RI High School refuses to take down prayer

The ACLU is taking a high school to court over a fairly blatant endorsement of Christianity, in the form of a large prayer banner, prominently displayed.

CRANSTON — The Rhode Island Affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union is asking a federal judge to stop the city from displaying a Christian prayer banner painted on a wall of Cranston High School West.

The 8-foot-high mural, which is addressed to “Our Heavenly Father,” has deprived student Jessica Ahlquist of her rights under the First and 14th Amendments, argue attorneys Lynette Labinger and Thomas Bender in a brief filed Friday in preparation for an Oct. 13 court hearing.

The high school’s defense? “Hey, we’ve defied the First Amendment for a long time, and therefore we have a right to continue to do so.”

After giving the issue much thought, school officials “decided not to erase history for the sake of political correctness,” say attorneys Joseph V. Cavanagh Jr., Joseph V. Cavanagh III, Eric C. Rassbach, Lori H. Windham, Anthony A. Cipriano and Christopher M. Rawson in a brief filed Friday in U.S. District Court.

The decision by School Committee members to leave the mural alone is “based not upon some desire to inject religion into the public schools, but on their belief that school history and tradition should be maintained,” they say.

The “injecting religion” bit is just a perk, or something.


  1. Sarcen says

    I love how they’re defending it by claiming to protect tradition. As though the traditions of some little public school built in 1959 are more important than the First Amendment or the American tradition of religious freedom.

  2. Doubtingelvis says

    Isn’t female circumcision traditional in some cultures as well? Also, I believe, in the name of religious faith?

  3. unbound says

    So, can I buy some slaves too? Not because slavery is acceptable, but on my belief that country history and tradition should be maintained, and I’ve decided not to erase history for the sake of political correctness.

    In all honesty, the school officials’ rationalization will be good enough for all the xtians in the community. So even if the ACLU wins (which they should), they will just turn the issue into the ACLU are working for either Satan or Santa (I can never remember which order the xtians try putting those letters together).

  4. lordshipmayhem says

    Well, the KKK and the lynching of blacks has been a tradition of parts of the United States. Selling recreational pharmaceuticals has been a long tradition as well. And murder? Heck, according to the religious, that’s been a tradition since Cain and Abel. By their legal theory, those actions should be OK too.

  5. The Lorax says

    Well, this is important, isn’t it? I mean, if “tradition” is no longer a valid excuse, then there goes the ONLY remaining excuse for keeping “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance and “In God We Trust” on our money.

  6. fastlane says


    So, can I buy some slaves too? Not because slavery is acceptable, but on my belief that country history and tradition should be maintained, and I’ve decided not to erase history for the sake of political correctness.

    Me, I want to bring back the puritan tradition and start burning some of these heretical xians at the stake. Or maybe stoning. Being stoned is good and biblical even. Right?

    Lorax, the excuse for keeping those is a little more subtle, in the mental gymnastics of SCOTUS precedent. Ceremonial Deism (CD) is the trick phrase (aka magic words). Of course, the CD is put to a lie every single time someone tries to get those things eliminated, and more importantly, whenever the government tries to actually be inclusive of other religions.

  7. jolo5309 says

    Wait, my family is from Rome, it is my family’s tradition to throw Christians to the lions, and worship Roman gods like Liber!

    Booze and blood baby!

  8. scenario says

    I’ve been in that school many times and met the administration and my impression is that the school department in the city tends to promote based on the good old boy network and how mindlessly you follow the rules. My impression of the upper management and school committee is that they really have no idea on how to effectively run a school, never mind how the constitution works. The only reason that it hasn’t collapsed yet is that the people who actually do the work, like most of the teachers, secretaries etc, are quite good and occasionally the school department slips up and hires competent principals.

    The other influence is that RI is the only state that the majority of people are Roman Catholic and the church has a large influence.

  9. redgreeninblue says

    This is one of the problems with religion. By providing a stock set of images, concepts and phrases laden with value judgements and social pressures, religion makes it too easy for people to simply unthinkingly borrow its symbolism when creating “new” traditions, such as murals on the wall of a newly-inaugurated RI school in 1959, rather than engaging their imaginations and exploring the community’s own identity and aspirations.

    As someone who was raised a practising Catholic, I think I am qualified to say that an awful lot of the prayers, banners, murals and posters mean very little, if anything, and certainly convey no message relevant to real life. I think that their main function is twofold: to create a warm and fuzzy sense amongst believers of “belonging” and “tradition” which otherwise people would have to build for themselves with reference to the real world, and to saturate the environment with religious sentiment and normalising it, which performs the function of protecting religious ideas from proper scrutiny.

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