Baccalaureate Services Permitted at Public High School

Alabama court rules in favor of church.

Church Law and Tax 1993-01-01 Recent Developments

Freedom of Religion

Must a public high school rent its auditorium to a church that wants to conduct a baccalaureate service for graduating seniors and their families? Yes, concluded a federal district court in Alabama. The church requested permission to rent the school auditorium since no local church was large enough to accommodate the expected crowd. The school routinely rented its auditorium to a wide variety of community groups at a fee of $200 per day, but the school board rejected the church’s request since it would involve a religious service. The church asked a court to issue an order requiring the school to rent its facility to the church for the baccalaureate service. The court agreed. It noted that when public property is opened to a wide range of community groups, it becomes a “public forum,” and as such it must be available to any group regardless of the content of its speech. The court concluded that the school had created a public forum by making its auditorium available to a wide range of community groups, and accordingly it could not deny the same privilege to a church solely on the basis of the religious nature of the intended use. Verbena United Methodist Church v. Chilton County, 765 F. Supp. 704 (M.D. Ala. 1991).

See Also: Use of Public Property for Religious Purposes

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