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June 1, 2010

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.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 1:36 PM | | Comments (44)


So as to pre-empt those who will see this decision as "yet another attack on Christianity," let me point out three facts not included in the posting here:

1. The graduation was originally planned for a secular setting, but, under pressure from a Christian group, school authorities changed the venue to this church.

2. Alternative (secular) venues were available ... and, in fact, remain available, being held open, pending resolution of this case.

3. The church in question did not offer to host a Baccalaureate Service, perhaps because such a service would not be mandatory (and thereby perhaps sparsely attended) and perhaps because the church would have had to foot the bill (rather than receiving public funds for hosting the graduation).

Its funny. A judge rules that by a school having a graduation at a church, the school must be endorsing religion. But someone else, in the prom case, is asking a judge to rule that just because students attend a prom with a lesbian couple, one dressed in a tux, that it in no way is an endorsement of homosexuality but something that students are just going to have to put up with because otherwise it is discrimination. Do you think that sometimes people may be biased in what they ask courts to do? And people wonder why we have our coast covered in oil. We would get blessed by God more if we were obedient to Him.


Would you be as upset with this decsion, had the proposed venue been a mosque? And why is that?

And has been said before, our coasts are covered in oil because of corporate hubris and public greed, not some divine retribution for "endorsing" homosexuality.

Clay, you are starting to sound a lot like Fred Phelps on this score.

You are confused Clay. The separation of Church and State is codified in the United States Constitution. The separation of Gays and Straights is not.

It was BP that is responsible for the oil spill sweetie, not gay people or atheists.

Yes, of course people are biased when they ask the courts to intervene. That's the role of the courts Clay, to intervene in disputes like this and make decisions based on the rule of law.

And, Clay ... there is no contradiction between these two cases. Both of them uphold our SECUALR Constitution. Biblical strictures against homosexuality have no place in SECULAR civil society (including public schools). Sectarian venues are inappropriate for mandatory SECULAR public-school functions.

You seeing the pattern here, Clay?

Great comment posted by Clay. Why people don't get it is beyond me...sorry, I should say they refuse to get it. Having a graduation in a church building is not going to convert anyone to Christianity if they are not Christian. It also does not mean that the school endorses Christianity, but are looking for a good, economical space that THE STUDENTS WANT, to host graduation. And even if having graduation here, inspired some to read a Bible....well that would be a good thing, because most students are being taught evolution as fact and homosexuality as an alternative, both of which wil cause long term damage to society, ( as it has in societies in the past). Lets, see....maybe they will be influenced by "thou shalt not kill", "Thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not lie, thou shalt not steal.....and Love one another" What imbecile would say that these precepts are bad for young people and society??? The judge AND the few parents and students that caused this mess are pathetic and we need to pray for them that they wake up, and that the ACLU is taught a big lesson.

Clay, you obsequious toad, there is no provision in The Constitution about banning homosexuality in the public forum. There is, however, much that has been desided in the courts regarding the Separation Principle of the establishment Clause that does.


You might want to review the article and the three points I mentioned in my first post.

The school had a good, economical space, but changed plans to have the ceremony at the mega-church under pressure from a Christian group. Those good, economical (secular) venues remain available.

I also ask you the same question I asked Clay (but which he has yet to answer):

Would you be as upset with this decsion, had the proposed venue been a mosque? And why is that?

What's wrong with a girl wearing a tux? That seems to be a major objection of yours Clay, and a strange focus. Who cares? I don't remember Christ hating girls in tuxes. (Or spending an ounce of his very important time decrying homosexuals either.) But back to the evil tux. Is it an ill-fitting tux? A powder blue tux with black velvet piping? A tux with a mismatching cumberbund? Or just a tux with a girl inside it?

Of course I wouldnt like the graduation held in a mosque. Like I said, the Muslim nation was created by God as punishment for Abraham's misdeed. And yes, I would like the graduation held in a Christian church. If someone was influenced in a good way, so what? Thing is though the school cannot be said to endorse religion because the graduation is held in a church. Unfortunately, there are probably plenty of people connected to the school who dont go to church. Thanks.

Bankstreet - I agree with the court's decision and I don't view it as an attack on Christianity. I do have some questions about your three facts.

I looked at several articles and never saw any mention of any Christian group pressuring the school board. In fact one indicated that the church had been used in the past for graduations.

While secular venues were available what I read said they were comparable. the school system claimed the church was the cheapest. I have no clue if that is correct or not.

I never saw anything mentioning Baccalaureate Service. I didn't think public schools even held them anyway since they tend to be religious celebrations.

Any chance you could give me a link to where your information came from. Thanks.

Aside from the Constitutional issue, why did the blog omit details such as those noted by BankStreet? Since this blog is hosted by a newspaper it is a shame that it does not provide more complete information.

I have to say, that it's a little like a trainwreck in here. I just can't turn away from the festival of irony.
Love, love, love. We are all deserving of respect, love, dignity and freedom.

Perhaps if you were forced to go to a graduation in a church and forced to pray in that church, that may be unconstitutional....however, how in the world can using a church building to house a graduation be unconstitutional? Are the homeless shelters that provide food and lodging for the needy unconstitutional because the majority of them are funded and run by churches? Smarten up people....the constitution protects us being subjected to having a national religion forced upon us.....and you should all be thankful, because there is a rapidly growing population that would love to force conversion on us...and it certainly isn't Christianity......enough with the political's weak and unAmerican. I say have the graduation at the church, who is going to stop them? Don't lay down for this nonsense....tell anyone who doesn't like it, not to come.
Enough is enough.

This was my source:

I am on the hunt for a more "objective" source. The Baccalaureate reference was not part of the news story, but was an observation of someone commenting on the Americans United press release.

Peggy, are among those who think mingling state functions (e.g., public schools) with religion is OK, so long as that religion is Christianity? Fortunately, the First Amendment to our Constitution (which you, ironically, seem to think protects you from non-Christian "invasion") takes a dim view of such coziness...and makes no distinction between faiths.

Actually, ravensfan, the Court's ruling itself

speaks to some of those issues, specifically, the lobbying by The Family Institute of Connecticut and The American Center for Law and Justice (which, apparently was itching for a fight with ACLU), as well as the availability of numerous alternative sites. The ruling also goes into the unsuitability of the church site, due to its intrinsic religious (i.e., Christian) architectural and aesthetic components ... and of the discomfort of the plaintiffs at the prospect of attending graduation there.


Your response regarding whether you would oppose the ruling, had it been against having the graduation in a mosque was incomplete. I take it, though, that you'd be supportive of such a ruling. Too bad for you that our Constitution plays no such favorites.

Peggy: Your comparison to church funding of homeless shelters effectively makes the point that you are trying to dismiss; that “the majority of them are funded and run by churches.” The graduation, on the other hand, is funded and run by the taxpayers. Pastor Bailey and his church would have received over $8,000.00 for the use of the facility and, if past practice were predictive, up to $1,000.00 more if the church were compelled to provide handicapped access. Similarly the school is a public, government funded and run institution. For these reasons the court's role in deciding whether holding graduation ceremonies at the Cathedral would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article Seven of the Connecticut Constitution was correct.

Your suggestion that it was “weak and unAmerican” rests on wobbly notions of what constitutes both.

Bankstreet - Thanks for the links. I hope you didn't go to too much trouble on my account.

No trouble at all.

Churches are finding clever ways to lay their hands on public money--O no--they only provided the building--O no, the students wanted it, O no, may be they'll learn something these students, love thy neighbor as thyself but exclude homosexuals from that edict. The religious are completely nutty-- before Larocca and Ravensfan appear on the scene to excoriate me should I say SOME religious are nutty-I'll say it--SOME religious folks are nutty.. William--if we should love one another then doesn't it stand to reason we should love people regardless of sexual orientation and if we should love them then doesn't it follow we should accept them and not carp about their lifestyle or rain perdition on their heads based on some gobbledygook interpretation of BUY-BULL verses here and there about homosexuality? I am sick and tired of this nonsense--the sneaky way in which the religious come into secular affairs--this school was having a graduation--it picked a church venue and made sure the church will have plenty of public money jingling in its pockets for renting the space and taxpayers are supposed to shut up and cough up this money? Why? Why shouldn't a Hindu temple or a mosque be earning some of that money too? Did the founding fathers stipulate that only Christians can benefit from public moneys? Bring it on boys and girls! Spread the wealth around--send some of these students to cavort in a mosque and send some off to a Wickan venue--take the 8000 dollars and give each religion in America a 100 dollars a piece and give them each an opportunity to host the show. Let there be equality in breaking the Establishment Clause. Sounds stupid? Of course it is. But with the greatest witness of them all--Clay--baying at the moon, sun and wind about Christ being the only savior of us all--stupid things are becoming the norm.
Ravensfan Anon

So, god is allowing the oil spills because we do not respect, love, fear, honor or cherish it enough? What a sick, disgusting, egotistical monster.

This was in reply to:
"And people wonder why we have our coast covered in oil. We would get blessed by God more if we were obedient to Him.

Posted by: Clay | June 1, 2010 3:12 PM .

People who support a god of this nature or suggest my child ought to be told of this creature need brought of their closet. Not for beating or torture - nothing like the churches used to do. But their ideas must be challenged on their door steps.

Anyone happen to have any public information available on Clay?

BP publicly, openly and knowingly(with intention) lied. Now people desire to blame this on a lack of faith in their god(not yours) We are the most Christian nation in the known world. There is no lack of faith here. The problem is prayer does not fix anything.

Like the tea party members say we need a revolution, we need a call to arms. Of course like the tea party members say I do not mean that as a threat or to imply violence.

Toleration of religious views is assassination. The worlds largest oil disaster which is allowed by god is now being blamed on a lack of faith in this god.

Let's work together to end such delusional and dangerous attitudes.

Tony J Schwartz

And we havent seen anything yet. The book of Revelation speaks of a one world government. We are already seeing the global economy concept with one currency, and it is going to get worse. Satan is the one who will be in charge of this one world economy. He is a master globalist. What the government wants to do now is to fine and possibly jail people for not buying health insurance. The man in the White House supports a one world religion type of system. Many people here feel that all religion is the same. It is a lie from satan because he doesnt want people to believe in God's Son. There is talk of drought and world crop failure in the years ahead. Sounds like science fiction? The bible is never science fiction. Anyone who wants to work to end these ideas as "dangerous attitudes" is working for the guy below. Thanks.

There is an even less expensive alternative for graduation....holding them at the High School itself. Historically, that is where graduations in Enfield were always held.

OK, Clay...I'll bite. As disjointed and irrelvant as your post is, it does leave me with questions:

What is this "global currency" you see? The wobbling Euro? The up-and-down Dollar?

What is this "one-world-religion type of system" you imagine being supported by President Obama? The President is a member of the United Church of Christ. Are they poised for world domination? Who knew?

If we are facing the prospect of drought and crop failure, I hope scientists and politicians are working to find solutions, rather than scanning ancient texts for "meaning."

And...finally, what exactly does any of this have to do with high-school graduation?

@ Clay

The bible is not science fiction, because religion is not science, therefor it cannot be science fiction. The bible is in fact, however, fiction. I invite you to merge over to the shop and purchase "100 Prophecies Found to be False." Very interesting and enlightening.

And I feel rather insulted that you believe that we're working for who you believe to be the Boogey-man under our bed (or, more to the rumor, in the "deep underworld." So any criticism, judging, and separation of Christianity, and were all of a sudden Satanists? You need help. And yes, all religions are the same, in the sense they're all "Thou shalt not criticize or question our beliefs or thou shalt be thrown overboard." Get a life.

If what I say was just Clay's word, people wouldnt be so upset. However, when God's word is used, the devil gets angry and likes to strike back. The only "life" that lasts is one with Christ.

Give it up on Clay, folks. The guy's beyond rescue, if he's not just a troll trying (successfully, I might add) to bait us. If he genuinely believes the slobber he's spewing at us, I can imagine the glaze over his eyes. We can only hope that sufficient exposure to reason may push him back from the intellectual darkness that is religious belief.

Clay - What you don't seem to understand is a lot of your comments bother bother Christians as well because at times you say some things which do not reflect the gospel.

Hello again Ravensfan,

Once again I find myself in agreement with your assesment re Clay.

The following is a post made on my fiasco day when I mixed up you and anon. Although off topic, the moderator was kind enough to let it thru. Hope so again. That story, BTW, seems to have died.

Hi everyone,
Back again and still wiping egg off my face. I can't yet quite believe the confusion I caused yesterday - WOW!!!!! Oh well - us humans sure can mess things up and I would like to issue my deepest apologies to anyone that I may have offended. With that said, and I do hope that the moderator will allow me to get off topic here - PLEASE, kind sir - but I would like to take this opportunity to invite anyone interested to visit another "faith blog" that is absolutely fascinating. Actually, although it is a "faith blog" it is so much more. An excellent place to start is the author's bio sketch located @ .

His motto is “ is the blog that is saving the world with its wit, wisdom, stimulations and provocations while possibly (probably) alienating whole, towns, villages, cities and nations.”
I might also mention that the author is a United Methodist Minister and as a warning - his religious and political views are to the left. From the above link one can sign up to receive his postings. A lot of thought-provoking stuff here and at the same time very entertaining. Nuff said!!!!
Please let this thru Mr. Moderator - in fact, you might enjoy the blog yourself.

Woops - forgot to say Louis is also LouisVA as most here seem to now know my location.

Once again Mr. Moderator (Matthew?) for allowing me to get a bit off topic. It is greatly appreciated.

Louis AKA LouisVA

Louis - I don't think anyone was offended, at lease I wasn't yesterday. You weren't the first to confuse Anon and myself. I actually meant to check the link out but hadn't done so yet.

Sometimes things reflect the gospel when people dont realize it. Thanks.

And sometimes things are said in the name of the gospel that don't reflect the message Christ preached.

this is just a slick way of the religious right to slide their religious view on young minds in hope of them comforming to to backwooded,outdated,primitive of invisible being who live in the sky routine , Hey teacher leave them kids alone. you could have rented a sports center or a ball room or something else .

Hello Ravensfan, Clay, Dana, and to everyone that I haven’t as of yet met. Ravensfan, when you do get a chance, please do check out the Jitterbug man. I have been posting for quite some time on his blog as well as sending personal emails and we have become fast friends. I even seek out advice, on occasion, as he has also become a confidant. Imagine – me, the faithless one - confiding in and seeking advice “from a man of the cloth (smile). Oh well, I guess stranger things have happened. Perhaps it is partially due to the fact we are the same age –OUCH 60 – and have a lot in common dating back to those wild counterculture days of the late 60s – early 70s.

Clay my man – what am I gonna do with ya? Once again, no malice is ever intended, as I do respect your views even though they differ from mine a great deal. Lemme try another tack although it probably won’t work either (grin). Let’s forget the legal issues as regards the 1st Amendment, which in my opinion, calls for separation of church and state and government neutrality on religion. Allow me to posit the following:

I have written a lot on this issue and may have mentioned this in the past – if so – forgive me. The advocacy group mentioned within the above post, “Americans United for Separation of Church and State,” (of which I am a proud, dues paying member) has identified over 2000 different religions practiced in the US. It seems to me that just simply showing kindness and respect for each other would also play a large part in the issue at hand – that is using a secular venue for a high school graduation. There are very likely a significant number of minority faiths (and none) that attend this school. Don’t you think that it is simply the right thing to do (using a secular venue) so as not to make these students feel like 2nd class citizens? That is exactly what happens when a church is used because everyone is exposed to Christian iconography. So forget about the legal issues and perhaps try to put yourself in the shoes of someone who is non-Christian. Would it not make you feel bad knowing that the Christian faith appears to be “sanctioned” and given special privilege over other faiths? That amounts to “the tyranny of the majority.” Just chew on it and try to understand from the non-legal point of view.

Louis aka LouisVA

When God tells you to do something, you either do it or you dont. He says that Christ is the only way to heaven. If you believe this, you do what He says. If you dont then you look for excuses to do other things and convince yourself that it is the right thing to do. If you die not knowing Him, then it is too late. I suppose a lot of people will find out when they die. I am already convinced of what will happen.

Louis - I meant to check the site out last night and ended up gettnig off work late so I spent what time I had left with my two sons. I'm 51 so you only have me by 9 years my friend.

Wouldn't the world be a better place if we all learned to "simply showing kindness and respect for each other" as you so eloquently put it? Sadly too many seem to equate that with acceptance of things that violate their faith or beliefs. It is possible to respectfully disagree with someone else. One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the number of conservative Christians who seem to forget one of what Christ called the two greatest commandments. “Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself” .

Very well said Ravensfan, my friend. I don't know why but my impression was that you were younger. Oh well, young at heart counts, doesn't it?

Clay, I hear ya man. I guess it is true that I might as well give up even though I find that very hard to do. I simply find it hard to believe that you can't understand that we have freedom of religion in this country. Not freedom for just Christians but freedom for all faiths as well as none. With that said, I do have to admire your tenacity and will continue to treat you with kindness and respect. How can you be so sure that you are right? A Jew feels what he/she believes is right - a Sikh believes that he/she is right, and so on. Yes, even us non-believers feel that we are right. I have a very scientific point of view, thus I do not believe in ANYTHING supernatural. No ghosts, goblins, spirits, and yes that does extend to your "God." If his/her presence is ever scientifically proven or he/she reveals his/her presence to me, then and only then, will I change my mind, and do so gladly. I do hope that you are speaking metaphorically when you say "(w)hen God tells you to do something, you either do it or you dont." Do you actually have conversations with "God?" If so, you may be hearing voices and are in serious need of professional help. With respect, Clay, have you NEVER doubted your faith? To me, that is simply the human condition. I hope the above does not seem too harsh and despite the fact that we disagree, at least it still remains civil. Thank you for that.

Louis, I just want to tell you that since your arrival here, I have found this blog much more readable and enjoyable. You bring a compassionate presence to these proceedings and have demonstrated an enlightened way to approaching the issues and other people. Your gentle, Christ-like response to Clay puts my own feelings to shame. Carry on, Brother.


The school board had initially voted in January to hold graduation ceremonies at the respective schools. But in April, board members determined that First Cathedral provided "the best location within the budget."

A lawsuit was filed on behalf of two Enfield High School seniors and three parents. They argued that holding the ceremonies at the church "excessively entangle[s]" the district with religion and is in violation of the Establishment Clause.

Enfield and Fermi High Schools used First Cathedral for their previous graduation ceremonies, as construction was being performed on the schools' athletic fields. Other schools in the Hartford-area have also held graduations at the megachurch.

Hi Camille,
Thank you so much for your VERY kind comment. I was DEEPLY touched by your observation. With that said, I do think you give me WAY too much credit. Yes, I do try very hard to be a peace-maker and I refuse to contribute to the ugly "us versus them" type comments that seem to be so pervasive, not only on this blog, but throughout our society in general. I do not understand why I find so much comfort and stimulating conversation on "faith blogs" as I am a confirmed non-believer. I guess I don't even completely understand myself - not to mention others (smile). However, I do find inspiration from Jesus (the man) and his teachings and moral views. Once again - thank you so very much and I hope to "speak" to you again in the future, Camille.

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About Matthew Hay Brown
Matthew Hay Brown writes and blogs about faith and values in public and private life for The Baltimore Sun. A former Washington correspondent for the newspaper, he has long written about the intersection of religion and politics. He has reported from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East, traveling most recently to Syria and Jordan to write about the Iraqi refugee crisis.

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