Seventh Circuit Review


Interpreting the ten words that make up the Establishment Clause and applying them in the context of public schools has frustrated the U.S. Supreme Court and consequently confused lower courts. The Seventh Circuit's recent opinion in Doe ex rel. Doe v. Elmbrook School District illustrates the quagmire that is modern Establishment Clause jurisprudence.

For years, Elmbrook School District held their high school graduation ceremonies in a nearby church. In 2010, students and parents of children who attended Elmbrook School District filed suit, arguing that holding graduation in a church violates the Establishment Clause. Sitting en banc, the Seventh Circuit held for the first time that the "overwhelming religiousness" of the church's atmosphere constituted an unconstitutional endorsement of Christianity, and by extension, coercion thereof.

This Comment discusses the errors the Seventh Circuit made in its application of the endorsement and coercion tests, and argues that the "religiousness" of a particular space cannot form the basis of an endorsement of religion, nor cause religious coercion. Further, this Comment recommends that the U.S. Supreme Court formulate comprehensive Establishment Clause analyses to assist lower courts that currently conduct exhausting and meandering analyses using three different tests.

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