Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Follow-Up: High School Graduation To Be Held In A Church

This is a follow up on two blogs (here and here) that I wrote about the Enfield High Schools graduation being held in a church. The federal court has just ruled that it is a violation of the separation of church and state, and ordered the graduation to be held elsewhere.
Judge Blocks Enfield Schools From Holding Graduations At Church
Hartford Courant
May 31, 2010

In her ruling Monday, Hall [U.S. District Court Judge Janet 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."

Luchenitser [lead counsel for Americans United for Separation of Church and State] said there are several other venues comparable to First Cathedral in price, distance from the high schools or seating capacity at which the graduations could be held. He offered as examples the MassMutual Center and Symphony Hall in Springfield, the Big E Coliseum in West Springfield and La Renaissance banquet hall in East Windsor.
In today’s Hartford Courant there is an article that said the town is planning on appealing the judge’s decision.
A day after a federal judge barred the town from holding its two public high school graduations in a church on June 23 and 24, a lawyer for the town filed a motion asking the judge to temporarily stay the injunction, pending an appeal, so the church can be used as planned.

The town's motion, filed in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport, says that students and families will be "harmed irreparably" if the town undoes its plans to rent First Cathedral for the ceremonies and later wins its appeal of Judge Janet Hall's ruling.
Other news reports said that if they lose the appeal they would hold the graduation at the high schools and limit the number of tickets to the family members, instead of holding the graduation at one of the other location that are “comparable to First Cathedral in price, distance from the high schools or seating capacity”. The Board of Education will meet tomorrow night to determine the location of their graduation.

In an opinion piece in the Hartford Courant, Rick Green writes…
But this school district really has better things to be doing with it's time than jumping into bed with a conservative, biased group like the Family Institute of Connecticut and another group, the American Center for Law & Justice, which was founded by evangelical leader Pat Robertson.

Enfield citizens - and parents and high school students - have nothing to gain in this fight. The school district could have booked Symphony Hall in Springfield for thousands of dollars less the the price of the First Cathedral in Bloomfield.

Instead, the local school board chair, Gregory Stokes - a pastor himself - worked behind the scenes to engineer a costly, wasteful adventure in constructional law.

As U.S. District Judge Janet Hall pointed out in her ruling on Monday, Stokes colluded with Family Institute Director Peter Wolfgang to come up with a plan to hold the graduation at First Cathedral - even after the board initially decided not to hold graduation at the church:
Chairman Stokes was in close contact with the FIC, beginning in early March 2010, on the issue of Enfield's high school graduations. In March and April, Stokes and FIC Executive Director Peter Wolfgang exchanged numerous electronic messages containing discussions of strategy on how to best ensure that the Enfield graduations would be held at First Cathedral. Stokes and Wolfgang discussed which Board of Education members would most likely provide the deciding votes in their favor.
Unbelievably, the chairman of a board of education of a public school district decided to work closely with the Family Institute, a group that exists to selectively promote certain churches in order to, as Hall wrote, "fight for 'religious' liberty by holding graduations at First Cathedral." Ironic isn't the word.

Students gain nothing, except a perverted lesson that even their own local elected leaders can work to undermine their constitutional rights - in the name of religious liberty.
To me this is not about separation of church and state, but is about respecting other people’s religious beliefs.

Update: June 3, 11:30AM
I just learned that Rev. Bailey, is on the Board of the FIC.

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