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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.

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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