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School Committee Finds Lawyers to Defend Banner

The banner subcommittee will recommend Joseph V. Cavanagh Jr. and the Becket Fund to represent them if the ACLU files a complaint over the banner.

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.

Cranston Resident March 30, 2011 at 06:19 PM
Mr. Pea Pea cocky, I guess you are just intellectually and morally superior to us crass commoners........ Bye, bye, we will miss your brand of enlightenment.
Robbin Standish March 30, 2011 at 06:46 PM
WOW CRANSTON RESIDENT! Do you understand how pathetic and immature you sound? Your rude and snide remarks are not helping our cause, and it's a shame because I support the banner. You and your lack of maturity are an embarrassment to us all, please SHUT UP.
Dylan Peacock March 30, 2011 at 06:51 PM
Um right, paint me as an elitist because I called you crass for talking about people POOPING IN THEIR PANTS along with the other nonsense you spouted. Didn't your mother teach you not to use toilet talk? You can't logically defend your positions so toss around ad hominem attacks and make extremely immature jokes about peoples' names. And thank you, Robbin. Even though you may disagree about the banner, I can respect that because you were obviously raised well.
Cranston Resident March 30, 2011 at 07:44 PM
Look folks, I am here, along with all contributors to this blog, to voice my point of view. I am perfectly willing and able to conduct civil discourse and to respect the diverse viewponts that others express. But I just can't resist from dumbing down an exchange of ideas at times (and this is also true in my life in general) when I encounter the occassional self-absorbed, pompous, intelligencia, spouting their elitist poppycock (oops here I go again, I just can't resist) like Mr. Peacock. We can all present our viewpoints here in this Blog. But the "rubber meets the road" for this issue in the court system. The demarcation of the fine line that will determine the legallity of this banner will be determined by one judge or ultimately maybe by a small group of judges and how they are persuaded by the eloquence of a small group of attorneys. Their decision will determine whether this banner is in violation of the Constitution because it represent state sponsorship of religion or if it is in fact, protected by the Constitution as a free expression of religion.
Cranston Resident March 30, 2011 at 07:46 PM
And with regard to the "morality police" ................. Lighten up. We're not in church here. It's only a blog. poop!
Dylan Peacock March 30, 2011 at 08:05 PM
You don't know me or anything about me, and you came into this discussion acting rude and immature. You acted like a 5 year old and have no right to call me "self-absorbed" because you're still crying because I called your potty-talk crass. You can't project all those loaded terms on me just because you're sore over being called out for acting like a fool. The fact that you haven't said anything productive and came into this conversation saying this lawyer is going to cause people to poop in their pants and started mocking my name is truly telling of the content of your character and the level of your maturity. If you act immature and dumb (as you've admitted) and I call you out on it, that doesn't make me pompous; but mocking my name and having a pottymouth definitely makes you an immature twat.
Frank Murphy March 30, 2011 at 11:12 PM
Dylan, please don't lower yourself to Cranston's standards. It belittles you and the rest of the valid conversation that took place here. While we disagree on the subject matter, I think we had an intelligent dialogue about the subject. If you validate the crass remarks of someone that is clearly here just to have provoke others they will not go away.
Joe Richer March 31, 2011 at 01:35 PM
Hi Frank, we totally agree.
Joe Richer March 31, 2011 at 01:39 PM
Thank you Frank. Dylan - after your last comments about me...I've no response. Grandma told me the first person to shout in an argument has lost. I believe her.
Dylan Peacock March 31, 2011 at 01:49 PM
Joe: The caps were not meant to be perceived as shouting, they were purely meant for emphasis. I apologize for any confusion.
Cranston Resident March 31, 2011 at 01:53 PM
Frank, Dylan and Robin, I will defend my right to say "poop" all the way to the supreme court. You may criticize it, and try to intimidate me verbally into recaputulation and censure me but I will stand by my words. I may even make a "poop" banner and hang it in City Hall! In fact if needed, I will be in touch with Mr. Cavanaugh to defend my First Amendment right to say it. But for those of you who just don't get it, let me try to make it simple for you to understand. My statement "I think I just saw Steve Brown poop his pants." was meant to be a metaphore. Others might have said: "In light of having a learned first amendment scholar such as Joseph V. Cavanagh Jr. defending the City of Cranston, Mr. Brown must be more concerned about his prospects of a successful lawsuit." But I didn't I used the "poop" metaphore instead. Lighten up people!
Dylan Peacock March 31, 2011 at 02:05 PM
You have a right to say poop, certainly. I'm not challenging your first amendment right to make immature comments. However, like you, I also have the right of free speech, and I have a right to state my opinion that the things you were saying were crass. All I did was say the comment was crass, and you went on a massive, vitriolic character assault on me, calling me a massive slue of names, and mocking my own name because it has the word cock in it as you hid behind the anonymity of the internet. I pray for you if you act like that in person. All you did was prove how immature you are; nobody's made fun of my name since the first grade.
Frank Murphy March 31, 2011 at 02:26 PM
I never said he could not say poop, I just said it was not worth a reply
Jim Hackett March 31, 2011 at 06:38 PM
Quite candidly, I am surprised that anyone has a problem with this banner. For those who have a problem with it - did you read it? What exactly bothers you and why? The fact that "Heavenly Father" and "Amen" are present can be the only words construed as contentious. Nobody can argue about the rest of the message. It is truly a meaningful and highly desirable message for children of any age. The overwhelming good in the message should not be overshadowed by 3 words some might take offense to. After all, we were established as a Christian nation, whether you like it or not. I have one question for those who can't deal with "Heavenly Father" and "Amen" - what happens to you when you pull a dollar bill out and it says "In God we trust" on the back? Do you get all squeaminsh? Do you lie awake at night stewing? Just curious. My thoughts are, if working to have this banner removed takes takes on meaning in your life, you must have nothing going on in your life. Oddly, those are the ones who might benefit from a bit of religion the most.
Jake Innatelli March 31, 2011 at 07:10 PM
hey jim, I agreed with you up until a point: where you claimed that this was founded as a Christian nation. Founding fathers from Jefferson to Franklin openly denied the divinity of Christ. According to Thomas Jefferson, the Book of Revelation is "merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams". If you deny the Bible, you can't be called a Christian. As someone earlier mentioned, we were founded on Enlightenment principles, of which the idea of "a wall of separation between Church and State" (as Jefferson put it) was a major component. The idea is that religion doesn't get involved in government, and the government doesn't get involved in religion. It causes too many problems. The words themselves don't offend me, the princpal does. The idea that there are people trying to push their religion in public schools is troubling, especially when it comes to other religions like Islam, or schools telling children "God doesnt exist" (and teaching evolution is not the same thing, the Vatican supports evolution now). This isn't the role of public schools. When I was growing up, we didn't have "In God We Trust" on our dollars, that was added in 1957 during the Cold War. These are the facts. Before you accuse me of being anti-Christian (as Jefferson was accused of in his day), I am not. I go to Church but like a Good Christian I believe in the facts and not constructing a false reality to live in.
Jim Hackett March 31, 2011 at 08:28 PM
Jake, A few quotes to debate your assertion: 1) Ben Franklin at the Constitutional Convention: "...God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?" 2) John Adams stated: "The general principles on which the fathers achieved Independence were...the general principles of Christianity...I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that the general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God." While you can debate it, it sounds pretty Christian to me. But, don't confuse that with me believing this is the establishment of a religion. I am not saying that. Go walk around Washington DC, and take a look at many of the Federal buildings - looks like Christianity is alive and well. You want to debate it?...be my guest. At the end of the day, Jake, I really don't think a lot about it. But when I see people trying to force their will on others, I notice. You don't like that banner - don't look at it. There is nobody is forcing you to. Those who profess an aversion to it are forcing their will on others - that they won't let you look at it. And, there are far more people who like it than don't. There's another reason to leave it. But more than that, how about applying a small does of common sense, regardless of what the minutia might be. Read the thing. It espouses a very meaningful reality for kids to live in.
Jake Innatelli March 31, 2011 at 08:56 PM
In fact, Ben Franklin stated that he was a Deist in his Autobiography published in 1771. I never said John Adams wasn't a Christian, he was. My point is that many of the founding fathers were decidedly not Christian because America wasn't founded on Christianity, it was founded on enlightenment ideals of egalitarianism and liberty. This is why only 2 out of the 10 commandments are laws. I've had discussion about this with my pastor (Baptist), who agrees. I'd argue that many of us Christians don't derive our morals directly from the Bible, we think for ourselves. The Bible says a lot of moral things I disagree with because it was written 2000 years ago, but I still believe in the Lord. The Bible has a lot of good teachings in it, but it can't be used as some sort of final moral authority. I believe in God, but men wrote the Bible and I am not going to take it as absolute fact. I am not specifically talking about this case, but in the wider picture, the only people I see forcing their will on others are those who put God on money and inject their religious beliefs into the civic arena. I've never heard of a case where atheists were trying to make denying God a school motto etc. Desiring government neutrality is not forcing beliefs on others, but injecting religion into the government goes against our scared tradition of separation of Church and State. Just like it would be wrong for the government to interfere with my Church.
Jim Hackett March 31, 2011 at 09:39 PM
Jake, it's freedom OF religion, not freedom FROM religion. You'd be hard pressed to provide evidence the government is forcing religion on anybody in the case of this banner. That is specifically what we are talking about here. Read the banner and you'll see it fits well within the confines of moral and spiritual guidance that transcends a specific religion. Don't get so caught up on those 3 words.
Jake Innatelli March 31, 2011 at 11:30 PM
We'll I guess we're at an impasse. I am inclined to disagree because according to the author of the Constitution, Thomas Jefferson, it is "a wall of separation between Church and State." Jefferson was clear on government neutrality concerning religion. Anything that says "Our Heavenly Father" or "In God We Trust" is not neutral. It isnt a matter of simply not looking at it because anyone could say the same thing to you if you were speaking out against a school banner or our currency proclaiming that God doesn't exist. This is important. Right now, Christians are the majority so the likelihood of an atheistic banner is limited. However, with the rate of decline in Christianity in this country, that will not always be the case, and unless we speak out about complete government neutrality now, one day we will have no right to complain if such a banner is put up by the government and they say "just don't look at it." As Thomas Jefferson said: "Religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only & not opinions"... Issuing opinions on religion is not a power of the government because it serves everyone, not just the majority. "Our Heavenly Father" is actually specifically from the Abrahamic faiths; Buddhists, Sheiks, Hindus, Shintoists, Taoists, etc would never use such a term. It isn't a transcendent term that is all-inclusive, sorry.
Cranston Resident April 01, 2011 at 02:24 AM
I'm glad that at least I have everyones permission to say "poop". Thank you all very much.
Cranston Resident April 01, 2011 at 02:25 AM
Bravo Jim!
Cranston Resident April 01, 2011 at 02:26 AM
Men wrote the Bible with Divine inspiration.
Frank Murphy April 01, 2011 at 11:34 AM
"The Bible has a lot of good teachings in it, but it can't be used as some sort of final moral authority. I believe in God, but men wrote the Bible and I am not going to take it as absolute fact." JI I guess we will all know the outcome of this type of thinking someday. The nice thing is that in America you have the freedom to practice your religion however you see fit. In countries with a government (forced) sponsored religion you could get stoned for this type of quote.
Frank Murphy April 01, 2011 at 11:36 AM
Jake, How would an atheist start a banner of this type and not have the entire message seem negative?
Joe Richer April 01, 2011 at 01:58 PM
To be clear, Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence with help from Adams and Franklin. He was not available to work on on the Constitution and had no "direct" input other than that his positions were widely known and I am positive were accounted for in contributions from his friend Madison. On the main argument...I remain in agreement with those of us that maintain that the Federal Constitution contains no bar to the banner. The RI Constition is more problematic.
Anarimus April 12, 2011 at 04:20 AM
In civil rights issues as this is Federal law overrules state law. There have been hundreds of cases decided like this where those endorsing inserting religious preference in matters of education lost and it was due to the fact that the US Constitution is the supreme law of the land.
Anarimus April 12, 2011 at 04:28 AM
The ACLU can only handle things in a case by case basis. Someone has to make the complaint. The argument on the post 1954 Pledge of Allegiance (the original did not have "Under God" in it) is that it is voluntary and a change to it must be made by congress. The US still being predominately made up of Christians some members of Congress fear changing it (however i do believe most Americans wouldn't care as long as you don't take away their TV). Our original motto was the very fitting "E Pluribus Unum" and that was changed to "In God We Trust" during the height of "oh noes dem commies r gonna git us." McCarthyism. When the US thought doing so would upset the Soviets who likely didn't care. I find arguments that our society is worse than ever to be illogical as ancient civilizations were far worse than us.
Anarimus April 12, 2011 at 04:34 AM
The 14th Amendment. It guarantees equal protection under law to all. It was originally intended to extend equal rights to freed slaves but was written to include all Americans. It means that all Americans must receive equal protection under the laws and that no one group can have special preference to any other. That includes religious minorities. Ergo state law has no say in the issue as the 14th Amendment overrules any state law designed to give preferential treatment to any one group over another. When a school posts a Judeo-Christian prayer they are advocating a preferred status to one group over others.
Joe Richer April 12, 2011 at 01:36 PM
Anarimus, I agree with you but the presence of the this banner is not tantamount to unequal protection. Denying access to present an alternative message (say an Islamic message) would constitute unequal protection. Again - the is not freedom from religion - it is freedom of religion - and speech as well. Religious speech is as protected as any other kind of speech.
Robin Lionheart June 28, 2011 at 07:44 PM
According to this article, “Both Cavanagh and the Becket Fund have agreed to litigate the case at no expense to the city.” So, when Cranston loses this lawsuit, at least they won't have to pay *their* lawyers’ legal fees. Back in 1999, someone posted the Ten Commandments in courthouses in McCreary and Pulaski County, Kentucky. County officials ignored the ACLU’s warning that they would sue. That case was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, where the counties lost. Which brought the total these counties owe the ACLU up to $456,881. The county’s insurance does not cover it. Since there was nothing else for it, poverty-stricken McCreary County has been reduced to begging for donations. They received their first $100 check a couple weeks ago. ( http://mccrearyrecord.com/local/x1557868343/First-10-Commandments-donation-arrives ) Only $456,781 to go! Cranston’s lawyers may work for free, but their decision to go to court to fight for their illegal School Prayer mural will not be at “no expense to the city”.

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