Where We Live: The Enfield Graduation Debate

Enfield Schools to hold graduation ceremonies in a Bloomfield church.

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First Cathedral Church, Bloomfield
Photo:Diane Orson
Andrew Schneider
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Where We Live: The Enfield Graduation Debate
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Where We Live: The Enfield Graduation Debate

This spring, 481 students will graduate from two Enfield high schools. But they won’t receive their diplomas on school grounds, instead, they’ll graduate in Baptist church in Bloomfield.

The ACLU has sued the Enfield School district, saying the practice would violate the First Amendment rights of the graduates and their families---by communicating a message of favoritism for Christianity. School officials, meanwhile, say the practice is a cost-effective plan, not designed to promote religion.

It’s not clear when the case will go to trial, but in the meantime, the ACLU has asked for a temporary injunction on behalf of the anonymous plaintiffs they represent. If granted, the injunction would halt the current commencement plans. With no backup in place, will graduating seniors be caught in between?

Today, a discussion about the First Amendment, religious freedom, and the role of symbols in public life. Join us---What do you think about a public school rite-of-passage taking place in a religious space? Totally offensive? Or no big deal?

Leave your comments below.




I was talking about this matter with one of my friends from Evenimentul and we both agreed that this needs to change for the better. Hope you agree. Some issues need to be resolved and fast.


I studied for an online leadership degree and I didn't have a physical location where to go and where to be given my diploma. Sometimes people do not appreciate simple things like this. It is a pity that we have to argue about such matters.

the enfield public schools graduation

hey hey hey hey hey hey... i think they should be allowed to graduate at the church... are they there to pratice religous belifs no so get over it hey hey hey hey hey hey hey

Enfield Graduation Issues

To Jeremy, I vote at one of these evangelical churches and they've started putting pamphets to convert voters to Jesus, right next to the voter line...and I'll bet my bottom dollar they do something like that too...so yes, they will try to convert people to Jesus, whether it be on a bookshelf, a wall or on a table. This is not a secular issue, not by a long shot. I'm Jewish. I went to Catholic School and a Baptist college, so as you can see I have no objection to stepping into places of worship of any denomination, but those who are Jehovah's Witnesses can't step foot in a church or other place of worship of any kind and by holding this in a church, those in that faith cannot participate. This upholds the concept of the government overstepping its authority to force its graduates to go to a church for the ceremony because those who are Christian, Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and other allowing faiths are being allowed to participate and those whose faiths do not allow them to walk into a church are being excluded. Preferential treatment is being granted by the municipal government to certain religions, which is under the scope of the amendment to the Constitution.

After the ruling in late May

How would the "non-issue"rs feel if the town's dough was going to rent space from Planned Parenthood? No problem, eh? A hall is a hall, right?

Unfortunately, what it boils

Unfortunately, what it boils down to is that the majority of people in the area belong to one Christian denomination or another and therefore do not understand why someone who is not Christian might be uncomfortable at a graduation in a church. They just can't see what is obvious to those of us who are not Christian - that whether or not the church is promoting its religion, the building is still a church. It looks like a church, it is decorated like a church, because it's a church. You can't get around that, and non-Christian students and their families are entitled to feel uncomfortable in that setting.

Thanks for pointing out the

Thanks for pointing out the cross being cropped out! One of the snazzy features of this new website is that when we upload a photo, the system automatically crops the photo for different spots the story may hold as it moves through the system - Big at first, then more rectangular and smaller, then a tiny square. Certainly there would be no confusion about the denomination of the church since you've heard the piece, but after reading your comments, I went in and manually changed the position of the cropping box so the image would be as clear as possible. Thanks so much for letting us know!

Excellent observation about

Excellent observation about the opening photo of the church being conveniently cropped. The First Cathedral cross is huge and can be seen from quite a distance. There's no disputing this is indeed a church long before one ever steps foot inside. You can bet too if the Enfield BOE suggested renting a huge mosque "just for the space", their suggestion would have been nixed in the bud. Would have never reached this point.

The Enfield Graduation Debate

Mr McCarthy has a lot of nerve to bring up "tradition" in their ACLJ defense since historically the Enfield High and the Fermi High school graduations were held at their high schools. Graduation was in either their school gyms or on their football fields. The fact the Enfield officials selected a synthetic surface on their new fields that couldn't support a graduation ceremony w/o a special cover, shows how poorly this expensive project was researched & conducted. Fermi High broke w/tradition when it moved their graduation ceremony to The First Cathedral in 2007 because of the unfortunate field situation. For two years Enfield High school seniors voted overwhelming in favor of NOT going to this location, but their wishes were ignored by the BOE. One BOE member thought having the graduation ceremony moved to this setting would force the seniors to act more appropriately.

Almost $8 million was spent by the Town of Enfield on football fields that can no longer "handle" the traditional high school graduation ceremonies. The Town of Enfield is currently discussing closing one of the high schools because declining enrollments indicate the two high schools aren't needed. Clearly "one high school" graduation ceremony is in the future of the Town of Enfield. Why not start with 2010?

Where We Live: The Enfield Graduation Debate

Curious why your above photo is "cropped" at top so no one can see the big cross on the top of this church. Was that crop done deliberately? Do you think church officials would be willing to remove or cover this cross if asked to, prior to a public school graduation ceremony? Doubt it. This is a mega church by their own admission. They state on their web page they rent out their facility to "faith-based" groups.

Guess this makes the Town of Enfield "faith-based"? Very interesting.

Shame, shame, shame on the Town of Enfield Council and BOE if they didn't bother to come up with a back-up plan prior to all this legal hocus-pocus. We bet they indeed have a plan but don't wish to tip their hand for fear the Court will see this, and grant the injunction. If they really don't have a plan, well, they really are foolhardy. Maybe the Mayor, the school system's Superintendent & the Enfield BOE chairperson, who is also a pastor, should hand deliver each diploma to the grad's home.

This is a loser for the ACLU.

This is a loser for the ACLU. Case in the past year or two in the midwest over the same issue turned out being a loser for them. Good for Enfield for sticking to your guns. ACLU should stick to defending terrorists, child molesters, and so on. It's more in line with what they usually stand for.

Public taxpayer funds should

Public taxpayer funds should never be used to "support" a religious venue in any manner. The First Cathedral rents out its facility to supplement the church's income. This is not simply a case of renting a church hall, this is the church itself, and having been inside, it is indeed a church. A church that doesn't want visitors to take their own photos or video of the graduation because the church also sells DVDs are the end of the service. The fact that the church's own lawyers or the Town of Enfield's lawyers, weren't willing to fight this, makes it all the more suspect.

There are non-religious venues available to the Town of Enfield. One is at a nearby college for thousands cheaper and its even closer for those who live on CT/MA line. Why is the Town of Enfield willing to "risk" all of this for the Class of 2010? Why not rent the cheaper facility and move on?

This is a nonissue that is totally overblown

The First Amendment protection against the establishment of religion is in no way violated by the city choosing a certain building to house their graduation ceremonies. The so called "separation of church and state" merely prohibits the state from establishing one religion over another. The state is not in any way advocating people attend this church. Further, most people in the community do not belong to the faith of this particular church. Therefore, how could it be said that the school is establishing this as a state religion? This is not a constitutional violation and it is too bad that the savings that theschool would have realized will be spent on lawyers, defending this asinine lawsuit.

Curious Logic

@Anthony LaCassia:
A group of Muslims decide to rent time in this Church for a place to perform Salat, Islam's formal prayer practice. Would you stand by your position that a Church is just another secular space until it is made holy by the presence of the devoted? What if the congregation of the devoted don't believe in the same god as you? For the time they are gathered to perform the Salat, would the Bloomfield Baptist Church become the Bloomfield Mosque? And would you have a problem with that?

Enfield High School Graduation

If only it were that easy to influence young adults to be more Christ-like, by subtly exposing them to religious icons while in a building. Many of us would be saints today.

My Students

I'm a teacher, and my students have graduated from this church in past years. This was a great topic to bring up in my classroom, and I'd like to share something my students said.

At first, they thought graduating elsewhere would be silly, given the comfortable seating and plentiful parking. So, I asked the question that Randy asked (about CVA's "There is no God; Just be Good" sign). I asked if that were on a huge sign on the top of the building, would they still want to go? I was pretty surprised when they said no.


The Enfield Graduation Debate:

I am an evangelical Christian; a Baptist reformed in his theology. The Scripture clearly teaches there is but one church purchased by the propitiatory and substitutionary blood sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross. The church is never to be confused with a building or edifice. Rather, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is a spiritual body (group) that is made-up of living people (called saints) who, by faith, believe the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. While congregations (local assemblies) strive to obtain their own permanent building, not all do. The take home message is that not until the local believers actual enter the edifice, for any aspect of worship, there is nothing spiritually significant about the building nor is it to be considered sacred. It is not the building that is holy! Rather, it is the people who are made to be in union with the Lord Jesus Christ that are holy. When they come together to worship the Living God then the building they occupy becomes holy, or set apart for worship. The building could be a conventional church structure however; it could be a tent, a residential house, a storefront, a basement, or an open field. Unfortunately, a scriptural as well as accurate assessment concerning the New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is often eclipsed by unscriptural views that traditionally attribute or assign the quality or distinction of being “holy” or “sacred” to inanimate objects such as buildings, statutes, clothing etc. Religions that assign holy or sacred distinction to structure generally adorn and embellish the edifice with human invention adorning the structure to enhance its character. The theologically reformed view rejects this based upon what the Scripture teach. So, the building occupied by my home church can be used for any type of public function, and it has in the passed. For the purpose of our discussion, it is an auditorium. The pre-supposition in design ultimately determines the structure design, and quite possibly multi-purpose use. Some person stated that the structure has seating capacity, big projection screens, ease of access to all seating, free and abundant parking, and a 360-degree view. These are impressive as well as attractive features to base a decision upon. In the case of the 1st Cathedral Church of Bloomfield, the architect obviously incorporated all these convincing elements in the design of the structure. Perhaps the church board, in planning out the structure, built-in the possibility of utilizing it as a for-hire public convention or auditorium center? Hence, if 479 out of 481 students have absolutely no issue using it as an auditorium for their graduation then, I believe that it is a done deal! The 2 students who have registered an objection need to carefully consider the motivation for their objections. Furthermore, the atheist student is exercising his faith to believe that there is no God. How does he or his parents or the ACLU deal with the matter of our $1 dollar bill, which clearly declares “IN GOD WE TRUST”, or the fact that our paper currency is engraved with mason symbolism? The Jewish student is exercising his faith to believe in Judaism but believes in God. Yet, I know of a number of college students, who are Jewish, and attend Catholic colleges. Furthermore, President Barak Obama, on the national day of prayer, did offer-up a prayer. Which God was he evoking? The 1st Cathedral Church, having made the decision to contract-out its auditorium for secular use, as a convention hall, is free under our laws to pursue all lawful use of its property under local, state and federal guidelines.

Would the plaintiffs refuse

Would the plaintiffs refuse to attend a friend’s wedding because it was held in a religious building they wouldn’t feel comfortable in? They’re going to miss quite a few weddings.
If people want to come together, they will never survive each other unless they tolerate each other’s beliefs. Tolerating something is not the same as wholeheartedly accepting it.

Listener Comment from Randy

Today's show on holding a graduation in a church made me chuckle, having recently attended a meeting of the Connecticut Valley Atheists.

I wonder - if the Connecticut Valley Atheists had a large building, with a big sign out front that said "There is no God - just be good." -- would we even be having this conversation? Or would the idea of using such a facility simply have been rejected out of hand?

Listener Comment from Susan

I say ridiculous as in what's the big deal. The school saves $$ using the Cathedral and it can accommodate all - Previous years have enjoyed their graduations there, heard on the news by proud father and were not overcome by religious symbols at all. It's a waste of money for Enfield people to HAVE to go somewhere else. I don't understand the 'Big Deal'.

Listener Comment from William

It will be interesting if the ACLU pulls out "we are battling the Southern Conservative Extremists" red herring they did on another radio interview. I know a few of the people involved in lobbying the Enfield BOE to go to the Church, and there is not a right winger in the bunch. The main reason the church is so popular is 1. lots of seating 2. with big-screen TVs there is not a bad seat in the house 3. easy access for relatives, esp those over 80 yrs of age. 4. plentiful free parking. I am skeptical about the ACLU saying there are secular sites that can provide all the above mentioned benefits for less cost.

Listener Comment from Jen

I'm not Christian and wouldn't care. People are oversensitive. Churches are pretty venues. When I got married, my Catholic mother insisted on a church, so we compromised. We got married by a JP in a non-religious chapel (Memorial Chapel on the Wesleyan Campus) and it was beautiful.

Listener Comment from Suzanne

I think it's no big deal and I'm glad that Enfield schools took a stand. Just because 2 students who aren't Christian objected and that means the town should change the venue? Why can't a space be used for more than one function? There are churches that use school auditoriums to worship and is that a problem?

Listener Comment from Ellen

Totally inappropriate. How can there be any question? There have to be other venues in the state that can host these commencement ceremonies.