Lake Norman Charter will not hold graduation at church after letter says it violates First Amendment

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Lake Norman Charter School is looking for a new place to hold its high school graduation.

Families were notified this week that graduation will not be held at Park Church.

Lake Norman Charter has had its graduation at the Charlotte church for years, but school officials received a letter from Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The letter explains that public schools exist to serve all schoolchildren regardless of faith or belief and must be welcoming to all.  It says using a church as a graduation venue, disrespects the beliefs of students and their families.

“We received a complaint from a person, a local person, who had attended the Lake Norman School graduation in the church and was worried that it was a constitutional violation,” attorney Ian Smith told us.  “So this person contacted us, we confirmed that it was a constitutional violation and wrote to the school and asked them to move it to a non-religious space.”

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The letter explains that public schools must be welcoming to all and using a church as a graduation venue, disrespects the beliefs of students and their families.

Smith, one of the attorneys for the organization, said it also violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

“The whole idea is to prevent the government from telling people how they should worship,” Smith said. “The entire purpose of a church’s right is to communicate religion to those within it, and so hosting an official school activity, especially one as important as a graduation, in a space that communicates those kinds of religious messages is unconstitutional.”

A representative from the school said they respect how everyone feels differently, saying the church has been a wonderful venue for seven years and they are saddened their relationship with the church is ending, per the advice of their legal counsel.  They said they were advised that further legal action would be too timely and costly.

Community members speaking to Channel 9 had mixed reactions.

"If they want to do their graduation in a church, then I support it 100 percent,” Audrianna Ragland said.

"I understand there’s a separation of church and state, and since it's tech a public school, I can see how that could be a problem,” said LaToya Gatling.

Smith said having heard that the school has decided to move locations, this is the end for them as far as they’re concerned.

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