Conn. town agrees to end graduations at church

July 19, 2012 - 3:35 AM

ENFIELD, Conn. (AP) — The local school board has agreed to stop holding high school graduation ceremonies in a church.

The Enfield Board of Education voted Wednesday night to settle a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Connecticut and a group called Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The organizations sued the board in May 2010 for two students and three parents who objected to having graduations of Enfield and Fermi high schools at The First Cathedral in Bloomfield, about 15 miles southwest of Enfield. They argued graduations at the church, where banners read "Jesus Christ is Lord" and "I am GOD," violated the First Amendment guarantees of religious freedom.

The ACLU of Connecticut said the school board's decision means no one will be "forced into an overtly religious setting" to attend a public school function.

"The school board's decision to stop holding graduations in the church will protect the rights of students and their families and will bring the community back together," ACLU of Connecticut executive director Andrew Schneider said in an emailed statement.

The school board had said the church had enough space at the right price for holding the ceremonies.

But shortly after the lawsuit was filed, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction barring use of the church. The judge said the graduations inside a church would be an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.

The high schools' 2010, 2011 and 2012 graduations were held on school grounds.