The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Will Matthews, ACLU, (212) 549-2582 or 2666;
Joe Conn, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, (202) 466-3234;
Patrick Doyle, ACLU of Connecticut, (860) 523-9146 ext. 213;

ACLU And Americans United Demand Connecticut School District Stop Holding Graduation At Christian Church


American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Connecticut and Americans
United for Separation of Church and State today demanded that school
officials in Enfield stop holding high school graduation ceremonies at
a Christian church and instead hold them at any of a number of secular
locations available in the area.

In a letter sent today to the
attorney for the Enfield Public Schools, the ACLU and Americans United
say that graduating students, their families and other guests are
unconstitutionally and "coercively subjected to religious messages as
the price of 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."

The ACLU and Americans United plan to sue the district if it refuses to change the location of its graduations.

"In our constitutional system,
public schools should not be in the business of embracing particular
faiths or religious viewpoints," said Daniel Mach, Director of
Litigation at the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. "The
graduation ceremony is a significant event in the lives of students and
their families, and no one should feel like a second-class participant
during this important celebration."

Despite significant opposition from
both students and parents, the graduation ceremonies for both Enfield
High School and Enrico Fermi High School have been held for several
years at The First Cathedral in Bloomfield, CT, a 120,000 square foot
facility that is steeped in Christian symbols and iconography.
Approximately 75 percent of Enfield High School's 2008 graduating class
and 90 percent of the school's 2009 graduating class voted against
graduating at The First Cathedral, and a significant percentage of
students at Enrico Fermi have also opposed the venue.

"America is incredibly diverse when
it comes to religion," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United
Executive Director. "Our public schools should respect that diversity
when making decisions about where to hold important events such as
graduation. Students and their families should never be made to feel
unwelcome at a school event on account of religion."

The ceremonies have been held at The
First Cathedral despite the existence of at least a dozen secular
alternatives in the surrounding area, including some that are both less
expensive and closer to Enfield.

"Students and their families should
not have to choose between attending graduation and being subjected to
proselytizing religious messages," said Alex Luchenitser, Senior
Litigation Counsel for Americans United. "Yet that is exactly the
choice that the Enfield Schools impose on students and their families."

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
upon entering 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 a number of 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.

"The shared American value of
religious liberty is best served when the government stays out of
religion," said David McGuire, staff attorney with the ACLU of
Connecticut. "Regardless of intent, when Enfield Public Schools host
graduation at The First Cathedral they devalue the faith of students
and families in the religious minority."

Four other area public schools -
East Hartford High School, South Windsor High School, Windsor High
School and the Metropolitan Learning Center Magnet School - also have
been using The First Cathedral for their graduations. The ACLU and
Americans United recently sent Freedom of Information Act requests to
those schools, as well as to the Enfield Schools, about their choice of
a venue for graduation, and plan to follow up with those schools

A copy of today's letter is available online at:

Additional information about the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief is available online at:

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

Additional information about the ACLU of Connecticut is available online at:

The American Civil Liberties Union was founded in 1920 and is our nation's guardian of liberty. The ACLU works in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.

(212) 549-2666