WASHINGTON (RNS) — A federal judge ruled May 31 that a Connecticut school board’s decision to hold graduation ceremonies inside a megachurch was unconstitutional.
Commencements for two schools in Enfield, Conn. — Enfield High School and Enrico Enfermi High School, were to be held at The First Cathedral in Bloomfield in late June.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) joined Americans United for Separation of Church and State to represent two Enfield High School students and their parents who opposed the use of the religious venue. The school board said their decision was a matter of space and price.
“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, the executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut.
Enfield Public Schools previously joined four local schools that agreed not to use the church for graduation. However, they repealed their decision in April after “heavy lobbying from a religious organization,” according to an ACLU press release.
On May 31, U.S. District Court Judge Janet Hall said the venue would force the school district to “unconstitutionally entangle itself with religion,” especially when school officials promised to cover up religious symbols at the church. One student who filed the official complaint said the religious environment was uncomfortable and offensive.
“By requiring a graduating senior — or a parent of one — to enter First Cathedral in order to be able to participate in his or her graduation — or to watch their child graduate — Enfield Public Schools has coerced plaintiffs to support religion,” Hall said.
The decision followed three years of complaints by students at Enfield High School; last year, 90 percent of the graduating class had voted against graduation at the cathedral, according to a letter to the school board from Americans United and the ACLU.
The letter also included a list of nearby facilities that could accommodate the graduating class within the school’s budget for the summer commencement ceremonies.
— Ankita Rao
© 2010 Religion News Service. Used with permission.
Posted June 4, 2010