The Enfield Board of Education in Connecticut decided Tuesday night to re-enter a court battle over holding graduations at a church.
Just days after voting not to appeal a federal judge’s ruling barring two high schools from holding graduations at First Cathedral, the board reconvened for a re-vote and chose to rescind its previous action.
“If we don’t appeal it, we’re somewhat saying we acknowledge or validate that opinion,” said Greg Stokes, chairman of the board, according to NBC Connecticut.
Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Janet C. Hall ruled that Enfield and Fermi High Schools could not use the megachurch for their graduation ceremonies because it was an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.
She said the megachurch was “overwrought with religious symbols” and holding graduations there would convey the message that certain religious views are embraced by Enfield Schools and others are not.
When the board voted against appealing the ruling, attorney Vincent McCarthy of the American Center for Law and Justice, which is representing the Enfield school district, was shocked.
He said they had a good chance in winning the case.
According to McCarthy, a member of the school board requested another vote to “clarify the options” and to “ensure they have considered all options and are giving the students the best possible outcome.”
The board will file an expedited appeal with the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. Meanwhile, the June 23 and 24 graduation ceremonies for the two high schools are scheduled to take place on school grounds.
The lawsuit against the school district was filed in May by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Connecticut on behalf of two Enfield High School seniors and three parents. They argued that holding graduations at a church “excessively entangle[s]” the district with religion and violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.
Board member Judith Apruzzese-Desroches, who voted against filing an appeal, expects a long battle and argued that they should instead be focusing on the delivery of education, as reported by the Hartford Courant.
But board chairman Stokes said he has heard overwhelming outcry from the community against holding graduations at the schools.
“We listened to what the folks wanted us to do in this community,” he said, according to the local Courant.
Enfield and Fermi High Schools used First Cathedral for their previous graduation ceremonies, as construction was being performed on the schools’ athletic fields. The board chose the church again this year because it provided “the best location within the budget.”
Other schools in the Hartford-area have also held graduations at the megachurch.