School Graduations in Church Ruled Unconstitutional

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A federal judge ruled Monday that two Connecticut public high schools can't hold graduation ceremonies inside a Christian church, because using a church for graduation would be an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.

U.S. District Court Judge Janet Hall ruled against Enfield High School and Enrico Fermi High School, both in Enfield. The district had planned to hold two school commencements at First Cathedral Church in Bloomfield on June 23 and 24.

The judge said Enfield had unconstitutionally entangled itself with religion by agreeing to cover much of the church's religious imagery. She also says the town coerced the plaintiffs to support religion by forcing them to enter the church for graduation.

The school board voted to hold graduation ceremonies at the church, because it had enough space at the right price.

But the American Civil Liberties Union and the group Americans for Separation of Church and State filed a lawsuit on behalf of two students and three of their parents, arguing that the graduation plan violated the First Amendment.

"Based upon its findings, the court concludes, on the record before it, that the have clearly demonstrated a likelihood of irreparable harm in the absence of the injunction and a substantial likelihood of success on the merits that holding the graduation ceremonies at First Cathedral violates the First Amendment of the United States Constitution," Judge Hall wrote in her ruling.

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