School graduations in church ruled unconstitutional
A federal judge has ruled that a Connecticut school system’s practice of holding high school graduation ceremonies in a Christian church is unconstitutional and that a different venue must be found.
The decision Monday by Judge Janet Hall was made in a suit against the Enfield Public School district, which had scheduled to hold the commencement of two schools, Enfield High and Fermi High, at First Cathedral Church in Bloomfield on June 23 and 24.
Hall ruled that use of the church for graduation violates the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, which forbids any part of the government from endorsing a religion. Holding graduation ceremonies in an identifiable church would effectively mean that the school system was endorsing a religion, she ruled.
Enfield High held graduation at the church in 2008 and 2009; Enrico Fermi High for the last three years. Schools in several other districts had also been doing so for years despite complaints from some families about the numerous religious symbols and banners inside the church.
Some of the symbols were to be covered, but others could not be. In fact, Hall ruled that the Enfield school district's involvement in covering up religious symbols constituted an intrusion into religious matters that was not constitutional.
This year, members of the Enfield Board of Education had agreed not to use the church, along with four other school districts, but lobbying from a religious organization, the Family Institute of Connecticut, persuaded them to change their minds.
The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Connecticut and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a suit on behalf of two Enfield High seniors and three of their parents, arguing that the graduation plan violated the First Amendment .
The complaint said there are many secular facilities in the area, including some that compare favorably to the cathedral in terms of cost, size and distance from Enfield.
Schools paid $9,200 to use the cathedral while at least one other comparable site was more than $5,000 less, according to Hall's ruling.
Said the ruling:
Based upon its findings, the court concludes, on the record before it, that the [defendants] have clearly demonstrated a likelihood of irreparable harm in the absence of the injunction and a substantial likelihood of success on the merits that holding the graduation ceremonies at First Cathedral violates the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
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| June 1, 2010; 4:00 AM ET
Categories: High School | Tags: commencement and church, enfield graduation, enfield high school and graduation, enfield schools, federal judge rules on graduation in church, fermi high school and graduation, graduation and church and unconstitutional, graduation and establishment clause, graduation in church, judge declares graduation in church unconstitutional, judge janet hall, judge janet hall and schools, judge rules about graduation, ruling on graduation in church
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