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Teen Atheist Wins Big: School District Won't Appeal Ruling to Take Down Prayer Banner

"I’m thrilled."

Jessica Ahlquist (left) (AP)

On Thursday night, a massive crowd gathered at Cranston High School West in Cranston, Rhode Island, to discuss the future of a controversial prayer mural that has captured headlines for months. While many came to protest a court ruling that found the banner to be unconstitutional, others praised the teen atheist who fought its presence. Last night's meeting, which CBS News likened, at least at its start, to "a rabid shout fest," ended with the Cranston School Committee voting 5-2 not an appeal the judge's mandate that the mural be taken down.

As the Blaze has extensively reported, the case was brought against the school district by 16-year-old Jessica Ahlquist, an atheist who claimed she found the sign offensive. In January, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Lagueux agreed with the young woman, which has sparked outrage, protests and frustration in the local community.

The district's reasoning for not pursuing the case, it seems, has more to do with money than it does a disregard for religious liberty. We've reported about the extensive expenses associated with the case. Already, the battle has cost taxpayers $173,000 -- and this was merely for the monies needed to defend against the lawsuit Ahlquist launched with the Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

According to the school committee, the total cost if the district launched an appeal and it reached the Supreme Court could have come in at $500,000. In a time when budgets are diminishing and tough decisions need to be made, the financial needs of the district clearly took precedent.

"I’m really pleased with the decision," Ahlquist, who was present at the event, said following the vote. "It’s obviously the decision I wanted the School Committee to make and I’m thrilled."

In a press release issued following the vote, the American Humanist Association, an atheist and freethinking-led organization, praised the district's choice not to continue the battle, while offering up accolades for Ahlquist.

"Given the strength of the ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Ronald R. Lagueux, it would have been tough for the school system to appeal," Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, said. "We’re certainly glad that the committee decided to not waste any more time and money in pursuing one."

"Jessica Ahlquist has stood up against her most vehement and vile critics with class and style," he continued. "Her example shows how a fight should be undertaken in favor of protecting the freedoms we are guaranteed by our constitution. Everyone should offer a healthy measure of gratitude to her and her family."

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