Can a cathedral be a secular hall?

Is it okay for public schools to rent out a big Christian church for commencement ceremonies?

The ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State don’t think so.

the-first-cathedralThey’ve asked the Enfield (Conn.) public schools to stop holding graduation at The First Cathedral in Bloomfield, Conn. (north of Hartford), a 120,000-square-foot church that “is steeped in Christian symbols and iconography,” according to an ACLU release.

The ALCU has also reached out to four other public high schools in Connecticut that rent out the First Cathedral:  East Hartford High School, South Windsor High School, Windsor High School and the Metropolitan Learning Center Magnet School.

Many high schools have trouble finding facilities large enough for their graduations. These days, many schools limited the number of relatives each student can bring.

So it’s understandable that the First Cathedral is in demand. The church’s website has a whole page on renting the place.

So what’s the ALCU’s beef?

Daniel Mach, Director of Litigation at the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, says: “In our constitutional system, public schools should not be in the business of embracing particular faiths or religious viewpoints. The graduation ceremony is a significant event in the lives of students and their families, and no one should feel like a second-class participant during this important celebration.”

Gary Stern

Gary Stern covered education in the Lower Hudson Valley for several years during the early 1990s. Now's he back on the beat. He believes that schools are one of the main reasons that people live around here and that educational issues -- from curriculum to financing -- are among the most challenging things that journalists can write about. He continues to be amazed by the complexity of educational jargon. Gary got his B.A. at SUNY Buffalo and his M.A. from the University of Missouri Journalism School (where his master's thesis was about the best ways to cover education). He lives in White Plains with his wife and two sons, who attend public schools.