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R.I. school district defends prayer mural

Sept. 13, 2011 at 2:48 PM

PROVIDENCE, R.I., Sept. 13 (UPI) -- A Rhode Island school district describes a prayer mural as an important part of a high school's history, while a civil liberties group says it is unconstitutional.

A federal judge is scheduled to hear oral arguments next month in the American Civil Liberties Union's lawsuit seeking the removal of the 8-foot-high mural at Cranston High School West, The Providence Journal reports. Both sides filed briefs Friday.

The mural was given to the school in the early 1960s by the first class to graduate. The school committee voted in March to leave it in place "based not upon some desire to inject religion into the public schools, but on their belief that school history and tradition should be maintained,"

their lawyers said.

The ACLU sued last year on behalf of Jessica Ahlquist, a student at Cranston West and self-professed atheist. In their brief, ACLU lawyers said she has been subjected to "attacks and intimidation" since the legal fight began.

The mural violates the First Amendment clause against an established church because its purpose "is to communicate official approval of student prayer as part of the educational experience and tradition,"

the ACLU said.

The non-denominational prayer begins "Our Heavenly Father" and asks for "the desire to do our best."

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