RI City Must Pay ACLU $150,000 After Losing Prayer Banner Case

A Rhode Island city will be paying the American Civil Liberties Union $150,000 in legal fees after having lost a months-long prayer banner case against them.

The case involved a prayer banner that hung at Cranston High School West, which was declared unconstitutional. Cranston School District Chief Operating Officer Raymond Votto disclosed the amount, which was meant to cover the expenses of the case.

"We are very pleased that we were able to resolve the lawsuit without the need for further appeals. The settlement provides our client with all of the relief she sought when she first filed the lawsuit," said Steven Brown, executive director for the Rhode Island ACLU, to The Christian Post.

Regarding the fee, Brown explained that the number was based on several factors, including work hours and other legal expenses. Brown also said that it was a smaller amount than what other groups often got from the courts.

"The amount of the settlement pales in comparison to the attorneys' fees that lawyers working with the Becket Fund, the national group that assisted the school district in defending the case, obtained in a church-state lawsuit two years ago," said Brown.

"In that case from Colorado, dealing with a church zoning dispute, attorneys working with the Becket Fund were awarded over $1.25 million in attorneys' fees for their work handling the case in the district court."

The issue began in July 2010, when the ACLU of Rhode Island asked Cranston High School West to remove a prayer banner from its auditorium that had been on display since the 1960s. The banner had language considered sectarian such as "Our Heavenly Father" and "Amen."

In March of 2011, Cranston School Committee voted 4-3 to continue displaying the banner despite legal threats from the ACLU and the complaints of an atheist student. By last October both sides found themselves arguing the case in federal court, with the court ruling against Cranston and in favor of Jessica Ahlquist, the 16-year-old atheist student who sought to have the banner reworded or taken down.

Last month, the Cranston School Committee voted 5-2 against making an appeal and proceeded to pay the legal fees to the ACLU. Ahlquist herself intends to transfer to a different school by the end of the school year.

Cranston High School West did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

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