In a terse 47-word ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has denied the Enfield Board of Education''s motion for a stay of execution and expedited appeal of a district court ruling barring use of First Cathedral for this year's graduations.

The appeals court didn't bother waiting to consider brief by the ACLU and others urging rejection of Enfield's motion. The Legal Director for the ACLU of Connecticut says the board's appeal to the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals "seems to be prioritizing the church as a location for graduation over the needs of the students and families to move forward with their graduations at this late date."

In their opposition prepared for filing June 14, the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, ACLU-CT and Americans United for the Separation for Church and State identify the Enfield Public Schools' request for an expedited appeal as an "egregious and bizarre attempt to misuse the appellate process."

On Memorial Day, U.S. District Court Judge Hall enjoined Enfield from using the church for the 2010 graduations. Judge Hall, Staub noted, had worked over the holiday weekend to issue her decision in sufficient time for the students and families and the Enfield Board to adjust to alternative plans.

In response to Judge Hall's order, the Board voted June 3 to plan for graduations on school grounds. It is inexplicable, Staub said, that the Board waited until June 10 to vote to seek an expedited appeal and a stay of the injunction.

"This is only the latest of many delays caused by the Schools throughout the history of this matter," the ACLU filing with the Court of Appeals says. "As the Schools are responsible for the fact that little time now remains before the graduations, no expedited appeal should be allowed."

In January, after discussions with the ACLU, the Enfield board joined four other school systems in agreeing not to use the religious facility for graduation. After intense lobbying by the Family Institute of Connecticut, a Christian based organization, the Board on April 13 voted to hold graduations at the Cathedral despite the constitutional objections.

The ACLU, representing two students and their families who seek to avoid being coerced into a religious setting for their high school graduation, filed a lawsuit May 5 claiming that holding the graduations at the church would amount to unconstitutional endorsement and entanglement with religion and a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

After an expedited three-day hearing and a trip to First Cathedral, Judge Hall issued a 51-page page fact-intensive opinion in support of her injunction, relying on well-established Supreme Court precedent. By choosing the Cathedral when there were less expensive secular alternatives available, Judge Hall ruled that the Board of Education appeared to be endorsing the Christian religion. Although the board at the last minute offered to work with the cathedral staff to cover up many of the religious elements at the church, the judge said those actions would only entangle the school more deeply with the church. In addition, anyone who attended the ceremonies would be coerced into supporting religion, she said. See ruling

Enfield appeared at first to accept the judge's ruling, voting June 3 not to seek an expedited appeal of the injunction. On June 9 the board reversed itself and voted 5-4 to seek the expedited appeal.

"The board's delay in seeking the appeal demonstrates to the Second Circuit that there does not seem to be a need for immediate action from the Court," Staub said. The June 23 and 24 graduations are currently scheduled to take place on school grounds.

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