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ACLU sues Cranston over ‘prayer banner’

April 5, 2011

The ACLU has filed its lawsuit against Cranston Public Schools over what it says is a prayer on the wall of a high school auditorium.

The mural in question begin with the words “Our Heavenly Father” and urges students to work hard and treat their peers with kindness. A similar message is also displayed at a local middle school.

Cranston school officials have vowed to fight the lawsuit and say several attorneys have offered to represent the district on a pro bono basis. Some Cranston residents see the mural as a local school tradition and maintain that it is not religious in nature.

The ACLU’s lawsuit filed on behalf of a high school student seeks a court order prohibiting the display of the message in the public schools. Plaintiff Jessica Ahlquist, a self-described atheist, says she finds it exclusionary.

“The prayer’s presence in the school promotes and endorses the ideals of Christianity and the concept of a single “Heavenly Father.” I firmly believe that it should not be on display in a public school and is in direct violation of my and other students’ civil rights,” Alqhuist said.

Cranston school officials have voted to retain Joe Cavanagh of the firm Blish & Cavanagh as their local legal counsel. Cavanagh, one of the state’s leading trial attorneys and a graduate of Cranston High School East (class of 1966), volunteered his services to the district. School officials say they will also receive national representation and advice from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a non profit law firm that describes itself as dedicated to protecting religious freedom.

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