The Establishment Clause of the Constitution’s First Amendment prevents school systems from affiliating or promoting a religion, but this provision has not hindered controversy and legal action over school prayer in Rhode Island.
Deborah Weisman, a student at Nathan Bishop Middle School in Providence, and her father Daniel Weisman, filed a lawsuit against her school district in 1992 claiming that the school’s encouraged presence of religious leaders offering prayer at graduation ceremonies was unconstitutional, according to Cornell University Law School
. The case found its way up through the Supreme Court, which ruled that prayer during public school graduation ceremonies was a constitutional violation.
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Later in 1998, Cottone v. Bristol-Warren Regional School Committee was settled. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) helped
a Bristol, Rhode Island resident file a lawsuit against Bristol-Warren Regional School Committee after a public elementary school featured a Christian nativity scene on school grounds. The case settled in the ACLU’s favor.
In 2010, the ACLU helped Jessica Ahlquist, an atheist Cranston High School student, file a lawsuit against her school over a prayer mural that had been hanging in the school’s auditorium for 49 years. To the dismay of the surrounding community, who responded to the teenager with threats and hostility, the federal court ruled in Ahlquist v. Cranston that the mural violated the Establishment Clause, the ACLU said
While the school board contemplated appealing the court’s ruling, local flower shops refused to deliver flowers to Ahlquist, who had to be escorted to school by police. Peter G. Palumbo, Rhode Island representative, called her “an evil little thing” on the radio, reported The New York Times
. In 2013, the mural sporting “Our Heavenly Father” was replaced with a secular version.
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