In the spring of 2010, officials at the Enfield Public Schools decided to hold their graduation ceremonies at First Cathedral, a Christian church. The ACLU of Connecticut, American Civil Liberties Union, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State brought a lawsuit in federal court charging that the Enfield Public Schools' decision was an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.

First Cathedral featured a wide variety of Christian iconography. The stage where students would receive diploma packets was surrounded by a 25-foot-tall cross, banners reading "Jesus Christ Is Lord" and "I am GOD" and seven symbols representing Jesus. The facade of the church featured five large Christian crosses and another large cross towers over its roof. The church's lobby contained a fountain in the shape of a cross surrounded by a frame in the shape of a tomb. Large-screen televisions throughout the sanctuary displayed the message, "This is God's House Where Jesus Christ Is Lord," while students and guests waited for the ceremony to begin.

The groups brought the legal action on behalf of two Enfield High School seniors and three of their parents. The lawsuit asserted that holding commencement at First Cathedral violated the separation of church and state and the religious liberty rights of students. The legal team handling the case included Luchenitser, Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan and Steven Gey Fellow Devin M. Cain of Americans United; Legal Director Sandra J. Staub and Staff Attorney David J. McGuire of the ACLU of Connecticut; and Daniel Mach, Director of the ACLU's Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.

Status: A federal judge declared that the Enfield Public Schools’ plan to hold high school graduation ceremonies at a Christian church was unconstitutional, and ordered the school board to find an alternative venue.

 

Attorney(s)

Alex J. Luchenitser, Ayesha N. Khan, Steven Gey, & Devin M. Cain of Americans United; Sandra J. Staub & David J. McGuire of the ACLU of Connecticut; Daniel Mach of the ACLU

Date filed

May 4, 2010

Court

U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut

Judge

Janet C. Hall

Status

Victory!

Case number

3:10-cv-00685-JCH

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