Conn. School Officials Should Drop Graduations At Church, Civil Liberties Groups Say

Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union have demanded that school officials in Enfield, Conn., stop holding high school graduation ceremonies at a Christian church.

In a Nov. 18 letter to the Enfield Public Schools, Americans United and the ACLU said graduating students and their families are unconstitutionally and coercively “subjected to religious messages as the price of attending high school commencement.” 

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, Conn., 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.

“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 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.

The facade of The First Cathedral features five large Christian crosses, and another large cross towers over the cathedral’s roof.

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.”

Parents and students in Enfield or any of the other school districts that have been holding graduations at the Cathedral are urged to contact Americans United’s Luchenitser at 202-466-3234 or if they object to the practice.