Typo! New West Mural Won't Hang Quite Yet to Fix Spelling Errors

The planned replacement of the infamous prayer banner is sent back to the drawing board ... literally.

It's back to the drawing board for a new mural recently donated to Cranston High School West by the class of 1963.

The new mural, which was dedicated at an invite-only ceremony on Saturday by members of the class of 1963, is a gesture to replace the infamous "prayer banner" that was removed from an auditorium wall last year after a federal judge ruled it was unconstitutional.

But several spelling errors on "a couple of words" on the new murals means "nothing is going up for quite a while," said Principal Thomas Barbieri.

"They have to get those typos repaired," he said, adding he needs to make sure the new murals are in accordance with fire codes.

"It's a nice gesture, it's a gift for their legacy," Barbieri said. "They've frequently mentioned they wanted to make sure they got something up there for their legacy."

The now-gone prayer banner, which was titled "School Prayer" and began with "Our Heavenly Father" and ended with "Amen," was the subject of a protracted legal battle after the Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Cranston School District on behalf of former student and atheist Jessica Ahlquist.

The new murals, which recite the school creed on one and use an acrostic based on "Falcon," the school's mascot, to reflect positive moral values on the other, simultaneously captures the look and message of the original while avoiding any mention of religion.

The media was not invited to the ceremony, but a representative of the class did tell a Providence Journal reporter that the gift was a way to heal and move on from the conflict.

The class of 1963 is the same class the donated the original prayer banner — a painted mural that covered the wall and aroused no controversy for 40 years. After the lawsuit, a citywide discussion about religious freedom and separation of church and state boiled over, attracting national attention and resulted in a series of meetings that featured at-times emotional testimony from both sides.

Many prominent city leaders argued in favor of keeping the banner on the wall, including Mayor Allan W. Fung, who told an assembly of students at the high school that he thought the city should fight the ACLU suit because he and others viewed it as an historical artifact — to applause.

Meanwhile Ahlquist, who left the district last year, received death and rape threats and was the subject of intense focus by both a few of her fellow students at the school who accused her of seeking attention as well as spectators from around the country who latched onto the debate because of its national legal implications.

Cranston Police officers guarded her home, a local flower shop got sued by the Freedom From Religion Foundation for refusing to deliver her flowers, and ultimately, the Cranston School District was on the hook for more than $200,000 in legal fees and found itself on the losing end of the legal battle when Judge Ronald Lagueux ruled that no amount of arguing could change the fact that the banner violated the Establishment Cause.

The issue in this very Catholic community is still divisive over whether the banner was an historic artifact from the schools formative years or was rightly removed to comply with the Establishment Clause of the Constitution and a widely-accepted Democratic notion of separation of church and state.

But the issue is also one that exhausted this diverse city which has thrived for generations as a community known for its different peoples who both celebrate and guard their traditions. Frankly, by the time the prayer banner was finally removed and a gaggle of TV news crews tried to get compelling video of a blank wall at a press conference, Cranston had already begun to move on.

"The community is healed," Janice Bertino, a member of the class of 1963 told the Providence Journal. "There is no more controversy."


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