Lawyers for the Cranston School Committee said the lawsuit filed by the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union yesterday against a prayer banner at Cranston West is a “misguided attempt to erase history.”
In a release issued by the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty, which is giving the Cranston School Committee free legal representation, the committee said the student-designed mural “has existed in Cranston High School West's auditorium for almost 50 years” and the lawsuit is a misguided attempt to “rid public buildings of historic references to religion.”
School Committee member Frank Lombardi said “we don't want to erase our schools' history because one person in the history of the school objects.”
The banner is one of 21 different student works of art in the auditorium, the release stated. Graduating classes are given the chance to contribute art and the banner that has become tangled in a civil rights issue was contributed by Cranston High School West’s first graduating class.
"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. "The Supreme Court has made clear that displays on public property can contain some historically significant references to religion because the government can promote history and art without promoting religion. Otherwise we'd have to remove Moses from the frieze on the walls of the Supreme Court."
The release was filed shortly after the in its Providence Office during which , a student at Cranston West, argued the banner violated her civil rights. The ACLU filed the lawsuit on her behalf.
The issue was first raised last summer when the ACLU said on a tip from a parent it concluded that the banner, which begins with the phrase “Our Heavenly Father,” and ends with “Amen,” clearly violates the principle of separation of church and state. It requested the School Committee issue an order to have it removed. In response, the committee formed a prayer banner subcommittee that in a close vote last month.
Since that vote, the school committee that states each mural is there for historical purposes only.
The Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty is a nonprofit law firm that describes itself as a “public interest” firm that is “dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions.” Its lawyers are experienced in the field of church-state law.