Come. Hear the echoes of human pit bulls. Drive north on I-91 in Connecticut toward Enfield, where its 44,895 residents have seen America’s secular bar mitzvah morph into a cause, a principle, a dogma, with a cast of characters including the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United For the Separation of Church and State, a state-wide family-values organization called the Family Institute of Connecticut, a federal judge, The American Center For Law and Justice – which Pat Robertson founded in 1990 as an ACLU counterweight – and a Board of Education with Gregory Stokes, a respected pastor, as its chairman. There’s been a lawsuit, a federal ruling, and an open feud between the FIC’s Executive Director Peter Wolfgang, and Rick Green, a newspaper columnist. Dedicated people – volunteers who serve their community for no pay – have been portrayed as wishy-washy, liars, conspirators, and extremists.
And oh, almost forgot: there are these kids; something about them and diplomas.
Take Exit 48 – the last before you cross the Massachusetts line – turn right on Elm Street and pass through Enfield’s business center with its Outback Steakhouse, a Denny’s, a mall, a plaza, and Asnuntuck Community College. Veer left, then slow down when the businesses fade into lawns and trees. Stop. Look to your left. There’s an elementary school and, attached on the right, the Enfield Public Schools Administration Building. The ever-earnest Wolfgang told its staffers their town is “ground zero in battles that really affect the whole nation:” heady stuff, especially since they were already struggling over finances that would eventually lead to a $62.7 million budget and the elimination of 65 jobs, 34 of which are teaching positions. Twenty six teachers are slated for layoffs; the remaining eight will retire. What’s more, a panel recently recommended the closing of one of its high schools. Such moves usually cut deep into community identity and always bring strife.
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