Civil liberties group sues New Jersey public school district for holding graduation ceremony in church

TRENTON, New Jersey: A civil liberties group has sued a public school district for holding its graduation ceremonies in a Baptist church, calling it a violation of a Muslim student’s religious freedom.

The New Jersey state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said Wednesday that the student, Bilal Shareef, did not attend his high school’s 2005 graduation ceremony at the church due to religious reasons.

The incident violated the state constitution, which prohibits public institutions from showing a preference for certain religious sects over others; compelling people to attend a place of worship; and segregating or discriminating against public school students because of their religious principles, the ACLU-NJ said in its lawsuit against the Newark school district.

“Schools should not sponsor activities that exclude some students from participation on the basis of religious belief,” said ACLU-NJ’s legal director, Ed Barocas, who is representing Shareef and his father.

Attempts by The Associated Press to reach Newark school officials on Wednesday for comment were unsuccessful.

It joins a long line of legal cases in the U.S. in recent decades that challenge practices in which public schools have become intertwined with religion such as prayer at graduation ceremonies and extracurricular activities.

The lawsuit seeks to forbid further public school ceremonies in places of worship and an unspecified award of damages to the Shareefs.

“Inshallah (God-willing), this lawsuit will ensure that students from all religious backgrounds will have their rights and religious beliefs respected,” Ahmad Shareef, the graduate’s father, said in statement released by the ACLU-NJ.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday March 8, 2007.
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