Judge blocks public school graduation in church
A federal judge on Monday ruled that Enfield High School and Enrico Fermi High School will not be able to hold their graduations at First Cathedral, culminating a months-long debate over whether it is unconstitutional to host students' ceremonies at the megachurch, Baltimore Sun sister paper (and this blogger's first employer) The Hartford Courant reports.
The Enfield school system plans to appeal the judge's decision, Courant reporter Jenna Carlesso writes. Her report continues:
U.S. District Court Judge Janet Hall last week heard closing arguments in a legal challenge that five Enfield residents — two high school seniors and three parents — filed to block the town from renting the 3,000-seat Christian church in nearby Bloomfield. The graduations are scheduled for June 23 and 24.
In her ruling Monday, Hall wrote that the school system's decision to hold graduations at First Cathedral violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
"By choosing to hold graduations at First Cathedral, Enfield schools sends the message that it is closely linked with First Cathedral and its religious mission, that it favors the religious over the irreligious and that it prefers Christians over those that subscribe to other faiths, or no faith at all," Hall wrote. "In addition to the character of the forum, the history and context of the decision to hold the graduations at First Cathedral also support the conclusion that, in doing so, Enfield Public Schools has endorsed religion."
Vincent McCarthy, lead counsel for Enfield's public schools and senior Northeast counsel for the American Center for Law & Justice, said he will seek "an expedited appeal to the 2nd Circuit in New York."
"We will ask them to take a look at this decision and we will ask them to overturn it," he said Monday.
The Enfield Board of Education voted in April to rent First Cathedral for its graduation ceremonies. That vote prompted a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union and a group called Americans United for Separation of Church and State, seeking a court injunction to bar the town from using the church. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the two students and three parents, all requesting anonymity, who alleged that using the church was an unconstitutional endorsement of religion by government. The plaintiffs wanted the graduations held in a nonreligious setting.