Cranston School District Owes ACLU $173,000

That’s the amount of money the Rhode Island ACLU has billed the Cranston School District for their court costs. And they’re being generous:

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.”

“The Cranston School Committee was fully informed from the beginning that a decision to move forward with this case would likely result in the payment of attorney’s fees if they were not successful,” Brown said. “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 resolved. Despite those efforts, the school committee voted to mount a vigorous defense of the prayer in court, leading to today’s filing.”

As a teacher, part of me feels bad that this money is being taken away from the students… but the school district brought this upon themselves. They wanted to fight to keep an illegal Christian banner in their auditorium. They wanted to push religion onto all students. They could’ve just taken down the banner right up front and put that money toward more teachers and more resources, but they chose not to.

The adminstrators in that district cared more about their public display of religion than the education of the children. They deserve to pay a penalty for that. Too bad the taxpayers have to foot the bill.

(via WWJTD)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Anonymous

    It’s going to be entertaining, reading the comments to news articles about the legal fees.

  • Varen

    That number hurts… I wonder what will happen to poor Jessica now that the schools are losing money “because of her”? Because so far these guy have been sore losers, and now that “her bad” will impact funding of their schools, it could get really ugly. Yeah, the schools deserve it, but the people writing death threats won’t see it that way.

    • http://www.facebook.com/eukota Darrell Ross

      The school administration essentially needs to “swallow its pride” and move on.

      Any acts against Jessica are a detriment at this point. I have noticed something that school administrations lack a lot lately – SPINES. Parents gripe and they bend over right away.

  • gski

    Being that the only deterrent is the financial cost, they should have billed them for every nickel.  Then donated 10% to Jessica’s fund.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jt.eberhard JT Eberhard

    “The adminstrators in that district cared more about their public display
    of religion than the education of the children. They deserve to pay a
    penalty for that.”

    It’s a pity it will be the taxpayers footing the bill, not those responsible.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      Good point! I’ll edit the post to reflect that.

      • Anonymous

        I would REALLY like it if the ACLU, FFRF and other groups that stand up for cases like this would make a habit of going to the school board and town council meetings and issuing a ‘double-dog dare’ to the folks on the board: “If you’re so certain you’re going to win, sign this statement that, if–and when–you do lose, you will indemnify the school district against any damages awarded or lawyer fees paid as a result.”  Call them out in public, and make it absolutely clear that they’re burning taxpayer money on an altar to Jehovah.

    • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

      The taxpayers are also the voters, and ultimately they are the ones responsible. The school board didn’t appoint itself.

  • Anonymous

    This financial burden, though, is not a cost borne by the administrators, but by the students in the district — as you note, it’s money being taken away from the classroom. May I suggest a fundraising effort to offset the ACLU’s costs, so as to cut the amount coming out of the education budget in Cranston? I’d be very happy to donate to such a cause — I’d consider it my part in paying for the defense of SOCAS, and in keeping money in the school district. I agree that the *administrators* in the district deserve to pay a
    penalty. Hopefully, they will see what the cost they have to bear is
    when they come up for re-election or re-appointment. I don’t think that turning such people out of their jobs is punitive. I think they’ve simply shown themselves unqualified for the job, given their display of unreasoning.

    • http://www.facebook.com/dashifen David Dashifen Kees

       This is a great idea, Zachary.  I know that collecting money via PayPal for donations is fraught with perils and, as a web professional, I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m not sure what a better solution would be.  I’m going to investigate moving forward on this one and see what comes of it.

      • Anonymous

        That’s great of you to undertake the investigation. Will you report back here?

        • http://www.facebook.com/dashifen David Dashifen Kees

           Yup.

        • http://www.facebook.com/dashifen David Dashifen Kees

          Regardless of whether anything comes of this specific idea, here’s what I’ve found out perusing the terms of services for PayPal and Google Checkout. 

          Both of them actually pretty much indicate that the collection of money via their services for the purposes of donations by anything other than a 501(c)(3) is against the ToS.  I read one account of a person collecting fees for a local soccer league and had the ability to pay X for a ticket but you could pay X+Y to help subsidize others’ tickets.  They called “Y” a donation and Google had to ask them to change the language on the site or have their account locked. 

          If you are a 501(c)(3) both of them charge about 3% + $0.30 as a fee for their services.

          The big difference seems to be that PayPal stores your money in their accounts while the Google Checkout system simple passes the money through to an existing bank account.  In that way Google only facilitates the transfer of funds and doesn’t actually store them in anyway. 

          So, for 501(c)(3), money collection is pretty straightforward using tools that people are familiar with.  But, without that, things get a little murky.  You could do things like set up a kickstarter page hoping to raise $1 since you can keep the money above that which you target.  However, I didn’t read their ToS too carefully and, thus, they might also preclude donations in some way.

          The best thing to do, it seems, is to just open up a “real” checking account with no minimum balance and set up a payment gateway through something like authorize.net so you could collect credit card payments yourself, but that’s beyond what most people can probably do, technically speaking. It’s a shame, but after noodling around online for quite some time yesterday, I really didn’t find a good way to make this happen.

          @Zachary_Bos:disqus: Feel free to drop me a line at facebook if you want to chat further about this. 

          • Anonymous

            Useful to know. I’ll look for you on FB.

    • T-Rex

      No, raising money for them is a terrible idea. They need to feel this hit to their budget or they will have learned nothing from this and fight it again should it ever arise.  Let them learn from their mistakes, as costly as they may be.

      • Anonymous

        It is unrealistic to think that the parties responsible will learn anything. The legal fees are being taken out of the city school budget, not the pockets of the committee members who decided to fight the suit. The only consequences that will teach them a thing, would have to come from the voters. In the meantime, I don’t wish to see the students of Cranston losing out in even this marginal way, for the simple fact of their dumb luck at being residents in a district run by ideologues.

        • Conspirator

          So which do you want the precedent to be for other schools: 
          A.  Yes what you are doing is illegal, and if you go to court you will most likely lose and it will cost the school district lots of money.
          or 
          B. Yes what you are doing is illegal, and if you go to court you will most likely lose and liberals will pick up the tab so it will cost you nothing but a bit of time and gain you lots of popularity with the fundamentalists. 

          Do you not see the difference?  Maybe no one in Cranston will learn from this, but hopefully other school districts will pay attention. 

          • Anonymous

            I’m afraid I don’t agree with your reasoning. The administrators who made the decision to fight the suit — and to stick to their guns about the banner when the problem was first brought to their attention — didn’t make a cost-benefit analysis of the kind you describe. They didn’t think, hey, this fight is worth the cost. They thought, hey, we won’t allow ourselves to be pushed around like this. The costs didn’t factor into their thinking — that’s the nature of the unreason that comes with a privileged status. Likewise, other school districts aren’t going to decide to defend SOCAS violations based on the outcome of this case — though their lawyers might advise them to take such facts into consideration.

            You’re not wrong when you describe the scenario as “it will cost you nothing but a bit of time.” It isn’t the pols money being put up at risk — it’s the school district’s. As far as the pols are concerned, it’s play money for the board game called Us vs Them. They won’t learn anything from this suit and the judge’s decision against them, one way or another, whether the district pays the ACLU, or if the money comes from elsewhere. The law is not an instrument to teach lessons! It is a means to protect all of us from the abuses of power. The prayer banner was an abuse of power, and the law instructed the school to remove it: the abuse of power has been ameliorated. Now, the law says, pay the other side’s legal bill. This aspect of the law is meant to deter future such abuses, but I believe the ideologues involved in such cases are immune to this deterrent effect. If they were reasonable people, the matter would have been resolved before it came to trial.

            In short: the only way to protect Cranston schoolchildren from the poor decisions of the school board, is to remove the school board. These people, by their actions, have shown that they’re not qualified. Forcing the school committee to sign a check to the ACLU won’t teach them anything — remember, they’re not susceptible to reasonable arguments — but it will deprive the students of the educational benefits that money might have purchased for them.

            I say we raise the money and pay the bill. Our interest is not in teaching lessons, and is especially not in wasting our time trying to teaching a lesson to people who can’t that way. The occasion for the lawsuit was to protect the school environment from the undue influence of sectarian views; the occasion for paying the bill is to avoid taking money away from education in order to pay for the foolishness of school administrators.

            You want to send a message? Find out how to replace the school committee members, as quickly as possible. Write op-eds, support a campaign; don’t spend time arguing with a guy online that these fools ‘have it coming’ and that they should get their just desserts.

            Meanwhile, I’m going to keep stumping for a funds drive. I’m not comfortable with the money for this decision coming out of the education fund. Call me naive, but I’d like to do everything possible to mitigate the damage this bunch of jokers can inflict on the students of Cranston.

            • http://wading-in.net/walkabout Al Denelsbeck

              “The law is not an instrument to teach lessons!”

              Of course it is. The whole point of negative consequences is to provide learning experiences, to those who are found at fault and to everyone watching. That’s exactly what you are admitting when, in the same paragraph, you say, “This aspect of the law is meant to deter future such abuses,”

              “I believe the ideologues involved in such cases are immune to this deterrent effect.”

              It would, perhaps, be a bit better if we proceeded, as we so often encourage others, not on what we believe, but on what is supportable by facts. Feel free to demonstrate that negative consequences  do not have detrimental affects, even on ideologues. I see a history of recent court cases that demonstrates otherwise; witness the large number of changes to approach following Kentucky and Dover. These changes would not have been made if the consequences weren’t being avoided.

              “In short: the only way to protect Cranston schoolchildren from the poor
              decisions of the school board, is to remove the school board.”

              Yep. And having them found directly responsible for costing the district a bundle of money is a great way to do it. If they’re bailed out of the one obligation this actually cost them, the motive for this is significantly reduced, isn’t it?

              I am vaguely in favor of the various supportive churches ponying up the bill – we’ll see if all the good christians can stand behind their brave words – but even then, all this does is encourage the board idiots that someone has their back. Again, not exactly a consequence. I’d much rather see them held financially responsible, and watch them cry in the dark as their wave of community support vanishes suddenly now that the bill is due.

              • Anonymous

                “Of course
                it is.”
                I don’t think we’ll come to an agreement on this point; but as it is beside THE point, let’s not quibble.

                “I see a history of recent court cases that demonstrates
                otherwise; witness the large number of changes to approach following
                Kentucky and Dover.”
                I don’t think you could argue that these cases changed the minds of those involved, which was my point about “teaching them a lesson.”

                “These changes would not have been made if the
                consequences weren’t being avoided.”
                I think rather that it was the case law attested in these decisions, and not the financial consequences, which serves the deterrent function.

                “And having them found directly responsible for costing the district a
                bundle of money is a great way to do it.”
                Of course you’re right — but that still incurs the concomitant cost of the money being taken out of the education budget. Above, thinking more on this, I suggested that we offer to cover the cost of the district’s bill to the ACLU, *on the condition that* the school administrators involved in the decision to defend the banner, either step down from their post, or if that’s impractical, pledge not to serve in the future in the school system.

                That removes the ninnies, and gives us a chance to insulate the education budget from the consequences of their ninnyism; but also requires them to take personal responsibility for their decisions. Even better if the parents and voters in Cranston see that Committee Member X chose to extract n dollars from the schools budget, in order to stay in their job and keeping costing the school system money.

                “I am vaguely
                in favor of the various supportive churches ponying up the bill – we’ll
                see if all the good christians can stand behind their brave words – but
                even then, all this does is encourage the board idiots that someone has
                their back.”
                I like this idea of looking to the churches to cover the cost. I’d just like to contribute as well, as someone in favor of not wanting students to pay a price for studying in districts staffed by ninnies.

                “I’d much rather see them
                held financially responsible, and watch them cry in the dark as their
                wave of community support vanishes suddenly now that the bill is due.”
                I say put the question to them with the added incentive of the money.

                • Conspirator

                  Boy this commenting software really sucks.  But anyways…

                  If you pay off this school’s debts then there are absolutely no consequences for the school board.  None, zip, not a bit.  In fact, they’ll look at it as some sort of moral victory.  And since I’m not anywhere near that district, I have no vote, nor say on the matter.

                  In the best case these people will be voted out.  The question is, what will motivate the voters?  Education on this subject is best.  Make it known how obvious the decision in this case was from the get-go.  They had no chance, they chose to fight, they lost, now the school will suffer.  Yes it hurts the kids, but it’s a short term problem.  

                  I’m sure there are other cases where schools have backed off religious stuff because of the precedents their lawyers told them about.  Now you want to set a new precedent, one where there is no financial penalty to the people/organizations doing illegal things, just hurt feelings.  They’ll see this as another reason to try and try again, they may lose, but it’s the “libs” who’ll pay.  They’ll be having a good laugh at that.  

                • Anonymous

                  “If you pay off this school’s debts then there are absolutely no
                  consequences for the school board.”

                  And yet if the school district pays off the debt, it is BOTH the
                  committee, and the students, which will have to pay: the committee with
                  their jobs (perhaps?),  the students with the loss of that bit of
                  funding.

                  Let’s try to be creative and come up with something which doesn’t come
                  at the cost of the students. Even the lousy ones who vented all their
                  unthinking religionist spleen on their classmate…

                  “The question is, what
                  will motivate the voters? Education on this subject is best.”

                  That’s optimistic (which is not a criticism). I suggested elsewhere in
                  this thread, that we motivate them with money, as well: we’ll pay the
                  costs, if the school committee members agree to step down. I wonder what
                  the community response would be then?

                  “Now you want to set a new precedent, one where there is no financial
                  penalty to the people/organizations doing illegal things, just hurt
                  feelings.”
                  I’m really surprised at how this point keeps being repeated.

                  The COMMITTEE is not on the book to pay the fees — the DISTRICT is. And in the zero-sum game, that means, the money is being taken out of the education budget. That’s the kind of damage to the non-responsible parties (the students) that I’d like to see if we can mitigate

                  “They’ll see this as another reason to try and try again, they
                  may lose, but it’s the “libs” who’ll pay.  They’ll be having a good
                  laugh at that.”
                  I give exactly not one shit what the ninnies are laughing at. It was easy enough for the committee to expose the district to this liability, because it wasn’t their money. So now the students pay.

                  Well, no. Let’s see  can do better than that.

                  My blue-sky, best-case scenario would see a new committee, staffed by Cranston residents who aren’t as likely to put their own ignorant identity politics ahead of the students’ best interest; the addition of SOCAS material to the curriculum (great local color!); and the students to know that there are people out there (out here… )who are willing to defend their right to a public school education free from sectarian influence, even to the point of paying the legal fees for their idiot administrators.

                • Ruth

                  Do you think that having to pay these fees will actually make a difference in the kid’s education?  I don’t.  

                • http://wading-in.net/walkabout Al Denelsbeck

                  “I don’t think you could argue that these cases changed the minds of
                  those involved, which was my point about “teaching them a lesson.” “

                  I couldn’t care less where someone’s mind is at, and know damn well that changing minds takes time. Your solution isn’t accomplishing it either, nor even coming close – if that’s your concern as you say, you need to try a lot harder than that. But I’m very much in favor of establishing firm consequences for acting on beliefs when they’re detrimental to society, and that’s an important step in maintaining the social order that is law’s primary function.

                  “I think rather that it was the case law attested in these decisions, and
                  not the financial consequences, which serves the deterrent function.”

                  Pick one side and stick with it. You just said that there was no deterrent for ideologues.

                  “Above, thinking more on this, I suggested that we offer to cover the
                  cost of the district’s bill to the ACLU, *on the condition that* the
                  school administrators involved in the decision to defend the banner,
                  either step down from their post, or if that’s impractical, pledge not
                  to serve in the future in the school system.”

                  Sorry, that simply sounds like either a bribe or extortion to me, and I doubt it would be seen favorably by the district. Outsiders setting terms of behavior for any community isn’t going to go over well – hell, too many in this country couldn’t even handle France condemning the invasion of Iraq.

                  You’re also ignoring that the terms for a deal had already been set, by the initial complaint of the ACLU – this ruling came about solely because of the board’s refusal (and failure to recognize their responsibilities as a board.) There really isn’t any point in continuing to offer deals, and the only message that it sends is that no one is really going to follow through.

                  I’m not faulting you for thinking of the kids, but let’s be real – their education has already been seriously compromised by countless actions from past administrations (and inactions from the current one) – this is a drop in the bucket. Some lessons, unfortunately, are hard ones, but only because no one heeded the easy ones. The voters need to be pissed. I’m just wondering how few will ever recognize that they got their panties in a twist over an incredibly lame, vapid prayer. Seriously, if you thought it was that important, scribble it on a note in your kid’s lunch…

          • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

            Yes.   If anyone has money to donate, the ACLU could still use it.  As could AU and FFRF.

            I JUST renewed my AU membership, and am really looking forward to getting a copy of “The Lord Is Not On Trial Here Today” as a gift.

      • Conspirator

        I agree, if they are bailed out by the same people who oppose what they did, what’s to prevent other schools from doing similar things?  Where’s the lesson in all this?  What if they decide next year to put up a less Christiany prayer just to see what they can get away with?  

        Let the people who wanted this prayer banner put up the money to cover the expenses.  The victims shouldn’t cover the cost for the perpetrators. 

  • Anonymous

    “The adminstrators in that district cared more about their public display
    of religion than the education of the children. They deserve to pay a 
    penalty for that.”
    Yes, and the administrators should pay it.

    • Anonymous

      Should, but won’t. In view of their predictable refusal to take responsibility for their expensive foolishness, I’d rather chip in to help cover costs than see the money come from the school budget.

      • http://www.facebook.com/eukota Darrell Ross

        While chipping in would seem to help the situation, it really doesn’t. The school’s response is quite predictable.

        They wasted tax-payer money to fight it and now they will turn around and point fingers at the ACLU attempting, in your case it seems successfully, to paint the ACLU as the bad guys.
        It is an expensive lesson but it is important that they take it. Paying for them will teach them nothing.

        • Anonymous

          Depriving the students of this bit of funding, I’m arguing, won’t teach them anything, either. Do you have a reason to think that the committee will learn anything from having to sign off on paying these fees? Perhaps they would — but I’d like to think that we can come up with a solution that doesn’t also come at the cost of the students.

          Hence the further suggestion: fundraise to cover the cost, and then offer those monies on the condition that the school committee step down. Or, following Dwight’s suggestion above, on the condition that the district implement SOCAS into the curriculum.

  • Conspirator

    It is a shame that so much money must be spent by the school district, but hopefully this will open their eyes to their stupidity.  And perhaps when the next elections come around others will use this in their campaign.  

    But hey, remember, these people have God on their side.  Can’t he miracle them some more money?  All they need to do is pray hard enough and their problem will go away, right?

    What I’d really like to see is some fundraising by all the supporters of the prayer banner.  They wanted it so bad, so they should be paying for it.  

  • Rufus

    What it would appear that is needed actually exists in British law (but probably not in US law):
    In the United Kingdom a public servant, for example a local government officer, who has unlawfully spent public funds, or caused loss to a public authority through misconduct may be surcharged to recover public money.  In the case of an illegal corporate decision by an elected body all the councillors may be surcharged.
    (It has to go through the Audit Commission first, and it’s only reached that level with a couple of cases, in one of which five councillors were surcharged £36.1 million for selling council-owned houses to people who would “vote the right way” at below market prices. They did recover about £12.3 million of it).

    For those of a legal persuasion, the relevant legislation is the Local Government Act 2000, amending the Audit Commission Act 1998

    • Griffox

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but we don’t actually have legislation that specifically says that public schools may not post 10 commandments, prayers or otherwise endorse religion, right? Assuming that is true and judges decide these cases based on the establishment clause and other court cases, it would seem that having legislation that clearly states that
      schools may not post prayers, ten commandments or anything else
      promoting religion might be worthwhile. Would it be redundant? Yes. Would it prevent school districts
      from thinking they could actually win these cases? Maybe. It’s not like they have better things to do (re-affirming “In God We Trust”, Making 2012 the “year of the bible”, etc.)

      • Anonymous

        Unfortunately, that would turn it into an election issue at the state and federal level.  Any legislator supporting the reasonable suggestion you make would find himself out of a job, because he “Hates God.”

      • Good-peeps

        the part i don’t understand is why don’t they just change the words making it no longer a prayer or religious issue. with the 10 commandments its simple turn it to a list of rules in plan English. Or they could hove found the quote in the bible and put it in the ” “ marks and cited the author as long as there not an idiot and say god then they could pass it as a reading thing. and as far as taking in god we trust out of the government things like money i see no point in starting a fuss and acting like they act just to take god out of your life completely how many people read what there money says except for the corners anyway?  plus if that do change it it will probably just go from in god we trust to in good we trust and they will find some way to raise takes for printing the extra “o” maybe they wont i dont know much about the system. in fact the only thing i do know is every one dose the same thing for different beliefs and views to get there way and the government uses the fighting to get money. 

  • Annaigaw

    It is a public school. If the public doesn’t like its money and resources re-reouted to defend religious zealotry, then they can fire the administration and hire new ones. It is not just administrators that are at fault, but the public as well. I’m sure the elected school board had a lot to do with this. You choose to promote religion over education, your children lose and you pay. I feel sorry for no one.

    • Michaelhitchcock

      I might have felt sorry for the kids, but the way most of them have reacted has lost any sympathy.

      • Anonymous

        I encourage you to hold fast to your sympathy! There are students who supported the suit and the position it represents; we don’t hear much from them, given the media bias (though, even so, we don’t know if they are many or few). There are students who are spouting bigotry… BUT they are simply acting out the influence of their bigoted home lives, and shouldn’t be given some quarter. Then there are the students who have worked out for themselves that supporters of the banner’s removal are evil; and for these teens who have been infected by hate, we can still spare some sympathy.

        I think we know enough at present about the way beliefs and attitudes are formed, not to act out the old vindictive scripts. To hell with the idea that “Love thy enemy as thyself” is a Christian notion — I’m a nonbeliever to the bone, and I say, this is as humanistic and rational a principle as any.

        Which is not to say that holding out sympathy for bigots means, somehow, that I respect their bigotry; or that I intend to let bigoted behavior limit my freedoms.

        • T-Rex

          You are basically arguing against everyone on this page. Maybe you should step back and just agree to disagree. People need to learn from their mistakes.
          What better way to teach them than by hitting them in their wallets. That will definitely make them and others think twice when and if something like this comes up again.

          • Anonymous

            I’m trying to make a case, T-Rex, and I think I’m doing so responsively and cordially. I mean to keep doing so, because I can think we can do better than 1) shrug and say, dem’s the breaks, I guess the money has to come out of the school budget; and/or 2) endorse vindictiveness.

            If you’ll look at each post, you’ll actually see that (basically or not) I’m in agreement with a number of people.

            I don’t agree, however, that the students are the people who need to learn from the mistakes in this case. It is, after all, from “their” wallets (education funding) that the mistake is being for.

  • Ronlawhouston

    I’m with gksi.  The ACLU’s attorney fees are like punitive damages.  If they’d billed them every cent not only would it deter that conduct from this school district but from others also.

    • http://www.facebook.com/eukota Darrell Ross

      I think the ACLU should name their total cost, and then indicate the % that they are requesting the school district pay.

    • Eskomo

      Fees are not like punitive damages. They are to cover actual costs. Punitive damages are excess awards to further punish defendants that refuse to change when standard fees are imposed.

      • Ronlawhouston

        They are like punitive damages.  Statues that award attorney’s fees reversed the precedent that attorney’s fees were simply costs that could be assessed.  The award of attorney’s fees was specifically enacted as a means to deter behavior.  The idea is that in actions like civil rights where the damages may be minimal, the award of attorney’s fees is what will actually deter behavior.

  • Persephone

    They bought their tickets, they knew what they were getting into. I say, let ‘em crash.

    • Anonymous

      The trouble with this line of reasoning is that they weren’t buying tickets for themselves only — they’ve saddled all the students of the district with the consequences of their idiocy. When you say “let ‘em crash”, you’ve got to explain why you think the students should be involved in the crash, if we can with a little creative involvement avoid that outcome. I much like Dwight’s proposal above — we can help cover the costs for the district, if they make a concerted effort to integrate SOCAS lessons into the curriculum, etc.

      We can view this moment as an opportunity to do *better* than just let ‘em crash.

      • Eskomo

        It’s a line from ‘Airplane.’

        • Anonymous

          Ah. I am an atheist, not a humoranist. (/ducks)

  • T-Rex

    Expensive lesson for them. Maybe they’ll think twice about violating our Constitution next time. Maybe other school districts will see this and be proactive in removing religious displays before they’re taken to court too. One can only hope.

  • http://aboutkitty.blogspot.com/ Cat’s Staff

    Did that include fees and the damages asked for?  I know it was a small amount that was asked for, but the judge could make it whatever he wants.  This could end up costing over $200k.  Maybe the judge will figure into the damages the environment created by the school board and add enough for Jessica to go find a nice non-religious private school.

  • Alice

    From what I’ve seen, Cranston is a cess pool of hate and intolerance. With shockingly few exceptions, the students who this will be hurting most have been vile and ignorant and horrible. Maybe it’s the former evangelical in me coming out, but I say it’s too bad the ACLU can’t charge them enough money to ruin them. Ruin the whole town so that everyone had to move away and the concentrated idiocy would diffuse into the (hopefully normal) surrounding communities so that no one has to deal with that many idiots in one place ever again.

    • Anonymous

      This is a dismaying response.

  • Anonymous

    The people that are directly responsible for letting this go to court should be fired. They wasted a lot of time and money on something they knew they would loose.

    Hopefully this will be a serve as a stern warning to other schools.

  • Silver_fox-trot

    Part of me feels bad, thinking about what that money could have gone
    towards (new text books! better chairs! A SMART BOARD!) but at the same
    time, I think it’s necessary. It shows those types of Christians that
    they can’t get away and that they will have to pay, in one way or
    another.

    Also, if this happens at another (I should probably say *when*) the ACLU can just forward themthis as well as a few other cases like them to show the school board that so far they haven;t won once and that this is the sum of moey they are looking at, on top of thier own lawyer fees!

  • Anonymous

    Aw, poor school district.  Maybe we should send them some flowers from a local florist?  :P

    Nah!

    • Eivind Kjorstad

      I will not deliver to this person.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    A point I haven’t seen well publicized is that Jessica herself is claiming damages.  Of $25.  Which he has said she’ll donate back to the school.  The reason is that this way she maintains standing after graduation in case the board appeals.

    Of course all the whiners say she’s just doing it for fame and money.  But heck, what good are facts when you’ve got opinions!

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    It’s sad that desperately needed education might take a dip, but these people knew the risks. The community were well informed, and so were the students. The vast majority of them flagrantly tossed it aside. I’m glad they are facing the consequences. And if they appeal, I’ll be happy to see them facing an even larger bill. When people refuse to be reasonable, this kind of recourse should be the only option. Do they want a good education for their kids or do they want to keep trying to pushing their religion onto all students? They can’t have both.

  • Nathan

    When the school board costs the school 173,000 dollars they should all be fired. It shouldn’t even be a question, the money was lost as a direct result of their stupidity and irresponsibility. 

  • The Vicar

    On the one hand, if the ACLU charged every penny they could, I don’t know that that would be a good thing. By handing in a reasonable charge, the ACLU makes it clear that they are standing for principle, not trying to turn a profit, and considering how much they are hated by so many people that’s probably a wise stance to hold.

    On the other hand, I am increasingly skeptical of the idea that it’s a good thing to throw money at public schools. Not because I doubt that there’s a link between funding and performance but because I doubt that most school boards are even capable of spending money wisely on things which will benefit students. Too much funding goes into technology, not enough into more (and better-qualified) teachers. I went to schools which had practically no computers, outdated textbooks, and no Smart Boards or other high-tech gadgetry, and somehow I managed to learn the subject matter being taught. Why, I even dimly recall taking AP tests and earning a bunch of college credit by the end of high school. I suspect that a bunch of ninnies like the Cranston school board would spend this cash on a new computer lab and a retreat for the High School Seniors, or something equally useless, and that the kids will be no better or worse off than they otherwise might be.

    (Then again, people as moronic as these have proven to be a perfectly capable of firing a few teachers to fund a new computer lab and a retreat, so who knows? It would be interesting to see what their budgets look like for the next few years, as compared for the previous few, although obviously we can’t do that yet.)

  • Anonymous

    From the linked article:

    School Committee Chairwoman Andrea Iannazzi said in an e-mail message that “the ACLU’s fees are egregious”

    The question I keep coming back to is : How much did the School Committee pay it’s own lawyers?

    Because I would have to imagine it’s a similar amount to what the ACLU is asking for. In which case the ACLU’s fees can hardly be termed egregious.  Which further means that the children of Cranston are not being denied $173,000 worth of education, they’re being denied $346,000 (or more) worth.

    Mike.

    • http://www.facebook.com/eukota Darrell Ross

      I agree. But they get to spin it however they want. What we need is people who call out poor reporting and dig up the real data. Then include that in a “letter to the editor” of the local paper.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Leithiser/593361421 Chris Leithiser

      I believe the school’s lawyers didn’t charge them–making free legal help the most expensive kind.

      The ACLU specifically charged something like a tenth of what the school’s legal defenders did in a zoning case they won.

  • Annie

    I highly doubt the school board members will be voted out for their actions, as most of the town seems to be behind them and continue to falsely blame Jessica for this whole spectacle. 

    As for collecting funds to pay for the school board’s legal fees?  I’m torn.  It is certainly a magnanimous offer, but I worry about the precedent it will set.  Will it encourage other school boards to ignore civil requests to follow the law?  Maybe more would be willing to go to court if they think their legal fees will be minimal, or even absorbed.

    • Anonymous

      Annie, your post has got me thinking. Here’s a solution: how about we raise monies to cover these legal costs, and then offer them to the district… CONTINGENT on the school committee members pledging that they won’t run again for public office. Whatever they learn or don’t learn from this conflict, they won’t again muck up the running of government with their ninnyness, and the students won’t have to pay the price for belonging to a district infected with ninnyism.

      What do people think? Do we offer to cover the fees, if the school committee pledges to get out of public service? Perhaps we could offer to cover a portion of the costs, proportional to the number of committee members who so pledge.

      It would be good to know what the timeline for payment is; whether the school district has some kind of legal insurance which would cover the costs anyway; and whether the committee members can be removed from their positions for incompetence.

      • Annie

        I admire your enthusiasm and concern for the student body Zachary, I really do, but unfortunately, I’m not as optimistic as you that the next crop of school board members would be any better than the current ones.  Some others have wrote that without the financial penalty, it is unlikely that the school board will be deterred from blatantly disregarding the law in the future.  As sad as it is that the students are the ones that will suffer from the board’s decisions, I don’t know a way around it.  Perhaps it will take student athletes wearing last year’s uniforms, or no homecoming pep rally to help parents and the student body realize that the board did not have their best interests at heart when they entered into the lawsuit. 

        As a teacher and parent myself, the above isn’t easy for me to say.  I would be willing to donate money for a traveling museum exhibit or some other educational opportunity for the students of Cranston, but sadly, once people knew who was paying for it, my guess is they would boycott. 

        I just read all of these comments, so I’m going to let it all ruminate for a bit…  Keep thinking- you seem to have good ideas and a big heart.

        • Anonymous

          “As sad as it is that the students are the ones that will suffer from the
          board’s decisions, I don’t know a way around it. ”

          That is a great way of describing the challenge I’m asking we try to think creatively about: how to penalize the administrators and not the students. I don’t think we need close discussion yet; it may be that my suggestions aren’t practical, but that doesn’t mean we can’t cook up something more workable.

          ” Perhaps it will take
          student athletes wearing last year’s uniforms, or no homecoming pep
          rally to help parents and the student body realize that the board did
          not have their best interests at heart when they entered into the
          lawsuit.”

          Yet I imagine that they’d have trouble raising the money to cover a rally or for school uniforms, if the parents were informed that they were actually paying to offset the costs of the noble fight in defense of their religious liberties…

          Maybe I want to deprive them of that satisfaction?

          *

          Thank you, Annie, for the frank response.

          • Wintermute

            My admittedly emotional response to your proposal is that simply forcing these idiots out isn’t enough. If the whole community didn’t act so vilely towards Jessica, then I might be inclined to say it’s enough to remove the people who made the bad decision originally, but frankly, the whole town has been pretty shitty, so fuck them. Fuck them in the ears.

            • Anonymous

              Let’s not jump to the conclusion that “the whole town” is represented by the vile ones. “Where’s the data”, we as rationalists might ask. Look at what Jessica Ahlquist herself said at the end of that NYTimes article — “It’s for their own good.” Let’s follow her cue, and set aside the (natural enough) impulse to be vindictive.

              • Zeke To

                Having read the accounts of the school meetings that preceded the case and watched the videos (on YouTube) of the post-verdict meeting, it appears as if a substantial number of both the students and the rate-payers favour an appeal! It will be interesting to see how the elected members stick handle this one. Will they follow their duty to provide education, or ensure their re-election by pandering to the voters?

                Whichever they decide, I believe it is madness to even consider covering the costs on their behalf. In my wildest dreams, I can’t imagine the reverse happening had the ACLU lost. And this is not the right circumstance to attempt to demonstrate magnanimity (or moral superiority) to one’s opponents. The lesson will be lost on them and it can only have the effect of encouraging future disrespect for the law of the land.

                It’s all well and good to want to support the students, but frankly they don’t want our support. So let them, along with the Board and the taxpayers, feel the financial pinch. Idealogues may not learn from incurring cost awards, but under the common law we must proceed as if our opponents are acting in their rational self interest–even when they aren’t. That’s the only way our system has been designed to work.

                Finally, for those feeling generous in victory, please consider donating to the ACLU. They have a deficit to cover here too.

                • Anonymous

                  “It’s all well and good to want to support the students, but frankly they
                  don’t want our support. So let them, along with the Board and the
                  taxpayers, feel the financial pinch.”

                  I don’t think you can assume this without asking. For me, this is about assuming the cost of defending SOCAS, rather than allowing that cost to be borne by a school budget managed by ninnies.

      • Anonymous

        I much prefer Dwayne_Windham’s idea.

        Funding a new curriculum is fine, but paying an elected school board to stand down smacks of bribery.

        • Anonymous

          I’d have to be money going to their pockets to be bribery, no? Though I agree — Dwayne_Windham’s idea is greatly appealing.

  • Rebecca M

    So refreshing, an opinion piece on the Cranston situation from The Nebraskan. I read it and though, oh my goodness, someone has a working brain!

    http://www.dailynebraskan.com/opinion/root-harassment-based-on-faith-shows-hypocrisy-1.2692964#.TymbmYFlySp

    • Zeke To

      Thanks for the link–that was one of  the best articles I’ve read on this story.

  • Anonymous

    I’d be glad to help cover their costs if:

    - A replacement poster is put up commemorating the “Lemon Test” and additional quotes from the ruling, with signatures from the school board members.

    - The school district specifically creates and adopts a curriculum update to fully address the issues of church & state that documents the history of the concept, the Treaty of Tripoli, major Supreme Court rulings on the issue, the history of Rhode Island as a specific point in the history of religious freedom, why “majority rules” isn’t appropriate in the situation of civil rights.

    If they are willing to acknowledge they were wrong, sign their name to it, put up a permanent reminder of the event, and create curriculum that helps to educate the students about the historical and legal reasons why this was an accurate ruling  – then I am happy to fundraise to fix this and would donate myself.

    • Anonymous

      Dwayne, I think this is a great proposal.

    • Pureone

      Ugh. They would call that a Shrine to Atheism. You can dream, though….

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Scott-Rhoades/100000175617377 Scott Rhoades

    “I know all those OTHER school districts lost their cases when they defended religion being in their schools but I think WE can win this”.

    Any school board that even thinks of spending taxpayer money to defend religion in their school should have their positions put up for immediate re-election. At the very least votes of no-confidence should be sent their way.

  • Sd

    The actual decision written by the judge was horrible.
    There was no issue in the community about the banner until the case was brought, he used the reaction to the case to define non-secular intent of the school committee. While the supreme court has ruled you cant use  that type of reaction to show entanglement. There were a lot of similarly questionable things in his decision. I would be very surprised if this wasn’t appealed

  • Sharon Hypatia

    AFAIK,  most school boards are elected, so they can’t be fired. Most work at other jobs and are paid only a token salary, so the threat of  “throwing them out in the next election” doesn’t carry a lot of weight, unless they are serving for some  other reasons.
    The Cranston’s school boards intransigence over editing the xtian bits out of the prayer implies, to me, that some of them are on the board as xtian “moles”, bent on xtianizing the school.
    After the failure to influence federal laws, this is the new fundie tactic – take over local and state government bodies and weasel in as much xtianity as possible. It is why we are seeing so many states pass CreoID laws.  They are packing state governments and school boards.
    A few days ago, Hemant posted a video of Jessica talking about the aftermath of the court decision, including a video of a board meeting where people were demanding for an appeal to be filed. 
    While I hate to see kids suffer, getting a nice big bill for court costs might be enough to dissuade them from mounting an  appeal. It also is a big lesson to school boards in the rest of the country that they are grabbing a tiger by the tail when they try to put religion in the schools.

  • Bill Anderson

    I don’t think that Cranston paying the ACLU legal fee will be much of a deterrent when similar situations come to light. Everyone voicing their opinions to keep the banner should have known the risk and the possible cost. And the vote was 4 to 3 so three of the board members voted correctly and should not be blamed for the consequences.  They should probably even be considered as oracles by the rest of the community! This is just life in America, people.  This same sort of thing needs to happen many, many more times before people will wake up to what needs to realized here. This is a
    Bill Of Rights violation, but people belonging to the religious majority in this country need to finally realize that the religious persecution that always comes to the surface in these situations is actually and fundamentally the result of what they get taught in their churches. Those who go to Christian churches are the in group and everyone else is the out group, and the churches have always reinforced this. When church leaders realize that losing such cases causes the churches to lose face in the community and their congregations to dwindle,  they may start preaching that this country needs to embrace its establishment clause, for their own survival. So, I think we need many more such cases before this country will change its attitudes toward religious freedom.

  • Tony B

    They should have demanded the resignation of the entire school board in order to redeem the discount and charged full price otherwise. Prove to the entire city that the board values its power more than the well being of the students.


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