A Rhode Island school district has decided to legally fight, if necessary, to keep a prayer banner hanging inside a public school despite threats from the American Civil Liberties Union.
The Cranston School Committee voted 4-3 Monday to continue displaying a banner of the Cranston West prayer. About 200 people came to the Monday meeting to witness the vote, with much of the crowd supporting the banner.
Committee member Michael Traficante said the banner models the morals on which the country was founded. He and fellow committee member Frank Lombardi proposed the recommendation approved Monday.
The battle over the banner began last July when the Rhode Island chapter of the ACLU asked the school district to remove the prayer, saying it violates the First Amendment and the constitutional principle of separation of church and state.
The R.I. chapter of the ACLU took special offense to the prayer’s opening and closing statements, “Our Heavenly Father” and “Amen.” The group says having the prayer in school is proselytizing.
However, school officials say the prayer is meant to be non-denominational.
The beginning of the prayer banner reads, “Gant 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.”
The prayer, which is no longer said out loud, has hung in Cranston West for 50 years.
Still, the R.I. ACLU chapter urged the school to reword the prayer, take it down altogether, or face legal action.
Residents reacted to the threat by circulating a petition to protect the banner. More than 4,000 people signed the petition to keep the prayer banner, FOX News reported.
Local supporters praised the decision to keep the school prayer banner up in the school’s auditorium. However, the school committee has to decide who will pay if a legal fight actually ensues.
Mayor Allan Fung says he supports keeping the banner up inside Cranston West. But local television station NBC-10 reported that a city spokesperson said the money isn't there for a legal battle. The Rhode Island Affiliate of the ACLU has not announced any action as of yet.
In the past, there has only been one complaint against the prayer banner, said school Superintendent Peter L. Nero and former Cranston West principal Edmund J. Lemoi. However, district officials resolved the conflict without going to court and the prayer was allowed to remain.