Even though the ACLU has yet to file a formal complaint in court, the Cranston School Committee is lining up their guns. The subcommittee orchestrating the Cranston West prayer banner’s legal defense made the announcement on Monday evening that local first amendment attorney Joseph V. Cavanagh Jr. and the Becket Fund, a national firm, have agreed to represent the district if the banner case goes to trial.
The legal representation will be provided free of charge.
“Joe is the best First Amendment lawyer in the state,” said School Committee Chairman Andrea Iannazzi. Iannazzi, along with School Committee members Frank Lombardi and Michael Traficante, are members of the banner subcommittee.
Cavanagh, a Harvard graduate who got his law degree from Boston College, is the managing partner and head of civil litigation and trial practice for his law firm Blish and Cavanagh. He has worked on First Amendment cases for local print media and broadcast companies, including the Providence Journal. He was named a Rhode Island and New England Super Lawyer from 2007 to 2010, according to his biography on his law firm’s website. He is a graduate of Cranston East High School and, during his college years, was a three time all-American hockey player.
“I think this is a very winnable case if someone like Joe Cavanagh comes on board,” said Lombardi.
The Becket Fund is a public interest group located in Washington D.C. dedicated to promoting the principle of religious expression. The fund was named after Thomas Becket (1118-70 AD) who was the Archbishop of Canterbury in England at the time and refused to allow King Henry II to meddle in the affairs of the Church. They have been engaged in controversial subjects in the past such as supporting Proposition 8 in California and hospitals’ rights to refuse conducting abortions.
Both Cavanagh and the Becket Fund have agreed to litigate the case at no expense to the city.
Cavanagh will handle the local litigation and the Becket Fund will provide him with resources if necessary, according to the banner subcommittee. If the case goes to federal courts, then it is presumed that Becket Fund lawyers will take over.
The subcommittee settled on Cavanagh and Becket after reviewing several local lawyers and national organizations that were willing to defend the district. Mayor Alan W. Fung and City Council President Anthony J. Lupino were present at the subcommittee meeting on Monday evening and were informed of the school subcommittee’s recommendation.
Lombardi said that he was expecting the ACLU to file an official complaint within the week. The School Committee has tentatively scheduled a meeting on April 4 to formally approve the lawyers to represent the district.