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OP-ED | July Justice In CT

by | Jul 27, 2012 2:00pm () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Civil Liberties, Courts, Opinion

Leave it to the gods of litigation to provide news junkies like me with endless entertainment. But amusement turns to anger when those gods’ actions cost taxpayers precious time and money.

Look no further than what has happened in Enfield, where the school board voted 6-3 last week to settle a two-year-old lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United For Separation of Church and State.

Spurred by complaints from a handful of parents and students, those organizations objected to the school district’s habit of holding high school graduations in a large Catholic church in nearby Bloomfield. The practice, the plaintiffs insisted, forced students to “have to choose between submitting to an unwelcome religious environment and missing their graduation ceremonies.”

The case really hinges on the so-called establishment clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which is generally accepted to mean the government cannot establish a national religion or favor one religion over another.

Even as an agnostic, I can scarcely see how the practice of holding public school commencement exercises in a church violates anyone’s constitutional rights. Now if Enfield school officials had invited the parish priest to offer Communion and lead the audience in a few Hail Marys, that would clearly cross a line. But no one was being forced to take part in a religious ceremony, nor were there any robed church officials present. So it’s clear to me that the establishment clause was not violated and no one was actually denied religious liberty.

So the issue really boils down to whether the Enfield Board of Education showed favoritism in choosing Bloomfield’s First Cathedral over another place of worship. The plaintiffs say the board chose First Cathedral “even though more than a dozen non-religious sites in the area were available to host graduation ceremonies,” while the board insists none of those sites were air conditioned. Inasmuch as neither argument addresses the lack of constitutionality alleged in the complaint, both are little more than distractions. No, I fail to see how anyone’s rights were being violated. And I’d say that even if the board had opted to hold graduation in a mosque or a church of Scientology.

So who are winners and losers? I’d say it’s pretty clear. According to the sketchy terms of the settlement, the plaintiff’s lawyers, whose $1 million tab will be partially picked up by Enfield taxpayers, have emerged victorious. So too have the five hypersensitive students and parents who thought this was a battle worth fighting.

Now I’m waiting to see what will happen in my own hometown of Salisbury, where the Board of Selectmen has the curious habit of holding public hearings and town meetings in the Congregational Church whenever the Town Hall across Main Street cannot support large crowds.

Will the ACLU intervene in Connecticut’s far northwest corner? After all, someone might feel uncomfortable or intimidated by Christian symbols while voting on a cell tower or a zoning application. Stay tuned.

* * * * *

It looks like the case of the Central Connecticut State University professor accused of larceny and lying to investigators has been resolved. Readers may recall I wrote a column about the case of Ravi Shankar early this year.

Shankar, in a bargain with prosecutors, pleaded guilty July 16 to one count of making false statements and received a one-year suspended sentence.

Despite Shanker’s admission last year that he had tried to scalp $22,000 worth of soccer tickets to cover $70,000 in accumulated debt and revelations that he had tried to get a CCSU technician to wipe clean the hard drive of his university-issued laptop, prosecutors decided not to charge him with first-degree larceny and evidence tampering, both felonies in Connecticut.

Shankar was subsequently arrested in North Haven after he rear-ended another vehicle and fled the scene. So the professor also faced charges of driving under the influence, evading responsibility and operating an uninsured motor vehicle. He pleaded no contest to a single DUI charge and again received a suspended sentence.

Shankar was placed on paid administrative leave for much of the last academic year but will return to CCSU in the fall, apparently as if nothing had happened.

In an email to the Journal Inquirer, Shankar said he has no intention of resigning his post since “none of the offenses I have been convicted of have any bearing on my teaching nor on my aptitude as a scholar.”

Right, but only if he thinks setting a very poor example for his students won’t affect his teaching. As someone who manned a classroom and roamed the halls of a high school for 12 years, I can tell you most emphatically that it does.

Terry Cowgill blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com, is the editor of ctessentialpolitics.com and was an award-winning editor and senior writer for The Lakeville Journal Company.

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(8) Archived Comments

posted by: Dennis Paul Himes | July 30, 2012  8:51pm

Since the outcome of the Enfield lawsuit was completely obvious the fault for wasting the taxpayers’ money by rejecting an out-of-court settlement lies squarely with the Enfield Board of Education.  Don’t blame people who do the right thing because the people who want to do the wrong thing try to hold the taxpayers’ money hostage.

posted by: ARealPatriot | July 30, 2012  11:50pm

The only reason you should blush is because of your biased reporting Cowgill. Why don’t you tell us the other facts about Professor Shankar’s case that were reported in the Journal Inquirer, like his pursuit of a civil case against the credit card company that admitted that they allowed fraudulent charges to go through? Or the fact that he is one of the state’s top teachers and scholars and someone who has volunteered hundreds of hours to help youth literacy in Connecticut? People will remember him and his accomplishments long after your own pathetic existence has been forgotten. Thanks for admitting you’re an agnostic. I hope God shows you His face because only He could help someone as petty and biased as you.

posted by: SocialButterfly | July 31, 2012  9:16am

Terry Cowgill:  Don’t be so modest, Terry.  There is nobody better than you!

posted by: borisvian | July 31, 2012  2:05pm

<<The case really hinges on the so-called establishment clause of the First Amendment…>>

I disagree, Mr. Cowgill. In my opinion, the case really hinges on human decency. And your point is, majority rules, or should. But in a democratic, civilized society, nobody should be oppressed in the name of not being in the majority.

Why should any LGBT students feel happy about going there? You have to accept the fact that there are perfectly kind and reasonable people out there who find entering a church, any church, objectionable.

You have to accept that these good people do not consider the church, or religions as keepers of moral authority. On the contrary, Vatican is considered by many people a criminal organization and not only for the obvious sexual abuse fiasco but for their money laundering scandal - their past, their present, etc., etc.
One might also consider any church, not just a Catholic church, as symbol of oppression due to their vehement anti-science stances in favor of superstitions, etc., etc.

Would all the students agree to have the ceremony in an Atheist venue where they could read on the walls the semi covered messages of the hosts’ world view: “All thinking men are atheists.”, “And on the eighth day, man created God to his own image, and there was stupidity.”, etc., etc.?

Your suggestion to go there and feel good anyway is quite Orwellian.

posted by: Truthseeker | July 31, 2012  3:15pm

@TerryCowgill - and will you change your story when the Professor wins a settlement against the credit card company? Big banks are the real evil in this story - don’t know about you but I don’t have any plastic that would allow me to charge twenty large in an hour without stopping to check if the charges were legitimate. And surely you must know that just because something shows up in a police report doesn’t mean it’s true. I mean the poor guy’s student loans were called credit card debt in there. And let’s not forget the great police work by the racist East Haven cops under investigation by the Justice Department: http://inamerica.blogs.cnn.com/2011/12/20/justice-department-east-haven-connecticut-police-targeted-latinos/  - I imagine if what was in that report was true, the prosecutors wouldn’t have so readily dropped the other charges would you? And you’ve got to explain to me what a motor vehicle violation has to do with teaching. Must be easy to be a smug white dude in CT.

posted by: ARealPatriot | July 31, 2012  5:52pm

Terry I’d refer you to the Bible, John 8:7 “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” ...Oh wait but you don’t believe in God. Lucky for you He believes in you. But He must be the only one because your readers are not that gullible. Comparing your 12 years “roaming the halls of a high school” to the Professor’s 10+ years teaching at a state university? That’s laughable. You’re a sanctimonious windbag Cowgill. Why don’t you report on some actual news?

posted by: ... | August 1, 2012  12:23am


ARealPatriot: Grow up. This is an online comment board for an OP-Ed article, not scripture.

I know you’re obligated overcompensate by your user ID name, and putting God’s name in vain to make yourself feel 100% right. But being right doesn’t give you a free pass to treat those you disagree with like pieces of dirt. Or did Jesus mean ‘turn the other cheek’ by slapping theirs as hard as you can? Either that, or you’re just trolling to feel better about some inadequacy, intellectual or otherwise. Though a real patriot would have no worries having their real face to their word too.

Keep up the great work Terry. I enjoyed reading this.

posted by: Bluewhitered | August 6, 2012  6:45am

Dear folks - I’m coming to this article a little late but agree that the nature of commentary here is a little crass. What ever happened to civil discussion? Thank you Terry for writing this provoking article. The one thing I should mention before going forward is that I am a CCSU graduate and had Professor Shankar as a teacher. Now I can safely say that he was far and away the best professor I had during the entire time I was there. He was intelligent, cared passionately about his students, and honestly helped turn me into the man I am now. Shouldn’t that be the really important thing? I took plenty of classes with other professors who didn’t have any convictions and they were inadequate. Especially tenured ones. They didn’t care and their teaching was subpar. They might have been model citizens but they certainly didn’t do the job as well as Professor Shankar. And I think that needs to be part of the discussion - why should he be asked to resign when all of these mediocre teachers who honestly are doing tax-payers an injustice by collecting a paycheck and doing nothing are allowed to continue? What is up with teh tenure system anyway? Seems like you lose the incentive to be a good teacher once your job security is safe. Anyway, I was saddened to hear what happened but I also know that the good Professor Shankar has done far outweighs these charges - at least personally. And I would stand up and argue against anyone about his quality as a professor and his integrity as a man. Remember that most of the people writing about him, don’t actually know him. I would love to see some of the terrible teachers our taxes pay for be fired and have the good teachers, no matter what is in their background (to a point obviously) be celebrated. That’s my two cents. Thanks Terry.

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