Press Release

U.S. District Court Holds Trial in Cranston High School Mural Case The Supreme Court is clear that we don't have to scrub our public buildings of all historic references to religion

Media Contact

Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

Additional Information

Today the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island held a bench trial in Ahlquist v. City of Cranston, a case that questions the constitutionality of a historic mural that has existed in Cranston High School West’s auditorium for almost 50 years.

The mural–being challenged by the ACLU–is a gift from the school’s first graduating class, part of a display of more than fifteen different class gifts running along the walls of the Cranston High School West auditorium. The mural contains the words of a student-written prayer that was recited at the school when it opened fifty years ago. The Supreme Court has made clear that displays on public property, like the one at Cranston West, can contain some historically significant references to religion because the government can promote history and art without promoting religion. That hasn’t stopped the ACLU from attempting to scrub the historic mural off the walls of Cranston West High School.

“One complaint in a half-century is a good indication that this historic mural hasn’t done a thing to establish an official religion in Cranston schools,” said Lori Windham, Senior Counsel at Becket. “The Supreme Court is clear that we don’t have to scrub our public buildings of all historic references to religion. Otherwise, the City of Providence is in for a lot of trouble.”

During the trial, Judge Lagueux of the District Court heard arguments from both sides and scheduled a visit to see the mural. The court can issue a written decision at any time.