ENFIELD, Conn. — A Connecticut school board voted narrowly Tuesday to fight a court ruling that would keep the town’s two high school graduations from being held inside a Bloomfield megachurch, reversing an earlier decision not to do so.
Last week, Enfield’s Board of Education voted by the same 5-4 margin to let stand the temporary injunction issued by U.S. District Court Judge Janet Hall. The judge found that holding the June 23 and 24 graduations at the 3,000-seat First Cathedral Baptist Church would amount to an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.
Attorney Vincent McCarthy, who’s representing the school district, plans to file the appeal with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. He did not immediately return calls for comment Tuesday night.
David McGuire, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, says he’s disappointed by the decision, but believes the injunction will be upheld by the appeals court.
“We believe that the vote will create unnecessary divisions in an already tense community,” McGuire said.
Town officials have said they wanted the graduations at the church, which has hosted a number of them in recent years, citing its lower cost, large indoor crowd capacity and ample parking.
School officials initially decided in January to hold outdoor ceremonies at the high schools, but officials said parents were concerned about bad weather and limited seating if the graduations had to be moved inside the schools.
WTIC-AM reports that attorneys for the students who are suing say the board changed its mind after intense lobbying by the Family Institute of Connecticut, a socially conservative religious organization.
Members of the board voted along party lines on Tuesday, with Republicans supporting plans to move for an expedited appeal and Democrats opposing it.
Several nearby school districts had changed their plans to hold graduation ceremonies at the megachurch after receiving letters in the fall from groups including the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut and Americans United for Separation of Church and State warning they’d sue.
McCarthy is a lawyer for the American Center for Law and Justice, founded by Pat Robertson.
The lawyers said they expect the lawsuit will be heard and a final decision made before next year’s graduations.