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Cherokee lawsuit targets church graduations
Hall schools' ceremonies similar to those mentioned in suit
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Last school year, the Free Chapel Worship Center in Gainesville was the venue of choice for graduation ceremonies for every high school in the Hall County school system.

"It's a very large venue and parents can get unlimited tickets," Hall County Schools spokesman Gordon Higgins said. "Folks appreciate that it accommodates everyone."

But a potential lawsuit in Cherokee County, concerning that school system's use of a church for graduation ceremonies, could complicate this decision in the future.

Atlanta media outlets reported that Cherokee officials say they save thousands of dollars by holding their ceremonies at the Woodstock First Baptist Church, rather than a secular venue.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a Washington-based organization, argued that holding the ceremonies in the sanctuary violates the constitutional rights of those who might not be Christian and it threatened a lawsuit.

Higgins said the dispute in Cherokee County isn't a concern for Hall County school leaders at this time.

"We don't know how this will translate into other areas; it's hard to say," Higgins said. "If there is a complaint from the community, we will address it as we always do. The evaluation will go from there. We won't make any decisions based on what goes on in Cherokee."

For years, the school district has held ceremonies at Free Chapel, which can provide space for about 3,200 people. Higgins said the former venue, the Georgia Mountains Center, was smaller and had seating for about 2,000.

"Each year, they would have to turn a number of people away because of limited space," Higgins said.
There have been no protests from community members about the use of the church for ceremonies, Higgins said. He added the church does not play a part in graduations.

"There are no solicitations," Higgins said. "They are respectful of the people who come."

The organization has sued school systems in Connecticut and Wisconsin over the same issue, according to its website. The group won one case and lost the other. Both cases have been appealed.

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