The First Cathedral, A Megachurch in Bloomfield Connecticut, during Sunday Morning Praise and WorshipAbout 6 weeks ago I blogged about Enfield (CT) Public Schools and their religionist determination to proselytize to high school graduates and their families by holding commencements for its two high schools in a church in nearby Bloomfield. As I expected, a federal judge has prevented this arrangement. The Hartford Courant reports on this decision (WebCite cached article):

A federal judge on Monday ruled that Enfield High School and Enrico Fermi High School will not be able to hold their graduation ceremonies at First Cathedral.

U.S. District Court Judge Janet Hall heard closing arguments last week in a legal challenge that five Enfield residents — two high school seniors and three parents — filed to block the town from renting the 3,000-seat mega-church in neighboring Bloomfield. The graduations are scheduled for June 23 and 24.

“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,” Hall wrote in her decision dated Monday. “And … by requiring a graduating senior — or 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.”

Although the Courant story discusses the religious imagery in First Cathedral, and inadequate attempts to cover it up, that isn’t the only problem cited. Another claim that Enfield Public Schools have made is that they cannot locate any alternative facilities for the same price; thus, by comparison, First Cathedral is their only available choice. In her decision, however, Judge Hall points out that the school board’s attempts to find alternatives were insincere:

The Board’s evaluation of alternative venues in March and April 2010 does not appear to be an open-minded consideration of legitimate available alternatives. First Cathedral was never included in the written comparisons offered at either the March 23 or April 13, 2010 Board meetings, and the minutes of those meetings reflect no discussion as to First Cathedral’s actual price or amenities. Furthermore, the Board was aware that several locations offered similar accommodations for graduation ceremonies at a price less than the $32,000 budget. The rental fee for Symphony Hall, for example, totals $11,400 for both schools — a figure that is at least $5000 less than the rental fee charged by First Cathedral. Although the facility seats 2611 graduates and spectators would likely require Enfield Schools to limit each graduate to eight (8) tickets each, it was deemed “that should not be a huge issue.”

Chairman Stokes noted that there were other ways in which Symphony Hall did not match First Cathedral in meeting particular criteria that the Board was looking for, but the Board never generated a concrete list of the precise criteria that needed to be met. Indeed, certain requirements that Chairman Stokes claims the Board believed a venue had to satisfy seem designed to eliminate First Cathedral’s competitors. During the May 24, 2010 hearing, for example, the court asked Stokes, “What size is a minimum size that you think makes a facility acceptable?” Chairman Stokes replied, “I think that being able to have unlimited seating where anybody can come in and celebrate with their families is probably where I have leaned to.” When the court inquired further and asked what constitutes “unlimited seating,” Stokes replied, “In this case here it is about 3000 seats.” First Cathedral’s seating capacity is 3000.

Looks like the board’s putative “search for alternatives” was cleverly skewed so as to arrive at the predetermined result. This means it was not a genuine “search” and thus, by claiming to have actually “searched” for alternatives when they never intended to permit the graduation to be held anywhere else, Enfield Public Schools is guilty of disingenuity.

This places them into my “lying liars for Jesus” club.

Something else that ought to be noted is that the chairman of the Enfield school board, Greg Stokes, is the pastor of Cornerstone Church, a Protestant evangelical church in East Windsor CT (just south of Enfield) (cached version of page). First Cathedral in Bloomfield is also — you guessed it! — a Protestant evangelical church (cached version of page). I wonder, Pastor Stokes … could there possibly be a conflict of interest here? Maybe? Ya think? Hmm.

Let’s see: Dishonesty, and failure to admit to an obvious conflict of interest … yep, Chairman Stokes has managed to live down to all my expectations of fundamentalist Christians. Way to go, Pastor Greg!

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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3 Responses to “Judge Stops Enfield Schools From Proselytizing”
  1. […] defy the law of the land and hold the town’s high school graduation in a church. As expected, they were rebuffed in this effort, mainly because of their lies, but they most certainly haven’t given up […]

  2. […] It’s a kind of obsession. They seem to want to hold them in religious venues (e.g. in Enfield, Connecticut a year ago) and they demand that school officials say prayers at them during graduations. There’s just […]

  3. […] blogged about this conflict, back when it erupted in spring of 2010. At the time litigation over this began, various […]