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Liberty Counsel sent a demand letter to Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) regarding the district’s new discriminatory and unconstitutional “policy” that is forcing schools to now cancel their graduations held at church facilities even though these schools have held graduations at religious facilities for years.

As a result, several schools including Chets Creek Elementary School, Hendricks Avenue Elementary School, and Holiday Hill Elementary School have been forced to suddenly cancel their school graduations at Chets Creek Church, Southside United Methodist Church, and Holiday Hill Church, respectively this year.

The attorney for the district’s Office of Policy and Compliance, Brian McDuffie, sent an email to all district principals on May 12, 2023 regarding the “use of religious facilities” for public school events.

McDuffie stated, “It has been the practice of Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) to highly discourage the use of religious facilities to stage public school events because of the religious entanglement and the constitutional issues raised by public school use of religious facilities. Namely, a potential violation of the Establishment Clause. Consequently, we have taken the position that schools should not use religious facilities for DCPA events. Rather, the school should use school property or a non-religious offsite for school events.”

McDuffie also wrote that “the law in the area of public school use of religious facilities is not well developed…”

Yet McDuffie cites a Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision, Doe v. Elmbrook, in which the court “decided that the environment compelled the conclusion that the district endorsed the religious message” of the church by renting a facility for a high school graduation. However, the Seventh Circuit used the legal test, known as the “Lemon Test,” that came out of the ruling in Lemon v. Kurtzman that had been used to determine if a law violates the First Amendment Establishment Clause, as a basis for its decision.

However, on May 2, 2022 in Liberty Counsel’s 9-0 victory at the U.S. Supreme Court in Shurtleff v. City of Boston the High Court unanimously rejected Boston’s use of the “Lemon Test” to censor Christian viewpoints. As a result, Boston had to pay Liberty Counsel $2.1 million for its discriminatory “policy.”

Then in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District on June 27, 2022, the High Court ruled 6-3 in favor of the high school football coach and also finally buried the court-made “Lemon Test,” citing Liberty Counsel’s 9-0 decision handed down in Shurtleff v. City of Boston involving the Christian flag.

As a result, since the “Lemon Test” is now dead and the Establishment Clause must be interpreted according to its historical intent, all the cases that relied on Lemon are no longer valid.

In addition, Liberty Counsel joined DCPS in 2001 in successfully defending a graduation prayer policy against an Establishment Clause challenge in Adler v. Duval County School Board.

Liberty Counsel’s Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Duval County Public Schools should immediately align its policies with current law and allow its schools to hold events such as graduations in church facilities. The decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court involving the Christian flag and Coach Kennedy sent a clear message that the ‘Lemon Test’ has finally been buried and government must not discriminate based on religious viewpoint. This district must comply with the law and immediately stop violating the First Amendment. Failure to comply with the law will be costly for the school district.”

Author: Liberty Counsel


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