Scalia: Holding Public School Graduations in Church May Offend Some, But So Does 'the Playing in Public of Rock Music'


Credit: C-Span

The U.S. Supreme Court declined yesterday to take up the case of Elmbrook School District v. John Doe. At issue was a Milwaukee public school district's practice of holding high school graduation ceremonies in a local church. According to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, that decision violated the First Amendment's stricture against the establishment of religion. "An unacceptable amount of religious endorsement and coercion occurred when the District held important civil ceremonies in the proselytizing environment of Elmbrook Church," the 7th Circuit ruled. Because the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the district's appeal, that decision by the 7th Circuit will stand.

There was, however, a dissent. Although the Supreme Court denies most cases without comment, Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, took the rare step in this case of filing a written opinion dissenting from the Court's denial. In it, Scalia made clear his sympathies were on the side of the school district and that he saw little evidence of a constitutional violation. "Some there are—many, perhaps—who are offended by public displays of religion," Scalia wrote. "I can understand that attitude: It parallels my own toward the playing in public of rock music or Stravinsky." But, he declared, "my own aversion cannot be imposed by law because of the First Amendment."