Graduations held at church deemed unlawful

ENFIELD -– A federal judge has declared that the Enfield Public Schools’ plan to hold high school graduation ceremonies at a Christian church is unconstitutional, and has ordered the school board to find an alternative venue. The graduation plans were challenged in court by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Connecticut and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

“We are pleased that the court has found that holding a public high school graduation ceremony in an overtly religious setting is inappropriate when comparable secular facilities are available,” said Andrew Schneider, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut. “The Enfield Schools’ plan to hold the ceremonies in a church created an unnecessary divisive atmosphere for what should be a positive and inclusive event for all students.”

The groups brought the legal action on behalf of two Enfield High School seniors and three of their parents. The lawsuit challenged plans to hold commencement at First Cathedral, a Bloomfield church replete with religious signs and symbols, including at least three large crosses that could not be covered or removed for graduation.

The complaint pointed out that there are many secular facilities in the area that the Enfield Schools could use, including a number that compare favorably to the cathedral in terms of cost, size and distance from Enfield. At least three of those facilities have been holding open the June 23 and 24 dates of the graduations for the Enfield Schools just in case the venue needed to be changed.

Members of the Enfield Board of Education at first joined four other schools in agreeing to not use the church for graduations. But they changed their minds last month following heavy lobbying from a religious organization.

Mark Silk, professor of religion in public life at Trinity College, blogged about the news on Beliefnet here.

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