Starting in 2007, the Enfield Public Schools (located just north of Hartford, Connecticut) began holding the Schools’ two high-school graduations in the sanctuary of a Christian church, the First Cathedral. An enormous white cross sits atop the Cathedral’s roof, dominating the skyline as one approaches. To enter the building for graduations, students and their guests pass under another large cross in the Cathedral’s facade. The graduation ceremonies take place on a stage under a huge cross (set in a stained-glass window with religious images), on either side of which hang twenty-foot-long banners proclaiming “I am GOD” and “Jesus Christ is Lord.” Before the ceremonies began, jumbo screens inform attendees that “This Is God’s House Where Jesus Christ Is Lord.” And the stage is surrounded by images meant to represent Jesus, embedded in the carpet.
In response to a November 2009 letter, the Schools moved the graduations back to the high schools’ respective football fields, where the ceremonies had historically been held. But an intensive lobbying campaign by the Family Institute of Connecticut, a religious organization, led the Board to reverse course and move the graduations back to the Cathedral in April 2010, just two months before the graduations were scheduled to take place.
Along with our co-counsel, we filed suit in federal court, in May 2010, on behalf of two graduating seniors and three of their parents. Our complaint alleged that holding graduation ceremonies in the church violates the Establishment Clause; we simultaneously filed a motion for a preliminary injunction. In May 2010, after a three-day hearing, the trial court issued an order prohibiting the Schools from holding their June 2010 graduation ceremonies at the Cathedral. Although the Schools appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the appeals court dismissed the appeal as moot in August 2010 (on the ground that, by then, the graduation ceremonies had already taken place). The litigation then continued in the trial court.
In July 2012, the parties agreed to resolve the lawsuit by settlement. As part of the settlement, the Schools are prohibited from holding future graduation ceremonies at the church. The court approved the settlement, and the case is now finished.