The ACLU of Rhode Island and the Separation of Church and State

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Protecting Civil Liberties in Rhode Island for Over 50 Years

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The ACLU of Rhode Island and the Separation of Church and State

For years, the Rhode Island ACLU has fought to maintain the separation of church and state. At the same time that the ACLU has worked diligently to prevent government aid to religion, it has also been just as assiduous in protecting the free exercise of religion from government interference.

2010: Ahlquist v. City of Cranston

Category: Church and State  

A federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a prayer mural addressed to “Our Heavenly Father” that was displayed in the auditorium of a Cranston public high school. The lawsuit, filed by RI ACLU volunteer attorneys Lynette Labinger and Thomas Bender, was on behalf of Jessica Ahlquist, a sophomore at Cranston High School West, who in the past year had spoken out against her school’s prayer display.

Cooperating Attorneys: Lynette Labinger and Thomas Bender

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2009: Rogers v. Mulholland

Category: Church and State  

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of seven Pawtucket parents and their children, charged that the Parks and Recreation Division has, for a number of years, given preferential treatment to parochial schools over public schools in granting permits for the use of city athletics fields. The lawsuit sought a court order declaring unconstitutional both the preferential treatment to religious schools and the City’s lack of any objective standards for granting permits for use of the fields.

Cooperating Attorney: Sandra Lanni

 

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2007: Spratt v. Wall

Category: Church and State  Criminal Justice  Free Speech  Religious Freedom  

Successful appeal of a federal court ruling upholding a warden’s decision to bar an inmate from supervised preaching at religious services even though he had done so for seven years without incident. The appeal argued that the ban violates a federal law guaranteeing religious freedom to institutionalized persons. The appellate court reversed the lower court ruling, and the state subsequently adopted a new policy in accordance with the federal law, and also agreed to pay damages and attorneys’ fees.

Cooperating Attorneys: Lynette Labinger, Carly Iafrate

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2003: Osediacz v. City of Cranston

Category: Church and State  

Federal lawsuit challenging both the display of a nativity scene and menorah on the front lawn of Cranston City Hall and city policies governing what displays may be erected. In 2004 the court upheld the display’s constitutionality but struck down the policies, but in 2005 an appellate court ruled the plaintiff didn’t have standing to challenge the policies.

Cooperating Attorneys: Miriam Weizenbaum, Amato DeLuca.

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1998: Cottone v. Bristol-Warren Regional School Committee

Category: Church and State  

Favorably settled federal lawsuit challenging the “private” display of a nativity scene each December on the front lawn of a public elementary school.

1996: Barense v. Town of Barrington

Category: Church and State  

Successful federal lawsuit challenging a Town’s practice of providing free snow-plowing to churches, but to no other private institutions.

1995: Ogram v. Town of Johnston

Category: Church and State  

Favorably settled federal lawsuit challenging a school district policy which gave preferential rental treatment to religious groups.

1992: Weisman v. Lee

Category: Church and State  

Favorable ruling from U.S. Supreme Court in lawsuit challenging a public school’s practice of having an invocation and benediction delivered at a graduation ceremony.

1991: Tucker v. Glocester Police Department

Category: Church and State  Privacy  Religious Freedom  

Favorably settled complaint challenging the use on police applicants of a standardized psychological test which asked questions relating to religious beliefs.

1990: Yang v. Sturner

Category: Church and State  Discrimination  Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  Religious Freedom  

The ACLU obtained a settlement on behalf of a Hmong family whose son was autopsied against their religious beliefs; this case was cited by Congress in passing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and by the General Assembly in enacting a similar state law, two years later.

1986: Exeter-West Greenwich School District v. Pontarelli

Category: Church and State  

Successful court challenge to state Department of Education ruling requiring a public school district to pay tuition for students attending parochial schools.

1984: In re: Manuel Roderick

Category: Church and State  Discrimination  Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  Religious Freedom  

Successful representation of a man who had been refused permission to change his name to an Islamic name because of a past criminal record.

1984: Donnelly v. Lynch

Category: Church and State  

Challenge in U.S. Supreme Court to a city-sponsored nativity scene display in Pawtucket. While the Court ruled in favor of the City, the decision had the positive effect of setting the outer limits on the types of displays with religious content that could be sponsored by the government.

1980: R.I. Federation of Teachers v. Norberg

Category: Church and State  

Favorable U.S. Court of Appeals decision striking down state law allowing parents to claim income tax deduction for money spent on tuition in parochial schools.

1975: In re: Hodgson

Category: Church and State  Religious Freedom  

Successful defense before an Immigration and Naturalization Service board of a woman initially denied naturalization due to her religious convictions against bearing arms for the country.

1973: Earley v. DiCenso

Category: Church and State  

Favorable decision from U.S. Supreme Court in precedent-setting case establishing limits on public aid to parochial schools.