Remember those lists of school problems that contrasted the problems that faced schools in the 1950s with the problems that face schools today? In the ’50s, gum chewing, running in the hall and tardiness were right up there. Today, it’s drugs, sex, unwanted pregnancies, STDs, gang fights, assaults on teachers, bullying and all-around violence. Plus, some high school students can’t read at a sixth grade level, or go to the movies without texting — even during car chases. Example: “This R a gud flik. U shud B here!”
So it’s no wonder that the ACLU’s Rhode Island affiliate will be filing a lawsuit to tear down a school banner in Cranston urging good behavior written in 1960 by a student council member. The banner has attracted — you guessed it — one complaint. Why is there always a handy whiner around when the ACLU needs one?
Here’s the text of the banner, which has hung in Cranston High School West’s auditorium since 1963:
Our Heavenly Father,
Grant us each day the desire to do our best,
To grow mentally and morally as well as physically,
To be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers,
To be honest with ourselves as well as with others,
Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win,
Teach us the value of true friendship,
Help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West.
The beef, of course, is the references to “Our Heavenly Father” and “Amen.”
Those words make Rhode Island’s ACLU lawyers shudder like hobbits exposed to the black language of Mordor. If he were here today, Roger Williams, who founded Providence Plantation in 1636, might think he was back in tyrannical Massachusetts, from which he had fled.
The ACLU began beating the Cranston drums in July 2010, with a threatening letter from ACLU of Rhode Island Executive Director Peter Brown stating that one person was “extremely concerned and troubled” by the banner. The school committee did its best to ignore this until taking a final vote of 4 to 3 on March 7 to keep the banner. More than 150 residents attended the meeting, with most supporting keeping the banner, according to the Providence Journal. Plus, there was a petition with more than 4,000 names backing the banner.
In response, the ACLU issued a petulant press release chiding school officials:
“[T]he school committee decided to keep the prayer, ignoring warnings about the cost of litigation and despite the school district’s ongoing and severe budgetary problems, which has led to layoffs and program cuts.”
“We’ll make you even poorer! You can’t afford this!” the ACLU screamed, in effect. To which the school committee, in effect, said, “We can’t afford to lose our students to the many vices that you champion! So take a hike.”
Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas J. Tobin spoke for many when he editorialized that:
“The desire to scrub every reference to God and religious faith from public life, including our schools, is tiresome and irritating. And in fact it creates another pseudo-religion, secularism, that other people are forced to endure. The ACLU should avoid these silly little squabbles and move on to other more important issues where civil liberties are really threatened.”
I’d say “Amen, Bishop!” But that kind of talk attracts lawsuits.
Robert Knight is a Senior Fellow for the American Civil Rights Union.