Skipping Church: Enfield Seniors Graduate On School Athletic Field

Graduation is an important day in the life of a student, and it should be an event that is welcoming to all.

The Class of 2010 graduated from Enfield (Conn.) High School yesterday, and based on local reports, it seems as though students and parents had a good time, despite the controversy over where to hold the ceremony.

Americans United and the ACLU, representing students and parents, filed a lawsuit against the school district after it refused to move the graduations of its two high schools from First Cathedral in Bloomfield, Conn.  The school board was adamant that the cathedral be used, even though other venues were available that were cheaper, closer and just as comfortable.

A U.S. district court judge ruled May 31 that holding the ceremonies at a church is unconstitutional because it appeared that the school was favoring one particular faith over others. The cathedral was replete with religious symbols, and even if some of these symbols were covered up, several immense crosses would have remained uncovered.

The school board tried to appeal the decision, but was unsuccessful. It finally decided to just hold the graduation on school grounds, even though several secular off-school venues remained available.

Many in Enfield have not understood the basic constitutional issues at stake in this case. They have complained about moving the ceremony, claiming that the cathedral is “just a building.” But they fail to see that for people of other faiths, or no faith, the cathedral is not necessarily a welcoming environment.

Occasionally, however, we are pleasantly surprised when someone we don’t expect ends up seeing our point of view.

Earlier this month, a blogger for the neo-conservative magazine “First Things,” founded by the late Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, confessed that he could see how holding public high school graduations in churches is not appropriate.

After attending his daughter’s public school graduation at a Baptist church, in which two prayers were offered, the Rev. Russell E. Saltzman said he would have “cheered [AU] on without reservation.

“It wasn’t the place, and it wasn’t the time, and even if I wasn’t offended I was uncomfortable and I felt bad for anyone who might have been both,” wrote Saltzman. “I would not have minded a little Christian discretion, some greater discernment on when prayer may or may not be properly invoked.”

Although Saltzman, a Lutheran pastor, was hesitant to all-out support AU’s work, at least he can see why this is such pivotal issue.

Graduation is an important day in the life of a student, and it should be an event that is welcoming to all.

In the end, Enfield High School succeeded in doing that. It may have been a little hotter without mega-church air conditioning, but at least no one was made to feel like an outsider.