Atheist Student Confident in Case to Remove Prayer Mural From School

An atheist high-school student says she is sure the law on her side in her battle over a prayer mural she wants removed from her school's auditorium.

Jessica Ahlquist, a junior at Cranston High School West, said her argument was "very strong" after attorneys for her and the city of Cranston presented their case to Senior Judge Ronald R. Lagueux in U.S. District court in Providence, Rhode Island on Thursday.

"It the right thing to do," said Ahlquist.

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Attorney Joseph Cavanagh Jr., who is defending the city of Cranston, has said the mural is a historical artifact and serves no religious purpose.

"It's not forced upon anyone. It's a historical document as a tradition of the school," Cavanagh said.

The prayer urges students to excel academically and starts with the words "Our Heavenly Father" and ends with "Amen."

The first class to graduate from the school, class of 1963, presented murals of the prayer and the school creed to the school.

Sixty-four year-old David Bradley, a former student, said the prayer hasn't been recited in the school since 1962 and there have been no prior complaints regarding the mural. He said the prayer was written during the formation of other traditions at Cranston High School West.

In March the school committee voted to keep the mural on display.

Ahlquist's lawyer, Lynette Labinger, said the mural is a violation of the Constitution.

"The prayer is not, as the defendant would suggest, anything like a Pledge of Allegiance. In contrast, this is a prayer," Labinger said. "It's a religious communication and it's in a public school."

Ahlquist noticed the prayer during her freshman year and started speaking up about it at school meetings. She also set up a Facebook group to gain support for mural's removal.

Ahlquist grew up in Warwick and Coventry. Her father was an atheist and her mother was "spiritual." She was baptized in the Catholic Church, according to a Providence Journal report.

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