On June 16, 2014, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to Northern California's Los Gatos Union School District after it had been contacted by a resident regarding the “troubling” use of Calvary Church in Los Gatos, California, for Raymond J. Fisher Middle School’s 2014 graduation ceremony.
Because of the foundation’s letter, the school’s 2015 graduation ceremony was held at Oak Meadow Park, California, instead.
"Regarding the use of Calvary, unfortunately the district received notification by the Freedom From Religion Foundation citing case law against the use of facilities in churches," wrote Los Gatos Union School District Superintendent Diana Abbatti in an email. That "case law," or precedent, came only two days before the letter being sent, reported San Jose Mercury News.
The U.S. Supreme Court decided not to reconsider a federal appeals court’s ruling that a Wisconsin public school district was acting unconstitutionally by holding high school graduation ceremonies in a church. The court essentially endorsed the lower court’s decision that civil ceremonies cannot be held in religious settings, even if the choice was made to accommodate the audience, USA Today reports.
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled that “the same risk that children in particular will perceive the state as endorsing a set of religious beliefs is present both when exposure to a pervasively religious environment occurs in the classroom and when government summons students to an off-site location for important ceremonial events.”
Abbatti wrote: "The district has been advised by legal counsel that the district must find alternative, appropriate and secular locations for student-related activities. The district did what was best for its students, using its financial resources to support student programs and not pursue litigation.”
The foundation did not threaten to sue the school, but the letter cited the Supreme Court’s decision to not hear the Wisconsin case.
“I am an atheist, and many of the people I have spoken to aren't Christian or religious and are angry we cannot use Calvary or have any input over the decision,” said Terry McBriarty, a parent of a child at the nearby Louise Van Meter Elementary School.
Part of the reason the church was being used so frequently was that the school was expanding and did not have enough space to host large gatherings, though Fisher Middle School’s gymnasium is under construction and will provide enough space for the entire student body of around 1,200 students.
Photo Source: Raymond J. Fischer Middle School