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21 October 2011

Rhode Island Atheist Student, School Clash Over Prayer Mural Lawsuit

A 16-year-old atheist said Thursday she is confident the law is on her side in her fight over a prayer mural that she wants removed from the auditorium of her high school. Jessica Ahlquist said her side is "very strong" after attorneys for her and the city of Cranston made their case to Senior Judge Ronald R. Lagueux in U.S. District Court in Providence. Ahlquist believes the mural should be taken down.

Ahlquist sued in federal court in April, saying the mural is offensive to non-Christians. Ahlquist has been an atheist since age 10. She is represented by the Rhode Island chapter of the
American Civil Liberties Union.

Attorney Joseph Cavanagh Jr., who is defending the city, says the mural is a historical artifact from the school's early days in the 1960s and serves no religious purpose.

He said the prayer is displayed in a secular, not a religious, setting. "It's not forced upon anyone. It's a historical document as a tradition of the school," Cavanagh said.

The prayer encourages students to strive academically and begins with the words "Our Heavenly Father" and ends with "Amen."

The school committee voted in March to keep the mural on display and fight litigation.


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