ACLU Files Suit Against RI School for 1960s Prayer Mural

The Rhode Island American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit to demand that the city of Cranston order a local high school to take down a Christian mural that has been displayed on a wall at the high school since the 1960s.

Cranston High School West has an eight-foot prayer mural addressed to “Our Heavenly Father.” The ACLU is contending that this violates the constitutional rights of a student who is an atheist.

The first complaint to the school district came one year ago after a parent contacted the local school board. School officials told the ACLU they would look into the situation and voted to keep the mural, which was a gift from the first graduating class in the early 1960s.

Attorneys for the school district said in a brief filed on Friday that they “decided not to erase history for the sake of political correctness.” The mural “remains as an example that our world is not made new every day, that our public spaces are shaped by something more than the whims of the moment.”

In a counter brief that was filed, Thomas Bender and Lynette Labinger, attorneys against the mural’s display, argue that the mural deprives an atheist student of the rights guaranteed under the First and 14th Amendments.

“Interestingly enough, after we made our first complaints, the school district took down a similar mural that was on display in a middle school. But they refused to take down the one in the high school because they claimed it had historical value,” Steven Brown, director of the Rhode Island ACLU, told The Christian Post. For this reason, according to the ACLU, the school district’s historical claim holds little veracity.

The mural violates the First Amendment clause against an established church because its purpose "is to communicate official approval of student prayer as part of the educational experience and tradition," the ACLU said.

“One complaint in a half century is a good indication that this historic student-authored artwork hasn't done a thing to establish an official religion in Cranston schools," said Joshua Hawley, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, according to The Becket Fund has agreed to represent the school district at no charge.

The court hearing is expected to take place on Oct. 13. The ACLU on behalf of student Jessica Ahlquist filed the lawsuit.

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