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FFRF doesn't expect drawn-out legal battle with city

April 27, 2012

WOONSOCKET — The Wisconsin group challenging the constitutionality of a cross on a war memorial on city property says it expects to prevail without the type of long legal battle that unfolded over a prayer banner ordered removed this year from a public high school in Cranston.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote to Mayor Leo Fontaine this month saying the Christian cross on a 1921 monument outside Fire Station No. 2 is unlawful because it violates the constitutional principle of separation of church and state.
Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said the group expects the cross will be removed without legal action.
"We expect to prevail without going to court," she said this week. "Our assumption is that the city does not realize the law."
Council President John Ward told The Call this week that he agrees with those who say the cross is more of a historical symbol — like the grave markers at Normandy, France — but he said the financially struggling city can't afford to get dragged into a legal battle.
"I would not vote to pay to defend it," he told the newspaper.
Yet the city continues fielding offers of free legal representation from a variety of individuals and organizations, including groups proclaiming to advance the cause of religious freedom.
“The Freedom From Religion Foundation is on a crusade to scrub the public square of all religion,” said Mat Staver, chairman of Liberty Counsel, an international nonprofit with offices in Washington, D.C. “ They are chipping away at our Christian heritage, one war memorial, one creche display, one prayer proclamation at a time.”
City officials say the Liberty Council is just one would-be benefactor offering to take on the legal battle for the city, but Fontaine has yet to take up any of the offers, saying the city might be on the hook for legal fees if it lost the battle.
Fontaine has said the monument is a fitting tribute to soldiers who died in World Wars I and II and won't go away, though it could be moved to a more prominent spot, on private property. On WPRO-AM Radio, he called Gaylor's group a "couple of knuckleheads."
Gaylor, in turn, called that comment unprofessional.
"It's like saying the Founding Fathers are knuckleheads because they created a secular government," she told The Associated Press.
A federal judge in January ordered a prayer banner at a Cranston high school removed after the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union sued on behalf of student Jessica Ahlquist, an atheist. The judge's ruling that the banner was unconstitutional set off a storm of criticism of Ahlquist, including from a state lawmaker, who called her an "evil little thing."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has supported Ahlquist with several awards. She inspired the "Atheists in Foxholes Support Fund" and was its first scholarship recipient, receiving $10,000.
The foundation has a complaint pending with the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights after a Cranston florist refused to deliver flowers from the group to Ahlquist. The commission has said it cannot comment.
Gaylor said the group acted in Woonsocket after receiving a complaint from a resident who drives by the monument every day and is offended by it.
The person who complained is not one of the group's 45 members in Rhode Island, Gaylor said. She said the foundation receives between 50 and 100 complaints a week.
With Call staff and Associated Press reports.



April 29, 2012 by leo (not verified), 3 years 13 weeks ago
Comment: 1202

As far as I am concerned someone should write to this stupid organization and tell them that their letterhead is repulsive and offends OUR constitutional rights of free speech. I for one along with many others in this fair city would chip in and buy this little parcel of land that this memorial rests upon and show that organization in Wisconsin that they are messing with the wrong people. And I also heard that the city has been offered free legal representation in this matter. I do hope that the mayor takes up that invitation so that we can stop all this foolishness and continue with our lives. If those people in Wisconsin wanted to they could have bought that town somewhere close to them with the population of 1 person and built their own town and promoted anything they wanted to without being bothered by the real human beings of this fine country..enough said...thanks

Sell the land underneath

April 28, 2012 by myky1978 (not verified), 3 years 13 weeks ago
Comment: 1195

I agree 100% with the earlier comment about selling the land underneath the monument to a private party. I remember the old Courthouse was sold for what I believe to be $1 by the city & turned into condos. What grounds for removal would the FFRF have then?? I hope to GOD that this is a case in which Woonsocket & its residents prevail. The person or persons who have not been brave enough to come forward but are offended by this monument should move to Wisconsin with the other "knuckleheads". Then again I'm sure their names will have to come out eventually and we can be equally offended everytime we see them.

Take the legal offer and then RALLY!!

April 28, 2012 by brichon12 (not verified), 3 years 13 weeks ago
Comment: 1194

Its time to stop this attack on the MAJORITY's rights. The majority is in favor of keeping the monument. Its time to rally the populace against these attacks. Take the legal assistance offer, start some counter protesting and keep these monuments in place. Selling the land is a good idea too - one dollar?

Sell the land underneath

April 28, 2012 by lizinstlouis (not verified), 3 years 13 weeks ago
Comment: 1192

I have never been to your fair city, but is it possible to sell or deed the land underneath the monument to a private person, company, or organization, with access easement if necessary?

Why Not Fight For It?

April 28, 2012 by Friendly Neighbor (not verified), 3 years 13 weeks ago
Comment: 1190

If the city has been offered free legal representation, why not accept the free assistance? If we don't attempt to fight it and stand up for these memorialized soldiers, they will never stop. Please don't give up that easily. We teach our children not to bully and to stand up for themselves. This group uses scare tactics and bullies...go to their Facebook page and you will see it. Please don't give up this easily. Let the Liberty counsel help.

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