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ENFIELD, Conn. – The Enfield Board of Education agreed last night not to hold graduations in a church as part of a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Connecticut and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
The three organizations sued the Enfield Board of Education in May 2010 on behalf of two students and three parents who objected to holding the graduations of Enfield and Fermi high schools at the First Cathedral in Bloomfield, arguing that doing so violated the First Amendment guarantees of religious liberty.
“The school board's decision to stop holding graduations in the church will protect the rights of students and their families and will bring the community back together,” said Andrew Schneider, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut. “This assures that no one will be forced into an overtly religious setting like the First Cathedral’s sanctuary in order to attend a public school function.”
In June 2010, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction barring use of the church for graduation ceremonies. As a result, the 2010 and 2011 graduations for Enfield High School and Fermi High School were held on school grounds.
The Board of Education agreed today not to hold future graduations at the First Cathedral. The plaintiffs agreed to drop the lawsuit and a claim for nominal damages.
From 2007 through 2009, the Enfield high schools held their graduations in the Cathedral’s sanctuary, underneath a 25-foot-tall stained-glass cross and large banners reading “Jesus Christ is Lord” and “I am GOD.” The schools did so even though more than a dozen non-religious sites in the area were available to host graduation ceremonies.
“No students or their families should feel like outsiders at their own graduation ceremony,” said Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, after the settlement was announced. “The board's decision ensures that the students of Enfield can celebrate the milestone of graduation in an inclusive atmosphere.”
“Holding a public-school graduation in an intensely religious environment such as First Cathedral communicates a message of religious favoritism to students and parents,” said Americans United Associate legal director Alex J. Luchenitser. “We’re pleased that Enfield students will no longer have to choose between submitting to an unwelcome religious environment and missing their graduation ceremonies.”
The case was litigated by Mach of the ACLU; Luchenitser, Ayesha N. Khan, Devin Cain and Robert Shapiro of Americans United; and Sandra Staub and David McGuire of the ACLU of Connecticut.
More information in this case can be found at: www.aclu.org/religion-belief/does-v-enfield