Cranston ordered to pay ACLU $173,000

The school district that knowingly attempted to defy the constitution is being asked to pay the ACLU $173,000 in legal fees. And this is after the ACLU decided to give deep discounts:

The Rhode Island Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which won a lawsuit against the Cranston School District for a religious display at Cranston High School West, filed a request for repayment of attorney’s fees in the amount of $173,000 in U.S. District Court today.

In a release, Steve Brown, executive director of the RIACLU, said the amount includes major discounts for hours of work by volunteer attorneys Lynette Labinger and Thomas Bender. He also said the amount is mindful of the school district’s budget woes in recent years.

“In terms of its complexity, the ACLU noted that the school district initially raised ten affirmative defenses when it filed its answer to the lawsuit. The amount sought by the ACLU attorneys pales in comparison to the attorneys’ fees that lawyers working with the Becket Fund, the national group that assisted the school district in defending the case, obtained in a church-state lawsuit two years ago. In that case from Colorado, dealing with a church zoning dispute, attorneys working with the Becket Fund were awarded over $1.25 million in attorneys’ fees for their work handling the case in the district court.”

This is what these people get. If they really didn’t think they were going to lose this lawsuit, they had to at least know there was a possibility they would have to pay attorney fees. And for what? An old prayer banner? They should have just taken it down when it was brought to their attention. Hell, they could have even taken it down months after they were made aware of its problems:

“In fact, in an attempt to avoid the costs of litigation and spare the taxpayers, we waited eight months before filing suit in the hope that this matter could be informally resolve,” [Brown said].

Part of me is glad the school district has this bill. It would be ideal if they could spend the money in more fruitful ways, but they brought this on themselves. It isn’t what the students should get, but it is what the administrators deserve.

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Peter Palumbo is a tool

Shortly after succeeding in getting her school to take down its unconstitutional endorsement of religion, student Jessica Ahlquist was inundated with insults and harassment. Some of it she got from fellow students, but most of it came by way of the Internet. I’ve seen coverage of this all of the place and here are my issues with it:

First, it’s terrible that she is being persecuted for standing up for the separation of church and state. People who don’t recognize the greatness of what she did are blinded purely by their belief that Christianity is somehow supposed to be given uber-respect at every turn.

Second, most of the coverage I have seen criticizes the abusive Christians by saying something like, “Oh, how Christian of you.” Yeah. Yeah, it is Christian of them. The whole point of virtually every religion is to not accept the beliefs of others. The fact that Christianity, like Islam, Judaism, and most other religions, does not distinguish between non-acceptance and intolerance compounds the problem. This is exactly what we should expect of the religious, so let’s do away with the sarcasm, as if we actually think they should be held to a higher standard. We should be prepared for this sort of reaction. Always.

Third, some of the comments directed towards Jessica have been to say she will burn in hell. These are held up as if they are just the worst thing in the world. I’ve got to say to them, so what? Yes, people believe in magical places where our consciousness – ya know, that thing that is a product of the physical forces within our brains – will magically reassemble in some other, magical land, only to be tortured eternally by way of an evil-creating yet somehow loving, magical god. It would be dismissed as kook talk if it wasn’t so mainstream.

All that said, I’m not surprised at the reaction. Aside from Christians tending to do this sort of thing, I expect assholery on the Internet. People aren’t particularly accountable, and even when they forgo anonymity, they probably won’t have to face up to their bullshit unless they happen to have celebrity status. Or if they happen to be a state representative, such as Peter Palumbo:

In what many find to be an open display of bigotry, Rhode Island State Representative Peter Palumbo recently referred to teen atheist Jessica Ahlquist as “an evil little thing.”

In addition to calling Ahlquist an “evil little thing,” Palumbo also made the claim that “she (Ahlquist) is being coerced by evil people;” the implication being that atheists and other secular Americans are “evil.”

Palumbo made his offensive and insulting remarks late last week on the John DePetro Radio Show, a Rhode Island talk radio program.

I don’t know all the details of the interview, but from what I’ve read, this is not bigotry. It’s a stupid and wildly inappropriate thing to say about a high school student, but it isn’t bigotry.

Palumbo, presumably a wishful pal of Lieutenant Columbo, is doing little more than displaying his ignorance. He is so accustomed to being in the dominate group that when someone challenges his assumed superiority he can’t help but pull out every stereotype he has ever been taught. The guy needs a good education. My guess is he failed to receive one, in part, because until now it has been allowed to distract and indoctrinate students with religious drivel in Rhode Island.

At any rate, I hope Peter Palumbo burns in hell.

Rhode Island prayer mural ordered taken down

A high school in Rhode Island had an obviously illegal prayer banner hanging on its walls. It opened with “Our Heavenly Father” and closed with “Amen”. Student Jessica Ahlquist pointed out that the school can’t go about promoting Christianity, so they ought to take it down. She made a few direct pleas, spoke with administrators, and made a Facebook page for starters. In other words, she had a perfectly reasonable and measured initial response. So you’ll never – never! – believe what happened next: the Christians and high school administrators were stubborn and said “no”. I know, I know. Who would have thought people who supported Christianity and chose to spend their lives controlling teenagers would be stubborn. I swear, I can’t think of more than three or four thousand instances of stubborn actions from the people who ran my high school.

Anyway. Once the mooks rebuffed the constitutional efforts of one of their better students, Ahlquist sued. And won:

U.S. District Judge Ronald Lagueux rejected the school’s claims that the message in the mural – which opens with “Our Heavenly Father” and closes with “Amen” – was purely secular.

“No amount of debate can make the School Prayer anything other than a prayer, and a Christian one at that,” Lagueux wrote in a 40-page opinion.

And now the school has a short period in which it must remove the mural. This is excellent. No one should be using public funds to promote any particular religion. This is especially true when those subjected to that promotion are impressionable teenagers.

Of course, the school had the audacity to claim the prayer was somehow secular in nature. I can’t help but feel everyone involved knew that was a lie. But even if they didn’t, it’s still a stupid argument. I’ll let the judge take this one:

[N]o amount of history and tradition can cure a constitutional infraction.

Not even for you Christians out there.

Civil unions in Rhode Island

The governor of Rhode Island intends on signing a just passed civil union bill into law:

State senators voted 21-16 to endorse the bill, about two hours after it was voted out of committee. The legislation, which already has passed the state House, allows gay couples to enter into civil unions that offer the same rights and benefits given to married couples under Rhode Island law.

It is now headed to Chafee’s desk for his signature. Ahead of the vote, the independent governor called the legislation an “incremental step” toward allowing gay marriage, which he supports.

It is true this is an incremental step. There will come a day down the road when all 50 states protect equality in marriage and we’ll all be able to point to the times today as being instrumental in achieving that goal. But we’ll also be able to point to these days as a time when ‘separate but equal’ arguments were allowed to exist once again. I think future generations will understand, but they will also ultimately be disappointed that there was ever such a struggle.