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Atheist wins battle with Cranston schools

January 12, 2012

A federal judge has ordered Cranston to immediately remove a prayer from the wall at a local high school. A student and her family sued the school district, arguing that the message, which contains the words, “Our Heavenly Father,” constituted a breach of the constitutional separation between church and state.

City and school officials claimed that the mural had historic significance. It has been at the school for roughly 50 years, and residents call it a tradition in Cranston. The overall message of the mural is not religious, according to school officials. It urges students and teachers to work hard and be a credit to the school.

The Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, arguing on behalf of student Jessica Ahlquist, called the mural an inappropriate display of language that promotes prayer in a public school. Ahlquist considers herself an atheist.

The Cranston school district has 10 days to respond to the ruling. School officials tell the Providence Journal they are not likely to file an appeal.

The full text of the prayer mural:

Our Heavenly Father,
Grant us each day the desire to do our best,
To grow mentally and morally as well as physically,
To be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers,
To be honest with ourselves as well as with others,
Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win,
Teach us the value of true friendship,
Help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Tim permalink
    January 12, 2012 4:29 pm

    How about if the school administration just remove the “Our Heavenly Father,” and leave all the rest? Would that satisfy the ACLU?

    and how about if the ACLU spent their time, energy and resources on activities that actually helped make life better for all of us rather than on divisive attacks on something that has not bothered anyone else for 64 years?

    • January 13, 2012 12:27 am

      Interesting question! The Cranston School Committee considered re-wording the prayer but decided against it. It seems like it might be hard to change the wording without completely painting over the original message.

      Judging from the tone of your comment, it sounds like this ruling comes as a blow to members of the community who supported the mural. However, I think it is also important to see this from the perspective non-Christians or really anyone who feels excluded by this type of language.

      The question is not really how long the mural has been there, but whether it is appropriate for a public school. In this case, the judge was very strong in his opinion that it is not appropriate.

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