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Judge: Last Ditch Effort to Save Banner "Misguided and Frivolous"

Judge Ronald R. Lagueux had strong words for the group that filed an eleventh hour request to save the prayer banner at Cranston West — even after it had been removed. He said their argument was based on "a mishmash of misguided and frivolous arguments."

Judge Ronald Lagueux called the prayer banner saga a "drawn-out affair" consisting of two months of "divisive debate."

"It is time to move on," the judge wrote in his Thursday denial of a motion by a group of past and present Cranston High School West students asking him to intervene and consider reversing his January ruling ordering the prayer banner hanging in the school auditorium be removed.

Lagueux described the motion, which was filed by Michael Motaranni, Christian Frangos, Olivia Frangos, Carolyn Mesagno, Lori McClain, Jared McMullen and Ronald L'Heureux, as not "timely" and based on "frivolous arguments."

He wrote that their request for a motion to intervene in a closed case, a stay in  the decision and order and for him to reconsider his decision came after the banner had already come down and was already "a done deal."

"Courts generally look with disfavor on motions to intervene that are filed after the entry of final judgement," Lagueux wrote. "The matter of the prayer mural was covered extensively by the news media. Moreover, it seems apparent tot ht Court tat at least some of the would-be intervenors attended some or all of the many public hearings held by the Cranston School Committee in connection with this issue. By mid-January, when the court issued its Decision and Order, Movants knew that the Court's ruling had not gone as they hoped."

More than a month went by as the School Committee went through a process before deciding to not appeal the ruling. The final judgement was entered two-and-a-half weeks later. It wasn't until then that the group filed their motion.

The group's arguments, which were based on various bits of case law, is described by Lagueux as "a mishmash of misguided and frivolous arguments."

"They assert that compelling and dispositive arguments were presented to the Cranston School Committee at the public hearings that were not included in the Defendants' briefs to this Court. Movants believe that these arguments, if considered by this court, would have resulted in a different ruling," Lagueux wrote. "They are wrong."

Quoting Alexander Pope, Lagueux said "A little learning is a dangerous thing."

Lagueux said the Movants argued that all of the Supreme Court's rulings on the Establishment Cause of the Constitution, which sets the framework for separation of church and state standards, is based on one decision: Everson v. Board of Ed. of Ewing Township in 1947, which they said was "wrongly decided in contravention" of the constitution.

They also cite the state and national Constitutions and various writings from the founding fathers that speak to the role of Christianity in our country.

Those arguments were frivolous, Lagueux said, because the Movants "concede as a part of their argument that this Court's decision is in line with a half-century of Supreme Court precedent. This court is not merely guided, but it is bound, by Supreme Court precedent."

That requirement is known as stare decisis and is "a bedrock of the rule of law on which the stability of our nation is based," the judge wrote. "Suffice it to say that the Supreme Court precedents on school prayer are clear, and this court is bound to adhere to that law."

Peruse our exhaustive coverage of the prayer banner saga by scrolling through our archives HERE.

Prof. Frederick Sweet April 14, 2012 at 05:23 PM
RELIGIOUS AND POLITICAL FANATICS ARE DANGEROUS Clearly, Judge Ronald Lagueux concluded, "Suffice it to say that the [U.S.] Supreme Court precedents on school prayer are clear, and this court is bound to adhere to that law." Nothing has changed in America or in Cranston, U.S.A. ! The law still rules. Thank God! People who insist on having their own way even though American laws forbid it are scary. People who on religious grounds insist on having their own way even though American laws forbid it are dangerous fanatics. The 9/11 terrorists who attacked the United States by high jacking American passenger airplanes and crashing them into New York City and Washington DC were dangerous, supposedly religious fanatics. Timothy McVeigh who bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995 was a dangerous political and religious fanatic. He killed 168 innocent Americans for nothing. Although the above are extreme examples, this mentality is shared by those people who insist on having their own way even though American laws forbid it. The Irish patriot John Philpot Curran first wrote, "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." And then Thomas Jefferson similarly wrote, "The price of Freedom is eternal vigilance." So far it would appear that we are still vigilant in America.
Joe Richer April 14, 2012 at 10:00 PM
Extremists exist on both sides of every argument - debate and questioning authority is a celebrated and vital aspect of a government of, by, and for the people. It's only scary and fanatical in cases like that of McVeigh. This is not one of those cases - for either side. I will fear for our freedom when no one has the coverage to challenge the status quo as government intervention in our lives steadlily increases.. I celebrate all of those who have cared enough about freedom to argue on either side of this issue. Vivre la difference!
Joyce Maxwell April 15, 2012 at 05:45 PM
Are you serious??? I was always taught that the majority rules. Apparently not. If the banner was intended to force us to practice a particular religion, I could see the problem, but it was extremely benign. For a professor to compare those of us who didn't agree with the court's ruling to Timothy McVeigh and 9/11 terrorists is totally insane. The Constitution grants us the right to disagree. Someone as supposedly educated as a professor should know that, and refrain from name-calling.
Joe The Plumber April 16, 2012 at 01:12 AM
It is hilarious that Judge Lageux described the objectors arguments against his decision as "misguided" That is exactly what other judges thought of Laguex in 1989 when a three-judge panel of Federal appeals court judges reprimanded Lagueux, for banning Prof. Alan Dershowitz of Harvard from his courtroom. The panel called the judge's action ''glaringly injudicious.'' In another case in 1996, The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Lagueux should have taken more factors into account before deciding last summer to uphold the judgement. Professor Freddy would then call these dissenting judges "terrorists" for not agreeing with Lagueux's court decision. You see Freddy, I do not know what country you are from, but here in the good old U.S.A. we can disagree with a judge's decision (especially one who has a history of making bad ones) and still be considered patriots. That is the vigilance that Jefferson was talking about.
Bill Santagata April 16, 2012 at 07:13 AM
Anyone who believes that this decision (on the motion to intervene) was incorrectly decided is simply ignorant of civil procedure. Everybody has to follow the rules, including this judge. And the rules this judge has to follow are called the "Federal Rules of Civil Procedure." A motion to intervene must meet several criteria, one of them is that it must be made "on timely motion." These proposed intervenors filed this motion almost half a year after the trial concluded, several months after the ruling was released, a month after the school committee voted not to appeal, and several days after the prayer banner was taken down. This is a textbook example of an untimely motion and it is not surprising that the judge ruled the way he did. If they want, they *can* appeal this ruling to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, but they have absolutely no chance of success. You can read the ruling yourself here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/89252254 It also isn't unusual for district court judges to be overturned on appeal — that's what appeals courts are for, to hold district court judges accountable. However, simply because Judge Lagueux has been overturned on appeal in the past (like pretty much any district court judge) does not mean either *these* decisions (on the merits or on this motion) are deficient. Indeed, he would have been overturned had he not decided the way he did, as binding Supreme Court precedent compelled this case.
Bill Santagata April 16, 2012 at 09:25 AM
@Joyce: While a majority (or more accurately, a *plurality*) decides who our elected officials will be, majority support has never at any time in our history been the standard by which the constitutionality of an action is measured. The government cannot force anyone to adhere to a certain religious belief, true. And you are correct that the banner did not force anyone to follow any religious belief. But this would all fall under the "Free Exercise Clause" of the First Amendment. Plaintiffs did not challenge the banner on Free Exercise grounds, but on Establishment Clause grounds. The government cannot establish a religious orthodoxy by suggesting what types of prayers and deities are the community norm. By displaying the prayer banner, the City of Cranston expressed the opinion that it is preferable to pray to a "Heavenly Father" in the format evocative of a Christian prayer (e.g. with "Amen" at the end). In contrast, those religious traditions not represented in the prayer become seen as foreign, alien to Cranston West and its community. This is prohibited by the Constitution. The government must treat all religions equally, whether they have 1 follower or 1 million.
Joe The Plumber April 17, 2012 at 02:29 AM
Billy, You say "Everybody has to follow the rules, including this judge." This judge does not follow the rules himself. Look at his history. It was his misguided interpretation of a Supreme Court precedent in this case and in others that makes his rulings wrong. You also say "It also isn't unusual for district court judges to be overturned on appeal — that's what appeals courts are for, to hold district court judges accountable." And he has been overturned many times and has a history of misconduct My comments however were directed to Prof. Fred. He asserts wrongly that anyone diagreeing with Lagueux should be labeled a "terrorist".
Bill Santagata April 17, 2012 at 09:44 AM
Even if Judge Lagueux had a 100% overturn rate (i.e. every single one of his previous decisions had been overturned on appeal), it would not necessarily mean that this decision would be overturned on appeal. Each decision is its own discrete issue with entirely different bases in law. What was his misguided interpretation of Supreme Court precedent? The Supreme Court has made very clear over a series of decisions that schools must maintain a *strict and lofty neutrality as to religion* (Abington School District v. Schempp) and that there is a heavier Establishment Clause burden in a public school setting (Edwards v. Aguillard). The content of the message was clearly religious in nature and not one the school had a right to endorse by memorializing it with a large banner permanently affixed to the wall of their auditorium. The weakness of the City's argument is evident in that they relied *exclusively* on Van Orden v. Perry, which was a plurality (not majority) opinion upholding a 10 Commandments monument on Texas state grounds due to a variety of reasons, not just because of the monument's age, but also because it was surrounded by other monuments donated by other private parties accepted by the state on a religion-neutral basis. The decision in Van Orden also makes it abundantly clear that the same monument would not be allowed in a public school. (cont'd)
Bill Santagata April 17, 2012 at 09:48 AM
(cont'd 2) As a side note: Van Orden v. Perry was decided the same day as McCreary County v. ACLU which was a *majority* opinion striking down another 10 Commandments monument. McCreary County is thus the rule (10 Commandments monuments under most circumstances not acceptable on state grounds) and Van Orden is the exception. Prof. Fred isn't saying that people who wanted to keep the banner are terrorists. He is saying that this line of thinking (that my religion puts me above the law), *if extended to the extreme* leads to the same line of thinking of religious terrorists. This is evident in the threats of violence directed at the Ahlquist family. Very few people who spoke in favor of the banner did so with cogent legal arguments. Most people believed that their being Christian should have entitled them to ignore parts of the Constitution they didn't like, and didn't want the government to *treat all religions equally* as it is required to do.
Bill Santagata April 17, 2012 at 09:49 AM
Also, just out of curiosity: do I know you personally? Usually only personal acquaintances call me Billy.
Joe The Plumber April 17, 2012 at 01:40 PM
Billy, I will say again. Prof. Fred said "People who insist on having their own way even though American laws forbid it are scary". He interpreted that Lagueuex's decision became law (which it did) and that anyone disagreeing with it was compared to various terrorists. And he is forgetting that this country was actually created on the basis of that kind of dissent. You appear to be a lawyer, I'm sure you have appealed some of your own cases when you did not agree with the judge's decision. You know that law is open to interpretation. I am not a lawyer, I'm just a simple plumber but It appears that there are some lawyers who disagree with Lageuex's application of various precidents to this particular situation. You may agree with him but there are others who would not agree. That is the beauty of our system. Prof. Fred would label all americans who disagree with laws in the U.S. as fanatics and terrorists. But many times that kind of disagreement leads to activists movements which motivate the American electorate, Congress and the President to change those laws. Those changes only come as a result of simple people disagreeing with our laws if they see them as being unfair. That is the case here in Cranston. Even if Lageuex was correct It does not mean that the Cranston electorate must be happy about it nor blindly accept it. I think Prof. Fred is confusing religious and political activism with terrorism.
Bill Santagata April 17, 2012 at 02:21 PM
There is nothing wrong with disagreeing with the decision. However, there is a difference between disagreeing with the decision itself and not liking what the decision brought about. For example, I may think a law is a really good law, but at the same time I can believe it is unconstitutional (or vice versa: I highly disagree with a law, but do admit it is constitutional). Most of the people advocating for the prayer banner did not do so by arguing its constitutionality (at least not with any rational legal arguments), but because they wanted to keep the banner up (and thus preserve preferential treatment towards Christians) despite its illegality. Yes, Prof. Fred's statements are extreme, but he also does admit that they are the extreme. The judge's decision became part of our *case law*, not law. It is the interpretation of the law, not law itself. As a District Court decision it sets no binding precedent but it can be referenced as influential in future cases. Certainly there really is no such thing as objectivity in law, but the point is that with legal issues people must make their arguments in legal terms. "Majority rules" is not a legal argument. "This binding Supreme Court decision is stupid so the judge should just ignore it" is not a legal argument. I am also not a lawyer but flattered that you thought I was lol.
Joe The Plumber April 17, 2012 at 06:09 PM
Bill, You are correct when you say "This binding Supreme Court decision is stupid so the judge should just ignore it" is not a legal argument. But, it is a comment of social protest , which can turn into a political protest which could then result in congress changing the law itself. The dissent begins in blogs such as this and ends in a change in law. That social change process is what we would be ignoring if we limited the debate and disagreement to pure legal arguments. By the way, I'm not sure I would be flattered for being thought of as a lawyer ;)
Bill Santagata April 18, 2012 at 09:05 AM
If you want to fight to make Christianity the official state religion of the United States of America, you are perfectly free to fight for such an amendment to the Constitution. However, you cannot be upset at people who, in the meantime, demand that the law be followed as it is currently written.
Joe The Plumber April 18, 2012 at 02:28 PM
Bill, You know that is not what I am talking about. It is polarizing comments like "If you want to fight to make Christianity the official state religion of the United States" that further complicates this issue and which has caused there to be militant positions taken on this issue. I think that the majority of people who have religious faith in Cranston do not want a State sponsored religion. But they would be happy just to be able to have religion be a part of their public and private lives. Not one state sponsored religion but religion and faith in God in general.
Joe The Plumber April 18, 2012 at 02:29 PM
(Continued) You have to admit that in the past it was more acceptable to have public displays of faith in private or public places such as the banner in Cranston West, without the controversy we are seeing here. Why is that? If it is illegal for it to be displayed there under Constiturional law now, then it was illegall for the last thirty years that it was allowed to be displayed. Was it just an oversight? To the contrary, I think it was actually never thought to be a violation of the law, in fact it was thought of as a part of our society that helped make our nation great. It was in fact thought to be patriotic and representative of our Government that we as a country have strong religious and moral convictions. That our government did not sponsor any one religion but there was no doubt that we were in fact a religious nation which based our laws and morality on our religious philosophies and on the basis that we trust in God. What is disturbing to the majority of people of faith in Cranston and throughout the country is that a minority of faithless people have recently become intolerant of our nations traditional notion that faith in God is part of our nations fabric, and reflected in the way we govern and make laws. Faith in God, not atheism, has shaped this nation's development.
Joe The Plumber April 18, 2012 at 02:29 PM
(Continued) Mind you, I'm not saying that Faith alone has made this a great nation, but is was a principal influence. And now comes the ACLU, the atheists, and others to tear this traditional bond. It has now reach a point were the people of faith in our country are being challenged in a way that will precipitate a new activism to stop the erosion of this traditional bond between our Government and our faith. And we are the majority, and we determine elections, and we will change laws if they need to be changed to maintain the proper separation and correlation between church and state.
Bill Santagata April 19, 2012 at 07:37 AM
Joe: You cannot have it both ways. There is nothing wrong with making faith a part of public life, but you have to keep in mind that while the government sphere is *a* type of public sphere, it is not the only type of public sphere. The same banner would be perfectly acceptable in any other public space. Students have a constitutional right to pray in schools, at any time and in any manner so long as they aren't disrupting classes. There is a difference between publicly expressing your faith and demanding that the government broadcast your religious messages for you. The banner was always illegal. The Supreme Court ruled *school-sponsored* prayer activities unconstitutional in 1962. This decision did not overturn any prior decision, thus there was no period of time in U.S. history where school-sponsored prayers were definitively ruled to be constitutional. The banner was a ticking time bomb and it was only a matter of time before someone was brave enough to challenge it. Courts cannot pre-emptively rule on issues: someone who is eligible to bring a lawsuit must bring the issue to them. The Courts couldn't have struck down this prayer banner until someone challenged it. I'll agree with you that some atheists interpret the Establishment Clause too far. You are right that a belief in God was a strong part of our founding philosophy (e.g. the Founders believed our rights came from God, not the government.) (cont'd)
Bill Santagata April 19, 2012 at 07:44 AM
(con'td 2) This is why the courts have upheld instances of what's called "ceremonial deism" such as the motto "In God We Trust" and "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. Because these references to God are truly non-sectarian (not like a "Heavenly Father"), are in a ceremonial context that does not implicate a religious activity (like praying), and possess some degree of national ubiquity (unlike a prayer specific to one school), they are upheld as Constitutional as I believe they should be. There is nothing wrong, for example, with a public school performing songs such "God Bless America." However, one of our fundamental founding principles is that the government would not show preference for any one belief system over any other. We were the first country in the world to separate church and state, and Rhode Island was the first country to do so. Every belief system has a different way of praying. If Cranston wanted to keep the prayer, then they would have had to put up a Muslim prayer banner (that started with "Allah Akbar"), a Hindu prayer, Buddhist prayer, an atheist "There is no reason to believe in God" banner, an agnostic "I don't know if I believe in God" banner, etc. etc. etc all of equal size and prominence. They probably could have papered the wall of the auditorium several times over, and still always be at risk of someone complaining that their religion was not represented. (cont'd)
Bill Santagata April 19, 2012 at 07:53 AM
(cont'd 3) Rather, the citizens of Cranston wanted one prayer banner and one prayer banner only. You also must keep in mind that we did not have a public school system at the founding of our country, and this environment poses a different set of circumstances than other government areas. Justice O'Connor makes a point of this in part II of her concurrence in Wallace v. Jaffree, which I direct you to. Namely because children are involved, who are more subjected to coercion and peer pressure, and also because their attendance is involuntary, there is a higher Establishment Clause burden in this environment. (See Edwards v. Aguillard).
Bill Santagata April 19, 2012 at 07:54 AM
correction: Rhode Island was the first *colony* to do so.
Joe The Plumber April 20, 2012 at 04:30 AM
You say that "You are right that a belief in God was a strong part of our founding philosophy" That is God. Not Allah, Buddha, nor the non-existence of God. They believed that our rights came from God. That is sectarian. It is okay for students to sing "God bless America" but by your logic, students would also have to sing "Allah bless America" and "No One bless America", etc.
Bill Santagata April 20, 2012 at 08:19 AM
"God" does not necessarily mean the Christian god (Who happens to be named "God"). Many of the Founders were Christians (of various sects), and many were also Deists (who believed in a Supreme Being who created the world but did not interfere in man's affairs). But despite their religious beliefs, they also believed strongly that the government should not favor any one of them over any other. The courts have held that general, brief, evocations of a Supreme Being do not touch on an establishment of religion which is forbidden. While this theory is largely untested, Justice O'Connor's concurrence in Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow lays out a good framework for determining what the boundaries are. Such an evocation must meet four criteria: 1. The reference must be brief and in a ceremonial context. 2. The reference must be non-sectarian (no "Jesus" no "Allah" no "Buddha") 3. The reference must have a degree of historical and/or cultural ubiquity. 4. The reference must not implicate a religious activity or ritual. This is why things like "In God We Trust" and "Under God" or the Supreme Court opening its sessions with "God save this honorable court!" will be upheld. This is what the courts have ruled and not only do I respect it, but I also agree with it. A school having an officially designated school prayer goes a lot further than this though and clearly violates the law as it is currently written and interpreted. (cont'd)
Bill Santagata April 20, 2012 at 08:24 AM
(cont'd 2) Jessica wasn't trying to extend the meaning of the Establishment Clause in any new way, such as by challenging "Under God." She was just trying to get the school to follow the law as it is currently written and interpreted. As our country becomes more religiously diverse, there will be a greater chance that an illegal government endorsement of religion will reach the ears or eyes of someone who does not share those sentiments, and who will resent the use of government resources to push a religious ideology they do not hold, and will use the force of the law, if necessary, to get the government to follow the law. The next controversy is brewing in Pennsylvania where a high school has placed a 10 Commandments monument in front of its doors. Government schools have no business even *suggesting* to students that they worship the "one true god" or "keep holy the sabbath." The government does not exist to push someone's religious ideology on other people's children. Children can pray in school. They can post copies of prayers or 10 Commandments in their lockers. But it is up to each of them and their families, not the school, to decide for themselves what their spiritual path in life will be, free from any prodding by the government.
Tom Simpson June 22, 2012 at 05:14 PM
It is interesting that on the 10th of September, 1782 some of those "frivolous" Founding Fathers in the Continental Congress approved to print, in response to the need for Bibles, "a neat edition of the Holy Scriptures for the use in public schools." Wow! I wonder if they were Christian men and knew just how much trouble they could get into???? And we wonder what is wrong in our country today!
Bill Santagata June 22, 2012 at 05:50 PM
This resolution is not, in any sense, what people today make it out to be: http://www.liarsforjesus.com/downloads/LFJ_chap_1.pdf And even if it *were*, the 1st Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1791 and the 14th Amendment, which applied it to the state governments, wasn't adopted until after the Civil War. Not to mention the fact that *public* schools did not exist until near the end of the 19th century. This resolution was adopted before the United States was even a country and would not have violated the Constitution, which hadn't even been written yet. Public schools will get into serious trouble if they preach the Bible to their students (see Abington School District v. Schempp). The Bible can be included in a school library and can be used in certain educational contexts (for example, discussing how a novel makes reference to a certain Biblical story), but when we send our children to public schools we are not sending them to church. The supposed "ills" of society cannot be linked to the fact that we do not use our public school system as a means of coercing children into becoming Christians. What religion you raise your children in is up to you, not the government, and you cannot use public schools as a means of instilling your personal religious beliefs in other people's children.

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