Enfield Stops Holding High School Graduations In Local Christian Church

Jul 20, 2012

Earlier this week the Enfield Board of Education agreed to stop holding high school graduation ceremonies in a local Christian church. The settlement ends a lawsuit brought on behalf of two students and three parents.

In 2010, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction halting plans by the town of Enfield to hold high school graduation ceremonies at First Cathedral Church in Bloomfield. The court found it would unconstitutionally endorse religion and be coercive to students and families. First Cathedral is an evangelical mega-church with large crosses built into the structure.

But the case continued, and became a hot political issue in Enfield. 

Last year there were changes to the school board. And on Wednesday, members voted to accept a settlement proposal ending litigation. 

Alex Luchenitser is associate legal director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

"Both the court’s ruling and this settlement protects the rights of the religious minorities and protects them from having a religious environment unwillingly imposed upon them as a price of attending their own graduation."

The insurance company for Enfield’s school board hammered out the agreement,  and told members they could accept the settlement or begin to pay their own legal expenses moving forward.  

School Board chairman Tim Neville says members made the right decision.

"It would have been in my mind, and I think in many of their minds, financially  irresponsible to continue the case because it was already up to a little over a million dollars. If it were to proceed, it could get into the millions of dollars."

"My reaction is, it’s a shame"  Vincent McCarthy, attorney for the Enfield School board, says they had a good case.  "..and a case that would be a winning case.  But I understand what they did. They really had no choice."

David McGuire, staff attorney for the ACLU of CT says the case will be remembered.  

"...a reminder that there clearly is a separation between church and state that benefits both the government and religion."

And he says its important to remember that there would have been similar concerns had graduation ceremonies been held at any house of worship.