This column presents facts regarding the United States Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Wisconsin State Constitution, and various other documents in reference to modern topics. Mark hopes to encourage interest in those works so that others can consider whether our government is practicing within its constitutional limits. In the last category, he may indicate his opinion. Mark is a resident of New Berlin. Readers are encouraged to visit the following sites for more information on the United States Constitution and Thomas Jefferson's views on politics and government.
According to FOXNews.com on June 04, 2010 (full article available on-line)
A Connecticut School District's showdown with the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State has come to end -- at least for a year.
With the clock ticking, the Enfield School Board voted Thursday night not to appeal a preliminary injunction by U.S. District Judge Janet Hall, who ruled Monday that it was unconstitutional for the district's two high schools to hold their commencement ceremonies at a church.
The vote means the schools will hold their 2010 graduation ceremonies on school grounds.
Jordan Sekulow, an attorney with the Center for Law and Justice, had felt all along that the case was winnable and that Judge Hall did not consider two similar cases that ruled in favor of the school districts. "This kind of case can go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court where it impacts every school district, and that's why it's important," Sekulow said.
Enfield was one of five school districts in Connecticut that planned to hold commencement ceremonies for its high schools at First Cathedral, a megachurch in Bloomfield with state-of-the-art facilities, plenty of legroom and ample parking.
Last fall the ACLU sent out letters to each of the five districts telling them that if they continued with plans to hold graduations at the church, they would be in violation of the Constitution's establishment clause and that the ACLU would take legal action.
Four of the schools heeded the warning and dropped their plans. Enfield, which has two high schools, stayed the course -- but only after being assured by the Center for Law and Justice that it would handle the legal costs.
On Thursday, the Enfield board voted 5-4 not to appeal because it wanted to give the students certainty about the location of their commencement. The decision was met by loud boos and jeers from parents and students who packed the meeting.
But for at least the three of the other four districts, the issue came down to money. With limited budgets, the school districts felt it was safer to back down rather than spend tens of thousands of dollars in a legal battle.
"We've got to a worry about keeping teachers and keeping our expenses down," said Dwyer Hughes. "Money is tight."
"The bottom line," said Dr. Elizabeth Feser, superintendent of Windsor Schools, "the board felt that if it remained with the Cathedral and faced the ACLU, the cost to the taxpayers would be significant and the board could not justify that cost."
"We received similar legal advice from our council, that the litigation cost would be substantial," said Rob Kozaczka, superintendent of schools in South Windsor. "We had to give closure to our kids so they would know where their commencement ceremony would be held."
Sekulow said he had hoped the Enfield case would set an example for other school districts nationwide. "They get a lot of scary letters from the ACLU which has no precedent whatsoever from the Supreme Court, to say this is unconstitutional," he said. "In fact, the precedent from other circuit courts and districts is on the side of the school districts."
But Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which fought with the ACLU to have the venue changed, said the judge made the right call. “The court’s ruling will ensure that no student or parent has to choose between missing their own graduation and being subjected to a religious environment of a faith to which they do not subscribe,” said Alex J. Luchenitser, the group's senior litigation counsel. “It is unconstitutional and wrong for a school district to subject students and families to religious messages as the price of attending graduation.”
Andrew Schneider, Executive Director of the ACLU in Connecticut, said in a statement after Monday's ruling: "We are pleased that the court has found that holding a public high school graduation ceremony in an overtly religious setting is inappropriate when comparable secular facilities are available. The Enfield Schools' plans to hold the ceremonies in a church created an unnecessary divisive atmosphere for what should be a positive and inclusive event for all students."
But Sekulow said the only divisiveness was caused by the ACLU. "The ACLU may be able to scare off some towns," he said, "but there are always towns and cities that are willing to take a stand. And when they do they can set a precedent for the entire nation."
The Constitution, First Amendment
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
To quote Thomas Jefferson, letter to Danbury Baptist Association, CT., Jan. 1, 1802
“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and State. “
We the People:
Those words of the First Amendment limit Congress from establishing a national religion. They do not limit the states, the schools, or the people from utilizing religious facilities for any purpose. Anyone who has followed the freedom trail in Boston knows that the founders often met in churches because those were the largest indoor gathering facilities.
Enforcing the Constitution at the local level is one of the costs of liberty! We should be thankful that it only costs money. Why would these officials fold on a winning hand? Perhaps they were ignorant of their strong position, but they chose dollars over liberty.
The bullying tactics from the ACLU succeeded this time. When similar occurrences occur near you, trust the words you see in the Constitution and support elected officials who support liberty.