances surrounding a high school graduation, and therefore it
did not violate Nurre's right to free speech," the court held.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.