Windsor School Board Votes To Stop Holding Graduations At Church

For Immediate Release

Windsor School Board Votes To Stop Holding Graduations At Church

Upholds Religious Liberty By Becoming Fifth Connecticut School District To Stop Using Religious Venue

WINDSOR, CT - The Windsor Board of Education voted late
Monday to stop holding public high school graduation ceremonies at a
local Christian church. With this decision, all five area school
districts that had been holding graduations at the church have voted to
halt the practice. The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of
Connecticut and Americans United for Separation of Church and State had
objected to the school districts' practice of holding graduations at
The First Cathedral in Bloomfield, Connecticut, a 120,000 square foot
facility steeped in Christian symbols and iconography, calling for the
graduations to instead be held at any of a number of secular locations
available in the area. 

"Under our constitutional system, public school officials should not
endorse particular religious faiths," said Daniel Mach, Director of
Litigation for the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. "The
decision by the Windsor Board of Education, and similar recent actions
by other school districts in Connecticut, will help ensure that no
graduating student will feel like a second-class participant in these
important celebrations."

The ACLU and Americans United last fall sent Freedom of Information Act
requests to the Windsor, Enfield, East Hartford and South Windsor
Public Schools, as well as the Metropolitan Learning Center Magnet
School in Bloomfield, seeking information about their use of The First
Cathedral as a high-school graduation venue. The groups also sent a
letter last fall to the Enfield Public Schools, arguing that graduating
students, their families and other guests are unconstitutionally
subjected to religious messages when attending high school commencement
and that "students and family members of minority religions, as well as
those who do not subscribe to any religion at all, are immersed in a
religious environment of a faith not their own." Windsor last night
became the last of the five school districts to decide to move its
graduations after this correspondence was sent.

"Changing the location of these schools' high school graduations
acknowledges the important role of diversity in our school systems,"
said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United Executive Director. "It
helps to ensure that students and their families are not made to feel
unwelcome at a school event on account of their religious beliefs."

The ceremonies had been held at The First Cathedral despite the
existence of many secular alternatives in the surrounding area, some of
which are less expensive.

"School officials did the right thing by moving their graduations,"
said Alex J. Luchenitser, Senior Litigation Counsel for Americans
United. "While the schools' decisions may be unpopular with many local
residents, moving the graduations upholds the Bill of Rights, whose
very purpose was to protect the rights of religious and other
minorities."

The facade of The First Cathedral features five large Christian
crosses, and another large cross towers over the cathedral's roof.
There is a fountain in the shape of a cross surrounded by a frame in
the shape of a tomb in the church's lobby, and on the way into the
sanctuary where the graduations take place, students and parents pass
underneath large banners on which biblical scriptures are written.
During the graduation ceremony, students are seated underneath a giant
cross in a window at the front of the sanctuary, and to the left of the
cross, hangs a banner that reads, "Jesus Christ is Lord." There are
also many large-screen televisions throughout the sanctuary that
display the message, "This is God's House Where Jesus Christ Is Lord,"
while students and guests wait for the ceremony to begin.

"Regardless of intent, when schools host graduation at The First
Cathedral, they devalue the faith of students and families in the
religious minority," said David McGuire, staff attorney with the ACLU
of Connecticut. "By agreeing to move graduation to a secular venue, the
schools have demonstrated they value the religious diversity of all
their students."

Additional information about the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief is available online at: www.aclu.org/religion

Additional information about Americans United for Separation of Church and State is available online at: www.au.org

Additional information about the ACLU of Connecticut is available online at: www.acluct.org

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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