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ACLU, atheist teen cheer decision to remove school prayer banner

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Caroline May
Political Reporter

The Rhode Island American Civil Liberties Union and an atheist teen, who was offended by the display of a 49-year-old prayer banner at her high school, are claiming victory after a school committee decided not to continue defending the banner.

In a 5–2 vote, the Cranston School Committee decided Thursday evening not to appeal last month’s federal ruling on a Rhode Island ACLU lawsuit filed on behalf of atheist Cranston High School West junior Jessica Ahlquist. The lawsuit demanded the removal of that banner.

“I’m really pleased with the decision,” Ahlquist said, according to WBZ-TV in Boston. “It’s obviously the decision I wanted the School Committee to make and I’m thrilled.”

Last month a federal judge ruled in favor of Ahlquist and ordered that the banner, a gift to the school from the class of 1963, be removed.

“I’m an Atheist, and I don’t believe in the Heavenly Father, so I shouldn’t have to look at it,” Ahlquist said at the time of the ruling, according to CBS.

The school argued that the banner was part of its history.

Following the decision, Cranston High School West did not immediately remove the banner, but instead covered it while the committee considered an appeal.

Thursday’s vote, however, means there will be no appeal.

The cost of additional litigation was the primary reason not to appeal the ruling, according to CBS.

“Thanks to Jessica Ahlquist for her courage and poise and to ACLU volunteer attorneys Lynette Labinger and Thomas Bender for successfully litigating this important case to a successful conclusion!” the Rhode Island ACLU cheered the decision on its website Thursday night.

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