CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) - A prayer banner ordered removed from high school by a federal judge will be taken down within days said Cranston's schools superintendent Friday.
Superintendent Peter Nero told The Associated Press that the banner is expected to be removed within a week. He said there are a few remaining legal issues to be worked out between attorneys for the school system and the Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The school committee voted 5-2 Thursday night to not appeal a federal courts decision, after more than two hours of public hearings.
Last month, a federal judge ruled the prayer banner hanging in the school's auditorium was unconstitutional, and ordered it removed in a lawsuit filed on behalf of 16-year-old atheist Jessica Ahlquist.
Ahlquist is a junior at the school. Lawyers for the student are asking the court to order Cranston to pay $173,000 for legal fees.
Cranston school committee member Paula McFarland was one of five that voted not to appeal the federal court's decision.
"Don't disrespect me, I didn't disrespect you. This is what I don't like about this community, you have divided yourself in half. You should be ashamed of yourself," said Paula McFarland to the crowd at the public hearing.
The community divide, grew louder at the podium.
"This is our constitutional right. For this banner should stay up. We the people heard you, please, to appeal this decision," said one Cranston resident.
One after the other dozens of community members on both sides of the debate tried to convince the board what they should do Thursday night.
In the end it was the financial status of the city that spoke the loudest.
"Money is what brought it home tonight, that's what happened Everybody was concerned about $173,000, and concerned about a potential $500,000. I was confident we could raise the money. But what can you do?" said Frank Lombardi of the Cranston School Committee.
Jessica Ahlquist, the student who filed the lawsuit, is pleased with the outcome.
"Obviously it's the decision I hoped the school committee would make, and they have, and I'm thrilled," said the high school junior at Thursday night's public hearing.
The board estimated that the appeal could cost the city as much as a $500,000.
It was an appeal that at least five members felt was too risky.
"The question becomes if that half a million dollar gamble is worth sacrificing programs in Cranston." said another school committee member.
This decision marks an end to what has been a lengthy battle.
There's no word on exactly when the banner will come down, but it could happen rather quickly.
The banner was put up in 1963. It has been covered since the court ruling.
Nero said he visited Cranston High School West on Friday morning, and described the situation there as normal.
But he said the school was tarnished as a result of the dispute. He said he's glad the matter is over and that everyone wants to move on.
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