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Enfield School Board Postpones Decision on ACLU Lawsuit Settlement

Civil liberties union had won an injunction in 2010 barring Enfield from using a Bloomfield megachurch for graduation ceremonies.

The Enfield Board of Education held a special meeting Tuesday night to discuss a proposed settlement of a lawsuit filed two years ago, pertaining to the board's former practice of holding high school graduations at the First Cathedral Church in Bloomfield.

The graduation site had been challenged in court by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Connecticut and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. They filed suit in 2010 on behalf of two students and three parents, who said they would be uncomfortable if forced to enter a Christian house of worship in order to attend graduation ceremonies.

In 2010, U.S. District Judge Janet Hall issued a temporary injunction, ruling that Enfield would not be allowed to hold graduation at the 3,000-seat megachurch.

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“Having considered all three analytical frameworks for determining whether the government action at issue has a principal effect that neither advances nor inhibits religion, the court concludes that it does not have such an effect, and therefore violates the Establishment Clause," Judge Hall wrote in her decision. "By holding public high school graduations in an identifiable church, under the circumstances and context of this situation that would be known to a reasonable observer, Enfield Public Schools endorses religion. By attempting to “neutralize” the First Cathedral by covering up many (albeit not all) of its religious images, Enfield Public Schools unconstitutionally entangles itself with religion. And finally, by requiring a graduating senior - or a parent of one - to enter First Cathedral in order to be able to participate in his or her graduation - or to watch their child graduate - Enfield Public Schools has coerced plaintiffs to support religion.“

held graduation at First Cathedral from 2007 to 2009, while conducted commencement exercises there in 2008 and 2009.

In 2010, following Judge Hall's ruling, the ceremonies were moved back to each school's grounds. The 2012 graduations were held, for the first time, on each school's artificial turf field.

Following the 2011 municipal elections, the new school board met to discuss a settlement offer from the ACLU, but decided to not even vote on the proposal, which would have permanently barred future graduations from the church.

A closed-door executive session meeting. which included a representative of the town's insurance company, was held Tuesday in the Enfield Room at Town Hall. Following executive session, the board returned to open session, and Vice Chairman Vinny Grady moved to accept terms of another settlement offer.

After the motion was seconded, considerable discussion ensued, which at times degenerated into angry bickering. Board members constantly interrupted others, and occasionally raised their voices in disgust.

Although the amount of the settlement proposal was not revealed, it was inferred during the open portion of the meeting that it is a substantial amount of money.

"At $300 an hour, this reflects 10 solid weeks at 24 hours a day," board member Kevin Fealy said. "I question calling it a settlement; I call it extortion. We are allowing ourselves to be bullied by people with big pockets. I will be on record as fighting this 100 percent."

Fealy repeatedly asked to postpone the vote to allow time for more information to be gathered, and for public involvement.

"Since November, every major decision has been behind closed doors," Fealy said. "I'm asking to postpone the vote long enough to get outside information."

Board member Chuck Johnson expressed concern that "we're doing this in a veil of darkness."

Following some heated exchanges, Chairman Tim Neville called for a 10-minute recess. That break wound up lasting more than 50 minutes, with private conversations taking place in the hallway and outside the building.

When the meeting resumed, Grady motioned to table his original motion until another special meeting. That will take place Wednesday, July 18 at 7:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers at Town Hall.

Neville said that meeting will be an open meeting, and will include audience participation on the agenda.

Susan July 11, 2012 at 03:22 AM
Maybe this should be a lesson to ....or maybe we should remember before pursung something we should consider the lasting consequences. I'm shaking my head...
Lin Chojnicki July 11, 2012 at 11:30 AM
Find it truly ironic that one of the reasons the 2007-2009 graduations were moved to this Bloomfield church was because of the two high schools' expensive turf football fields. However this year, the 2012 graduating classes @ EHS and Fermi were both able to graduate on their respective footballs fields. These graduation ceremonies were wonderful, and the expensive fields didn't "vaporize" when a non-athletic shoe or folding chair touched the synthetic surface. All that hoopla was made over the fields for what? No protective cover was ever purchased or used. Time to move on since clearly the high school fields could/can accommodate a graduate ceremony.
Pat Droney July 11, 2012 at 12:56 PM
You're incorrect in part. The 2007 and 2008 ceremonies were moved to Bloomfield because the fields were under construction. The could NOT be held on the fields. In 2009 we voted (I was on the board) to have the graduations at First Cathedral because in our opinion it was a better venue. I attended Fermi's graduation this year for my daughter and I would hardly refer to it as "wonderful." It was 95 degrees and 15 degrees hotter on the field. Thank God none of the graduates or other attendees on the filed were overcome by the heat.
Amalita Grimes July 11, 2012 at 04:55 PM
I graduated from smith college this year. All six hundred of us and several thousand spectators (who flew in from all over the country and several foreign countries with their families) sat our butts in the sun in black gowns with capes and graduated with advanced degrees that we paid close to 1/4 of million dollars for each. If it rained we would have had it in the gymasium. Fermi and EHS can graduate on the field like everybody else has done for the last gazillion years. Bring an umbella and a spritzy fan for goodness sake. Wow..such entitlement. The reason Fermi's graduation isnt all that wonderful is the fact that we paid so much for those darn fields and now we getting ready to vote again to not use them. Get over it and pay the piper whatever they are asking before they run our children's future into the ground.
Marty Salvatore July 11, 2012 at 06:52 PM
Board of Education. Big joke. It's those GREEDY TEACHERS that are busting the budget, right? So is it THEIR fault that the town will now have to pay a settlement? Did the TEACHERS decide that they wanted to PAY a mega-church to hold the graduation ceremony? Bunch of nitwits.
Lin Chojnicki July 11, 2012 at 08:33 PM
C'mon, am very correct in part. So many've use $8m ballfields as grad excuse since '07. Gets old. I attended Fermi'12 graduation. Had a nice breeze in stands on the field (yup, was on field, as were plenty of others). Yes, was hot & sunny, but heck, it was the end of June - that's to be expected. Was great cuz as many guests as wanted, could attend, w/o tickets, & no one had to travel out of town to attend the town's two ceremonies (EHS & Fermi). Seniors have been graduating on athletic fields for decades. If Enfield BOE wanted to "pay" for an indoor venue, then should have selected something other than "a church" (maybe a civic center, ComCast Theatre, Springfield Hall, LaRenaissance, Big E, etc.)? There are other indoor facilities in the area - other towns wisely moved to them once faced w/the lawsuit scenario, but no, Enfield wanted to push limits & take on ACLU. Also, didn't one of these EHS senior classes actual vote to hold their ceremony on their school grounds - during their field construction - but BOE ignored their wishes? So BOE "opinion" ain't always "right" (nor does the "wise" thing), or even what the masses wanted. Now Town's gotta pay for the "opinions" of prior BOEs. Thanx a bunch. Here's a thought - maybe this bill should go to former BOE members and the school administrators (before they all retire) who wanted to this Bloomfield church for Enfield's public school graduation ceremonies - even after the legal "forewarning"?
B A Dragon July 11, 2012 at 11:42 PM
Surely there is a secular building somewhere within driving distance that is large enough to accommodate the graduation. Otherwise have it in the gym which has been done in high schools forever. What about the legislative office building in Hartford? A theater? Perhaps one of the colleges has a big enough venue. There is NO REASON why it shoud ever have been held in any kind of church. What would you all be screaming if it were being held in a mosque?
Emily johnson July 12, 2012 at 12:32 AM
Thank you for being fully aware of what is happening. The BOE only has so much money to work with and the teachers union refuse to budge on anything which is why cuts are made. Most people do not realize how much things cost and are ungrateful for the services that are provided. And quite frankly this year is going down the tubes seeing as the current chairman is very rude and was a horrid principle. I would know he was my principle only a short 7-5 years ago.
EnoughZNuff July 12, 2012 at 12:27 PM
My son graduated from Fermi during this mess, the ceremonies were held in the gym. It was standing room only and hot as a bear in there. Very little air moving.. Wasn't pleasant at all as there were way too many people for the space. I was really saddened by the fact that these kids worked their butts off for for years to graduate just to have the whole event tainted by this BS. I'm really not sure which is worse, the people who voted not to use the field or the parents making this stupid law suit which we as tax payers will pay for. As far as I'm concerned both parties ruined it for these kids...thanks.
Sam July 12, 2012 at 01:30 PM
"At $300 an hour, this reflects 10 solid weeks at 24 hours a day," Well for anyone who doesnt have a calculator that works out to $504,000.00 worth of extortion. The funny thing about all this is the money the ACLU wants from the town of Enfield says "IN GOD WE TRUST" on it. check out the bills in your wallet. The ACLU doesnt want you to have a graduation in a church but they have no problem taking the towns money with the words "IN GOD WE TRUST" on it. Go figure. What is this crap discussing this behind closed doors, if the BOE agrees to this extortion, then it will be paid for with taxpayer dollars and because the taxpayers will absorb this, this should all be discussed in a public forum and the taxpayers should decide to fight this or not. I believe the town of Enfield should fight this and not settle with the aclu. The majority of the students and parents wanted the graduations at this church building. The town of Enfield should not bow down to the ACLU on this. I read in a previous article that there was an orginization "The American Center for Law and Justice" has offered free legal representation to the Town of Enfield, the town should take their offer and fight this to the end. If the town bows down to the ACLU on this without a fight where will it end. Thank God we live in the US where we have the right to free assembly, or do we? Maybe we should have this question wheter to fight this or not on the ballot when we vote this election.
Tim Jensen July 12, 2012 at 01:37 PM
Sam, I just want to clarify your statement "the majority of the students and parents wanted the graduations at this church buIlding." Not necessarily true - I was present at an hourlong meeting where Enfield High School seniors told their principal they wanted it somewhere on school grounds, by a vote of 130-14. I was also present when many of those same seniors addressed the BOE asking to keep it in town, but the board forced them to go to Bloomfield anyway.
Hiram Jibroni July 12, 2012 at 03:14 PM
I attended the 2007 graduation in Bloomfield. It was glorious! After attending too many graduations to mention in the baking hot June sun - this one was comfortable and I could actually focus on the ceremony instead of my clothes sticking to my skin. I will not even discuss the horrors of the 2010 Fermi graduation in the gym with the overcrowding and unlawful heat. That being said, despite the Bloomfield venue being a great place to have the ceremony (in principle), I agree with the ACLU separation of church and state argument. However, to take half a million dollars from the town is robbery - I know it's all legal but it makes me wonder what kind of "Liberty" they seek. We did what you asked ACLU - please get away from us. To Enfield - a better venue could be found - keep looking.
Sam July 12, 2012 at 03:29 PM
Hi Tim, I stand corrected. I thought I read in the journal back then that one of the classes wanted it at the church, but I could be wrong. Could it have been a different year? As far as this suit goes the town of Enfield should fight it. It is not like anyone is having this religion forced on them it was a building that was to be used as a gathering place for graduation with plenty of room and air conditioning, and it was blown out of proportion by a few, with this law suit. Again the ACLU wants Enfields money which states "IN GOD WE TRUST" right each bill, but they dont want the town of Enfield to hold a "non religious" High school graduation ceremony in a building used as a church / "assembly hall". I guess God is ok, if he is on money to line the ACLU's pockets, but its not ok to sit in a building used as his church where it is comfortable and air conditioned to enjoy someones high school graduation.
Lin Chojnicki July 12, 2012 at 04:33 PM
If the Town of Enfield "won" this lawsuit, wanna bet the town would be asking for a similar settlement? And gloating about it. Right now though, the Town of Enfield looks & sounds like a sore loser. No one is against "reserving" a non-religious indoor venue for the public high school graduation ceremonies (if funds are available). Many such venues exist in the area. It just wasn't wise at all for a public school system to hold a public high school graduation in a "church", regardless if religious items were covered or not, or if one is for or against religion. Town officials left themselves wide open for a lawsuit - was almost as if they were looking for a "fight" over this. And they got one. Why do you think other towns, like South Windsor, elected to forego using this church for future graduation ceremonies - cuz they were smart enough to know it wasn't a wise decision for a town to get into a battle they'd likely lose and that would cost their taxpayers. If Town of Enfield elects to fight this lawsuit, I, as a taxpayer, don't wish to be held responsible for their irresponsible decision making and wasteful spending. I say, "learn a valuable lesson from this, and move on".
Marty Salvatore July 13, 2012 at 03:42 PM
You have reading comprehension problems. This was a stupid decision by the BOE that is going to cost our education system a ton of dough. I'd like to see how they shift the blame off of themselves for this one. The students told them not to do it. Parents told them not to do it. They were WARNED that it would cause a lawsuit. But instead, these amazingly smart people who are in charge of our children's education decided to play a game of political chicken. Now we are all supposed to be mad at the ACLU? Or the parents who brought suit? PLEASE.
Marty Salvatore July 13, 2012 at 03:46 PM
This is the best response possible to people who think it's okay. They would be the FIRST ones suing if it were held in a mosque. Hypocrites.
Marty Salvatore July 13, 2012 at 03:49 PM
Of course they were looking for a fight! I guarantee they will wear this "we fought the ACLU" badge with PRIDE when election time comes around. So now taxpayers will have to pay for their election strategy. Morons.
Marty Salvatore July 13, 2012 at 03:55 PM
So, Patrick. Tell us WHY you thought it was a good idea to vote for this. I really am interested to know. How many venues did the BOE look at before settling on this church? What made this church so much more appealing than the other venues? Did the BOE not think that there might be a problem with holding the ceremony in the church? When was the first time these problems were brought to the BOE's attention? What was their response?
Nick Comicgeek DeGray July 13, 2012 at 10:41 PM
I'm a bit unclear or just not that focused. Is it the venue they had a problem with or the fact that government money paid for it?
Nick Comicgeek DeGray July 13, 2012 at 10:45 PM
Everyone needs to keep in mind the ACLU defends NAMBLA. They are just PR assassins and not really interested in the actual causes they fight for.
Joe Saxton July 14, 2012 at 02:26 PM
After the temporary injunction, was a settlement proposed ? If so, those terms should be made public.
Lin Chojnicki July 18, 2012 at 02:16 AM
Gotta keep in mind some BOE members voted to move Fermi's graduation ceremonies to this Bloomfield cathedral (cuz that's what it is, a cathedral) based on the recommendation of the school principal. Some freely admitted they voted for Bloomfield location after conferring with the principal (check the meeting minutes). It was no secret the principal was pro-Bloomfield from day one - so this is what happens when some blindly follow. Following a principal's lead just because he/she's "the" principal isn't always the wise thing for a BOE. If they're just gonna follow the school administrator's lead, why bother holding BOE elections? Might as well let the principals select the BOE if they just rubber stamp.

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