DOES v. Enfield
What's at Stake
In the spring of 2010, officials at the Connecticut-based Enfield Public Schools decided to hold their graduation ceremonies at First Cathedral, a Christian church. The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Connecticut and Americans United for Separation of Church and State brought a lawsuit in federal court charging that the Enfield Public Schools’ decision is an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.
First Cathedral features a wide variety of Christian iconography. The stage where students would receive diploma packets is surrounded by a 25-foot-tall cross, banners reading “Jesus Christ Is Lord” and “I am GOD” and seven symbols representing Jesus. The facade of the church features five large Christian crosses and another large cross towers over its roof. The church’s lobby contains a fountain in the shape of a cross surrounded by a frame in the shape of a tomb. Large-screen televisions throughout the sanctuary display the message, “This is God’s House Where Jesus Christ Is Lord,” while students and guests wait for the ceremony to begin.
The groups brought the legal action on behalf of two Enfield High School seniors and three of their parents. The lawsuit asserts that holding commencement at First Cathedral violates the separation of church and state and the religious liberty rights of students.
The legal team handling the case includes Luchenitser, Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan and Steven Gey Fellow Devin M. Cain of Americans United; Legal Director Sandra J. Staub and Staff Attorney David J. McGuire of the ACLU of Connecticut; and Daniel Mach, Director of the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.
Status: On May 31, a federal judge declared that the Enfield Public Schools’ plan to hold high school graduation ceremonies at a Christian church is unconstitutional, and ordered the school board to find an alternative venue.