The stack of invitations sits next to my computer, signaling the start of graduation open house season. Across America, high school graduation celebrations seem to vary by region. I happen to live in the Midwest, where no child matriculates without copious casserole dishes filled with cheesy potatoes served under rented tents in the back yard. It’s just what we do.
For the two high schools of the Enfield, CT, school district, graduation has taken on an unfortunate political context, thanks to the ACLU (insert expression of mock surprise).
This time, in its effort to assure the civil liberties of high school graduates and their families, the ACLU filed suit to protect folks from seeing religious iconography while attending a graduation ceremony. It argued, and apparently US District Court Judge Janet Hall agrees, that simply walking into a church where Christian iconography is present constitutes a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution.
As a reminder, the First Amendment’s establishment clause says, “Congress shall make no law regarding the establishment of a religion.” Holding a high school graduation at a local church involves neither Congress nor a law, but this is the ACLU we’re talking about. Their copy of the Constitution is probably stuffed under a table leg to keep it from wobbling.
Some background: Enfield, CT, is a small town of about 44,000 people located just off I-91 in northern Connecticut, closer to Springfield, Mass. than it is to Hartford. It’s not a community with many large gathering spaces for such things as high school graduations.
So for the past several years, Enfield High School and Enrico Fermi High School have held their commencement ceremonies at First Cathedral in nearby Bloomfield. First Cathedral is a large Christian church with ample parking, handicap accessibility and other useful amenities. The church’s fee to use its facility apparently is more competitive than commercial halls.This year, the school board researched several alternative sites for graduation ceremonies after learning that the ACLU planned to file a lawsuit should the district again schedule its commencements at First Cathedral.
Scanning the board minutes for the next six months, it’s clear the Enfield Board of Education studied and discussed this subject exhaustively. The Board also considered comments from community members and students who brought forth ideas for alternative venues.
In the end, though, the board decided that First Cathedral was the best use of its funds to rent adequate space that offered what the district needed to hold its two commencement ceremonies.
Not for nothing, there seems to be a sense that they weren’t keen on being threatened or pushed around by the ACLU, though some more pragmatic members felt it was a waste to spend money on a lawsuit.
It’s just this sort of pragmatism that the ACLU counts on, of course, as it spreads the misguided notion that our Constitution prohibits public entities such as schools from holding non-religious ceremonies in buildings that happen also to house words and pictures associated with Christianity.
It’s a twisted end to a school year that began politically, too. On the first day of school, recall that America’s uber-dad, President Obama, lectured students on their responsibilities and his own childhood struggles in school. The US Department of Education was ready to disseminate supporting materials on how to help the President achieve his goals (strange, not their goals, but his). Only an outcry from conservatives kept that propaganda from the classrooms.
This is why the rights to religious and political expression of America’s children are routinely curtailed for “politically correct” reasons. To wit: The rights of Cheerleaders in Georgia to carry banners with biblical verses on them; the rights of high schoolers in California to wear American flag t-shirts; the rights of a boy in New York to wear a rosary around his neck to school – the list goes on and on.
The goal is to indoctrinate kids into the notion that our Constitution prohibits any religious expression or political speech that someone else doesn’t happen to like or agree with.
But wait. Won’t children learn how wrong this is when studying the Constitution in American history class?