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Prayer Mural Officially Removed as Battle With Teen Atheist Concludes
Jessica Ahlquist, top center, who brought action against a prayer banner at Cranston West High School smiles as she sits with supporters during a school committee meeting at Cranston East High School in Cranston, RI., Thursday night, Feb. 16, 2012. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

Prayer Mural Officially Removed as Battle With Teen Atheist Concludes

"We are very pleased that the school district has come into compliance..."

It's official. The prayer mural that caused so much controversy among atheists and people of faith has been taken down from the auditorium at Cranston High School West in Cranston, Rhode Island. In January, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Lagueux sided with 16-year-old Jessica Ahlquist, an atheist, in agreeing that the banner should be removed.

Causing local and national controversy, Ahlquist claimed that its presence was offensive to non-Christians and that it violated her civil rights. The lawsuit she initiated has led to intense sparring over the separation of church and state. Additionally, the young woman has been on the receiving end of threats and unpleasant communications for months.

Citing excessive costs and a potentially long legal battle, the local school district decided not to appeal the jude's removal decision. Thus, the historic mural, which was a gift to the school from the class of 1963, was officially taken down on Saturday and the auditorium was closed on Monday for repairs.

"We are very pleased that the school district has come into compliance with the court order and also in accordance with the school committee’s decision from a couple weeks ago and now we are hopeful we will be able to resolve the last issue that is out there concerning the awarding of attorney fees," commented Steven Brown of the Rhode Island ACLU.

Ahlquist, too, took to Twitter to commemorate the removal of the prayer banner, writing, "The prayer has officially been removed."

Brown's organization represented Ahlquist in her case against the district. Now, another battle looms over the $173,000 in legal fees that the ACLU claims the city of Cranston owes for the atheist student's representation. While the organization plans to give the district until March 19 to make a decision on the funds, the city of Cranston is still deciding if it will contest the fees.

On Tuesday afternoon, district officials will host a press conference during which the banner's future will be discussed. According to RI NPR, several religious and secular groups have offered to provide the contentious mural with a new home.

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