Rhode Island board votes against appeal

FFRF congratulates Jessica Ahlquist, 16, for prevailing in a lawsuit challenging a prayer banner at her high school in Rhode Island. On Feb. 16, the Cranston School Committee voted 5-2 not to appeal the Jan. 11 ruling by U.S. District Judge Ronald Lagueux, who ordered the removal of a prayer inscribed on a large banner in the auditorium of Cranston High School West, beginning with “Our Heavenly Father” and ending with “Amen.”

FFRF wrote School Committee members and asked all FFRF members to contact them before the vote.

“It is the duty of the school district to protect taxpayers’ money from a costly losing battle. More than 70 years of absolutely incontrovertible and firm Supreme Court rulings have settled the law,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. “Religious devotions and instruction have no place in our public schools. The school cannot, will not and should not win this fight.”

Lawyers representing Jessica have asked the court to order the city to pay $173,000 for legal fees, the Associated Press reported.

Banner opponents at the meeting wore T-shirts that said “Evil little thing,” a reference to comments made by state Rep. Peter Palumbo, a Cranston Democrat, about the teen on talk radio.

FFRF has given Jessica $12,000 in support and scholarships this year and is pursuing civil rights complaints against two florists who wouldn’t deliver flowers from FFRF to Jessica, who will be a headline speaker at the March 24 Reason Rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Ellery Schempp, involved as a student in the landmark 1963 Supreme Court case Abington School District v. Schempp that said outlawed required school bible readings, spoke at the meeting in support of Jessica:

“The poster on the wall says it is a prayer. Prayer is a religious notion, and it has no secular purpose whatsoever. We might even think of it as blasphemy if you read Matthew 6:5-7, which warns against public displays of piety,” Schempp said.

Schempp added, “I think if Roger Williams were here today, he would be asking, ‘What purpose does this poster have?’ He would be condemning the hate and fear that has arisen. He would ask, ‘What if this prayer had never been posted? Would Cranston kids be less moral, less good, less tolerant?’ I think they would be about the same. And when it goes away, they will be about the same. They still have to pay attention in class, study and do homework. So this is a lot of fuss about nothing.”

The School Committee is looking for a place to permanently house the banner. Possible locations are the Cranston Historical Society and churches.

Freedom From Religion Foundation