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Rhode Island Affiliate, American Civil Liberties Union

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Church and State Court Cases

Highlights over the years

For years, the Rhode Island ACLU has fought to maintain the separation of church and state. At the same time that the Affiliate has worked diligently to prevent government aid to religion, it has also been just as assiduous in protecting the free exercise of religion from government interference.


1973: Earley v. DiCenso

Favorable decision from U.S. Supreme Court in precedent-setting case establishing limits on public aid to parochial schools.

1975: In re: Hodgson

Successful defense before an Immigration and Naturalization Service board of a woman initially denied naturalization due to her religious convictions against bearing arms for the country.

1980: R.I. Federation of Teachers v. Norberg

Favorable U.S. Court of Appeals decision striking down state law allowing parents to claim income tax deduction for money spent on tuition in parochial schools.

1984: Donnelly v. Lynch

Challenge in U.S. Supreme Court to a city-sponsored nativity scene display in Pawtucket. While the Court ruled in favor of the City, the decision had the positive effect of setting the outer limits on the types of displays with religious content that could be sponsored by the government.

1984: In re: Manuel Roderick

Successful representation of a man who had been refused permission to change his name to an Islamic name because of a past criminal record.

1986: Exeter-West Greenwich School District v. Pontarelli

Successful court challenge to state Department of Education ruling requiring a public school district to pay tuition for students attending parochial schools.

1990: Yang v. Sturner

Favorably settled federal lawsuit on behalf of a family whose son was autopsied against their religious beliefs; this case was cited by Congress in passing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

1991: Tucker v. Glocester Police Department

Favorably settled complaint challenging the use on police applicants of a standardized psychological test which asked questions relating to religious beliefs.

1992: Weisman v. Lee

Favorable ruling from U.S. Supreme Court in lawsuit challenging a public school’s practice of having an invocation and benediction delivered at a graduation ceremony.

1995: Ogram v. Town of Johnston

Favorably settled federal lawsuit challenging a school district policy which gave preferential rental treatment to religious groups.

1996: Barense v. Town of Barrington

Successful federal lawsuit challenging a Town’s practice of providing free snow-plowing to churches, but to no other private institutions.

1998: Cottone v. Bristol-Warren Regional School Committee

Favorably settled federal lawsuit challenging the “private” display of a nativity scene each December on the front lawn of a public elementary school.

2003: Osediacz v. City of Cranston

Federal lawsuit challenging the display of a nativity scene and menorah on the front lawn of Cranston City Hall.

2007: Spratt v. Wall

Successful federal court challenge of a warden’s decision to bar an inmate from supervised preaching at religious services even though he had done so for seven years without incident.

2009: Rogers v. Mulholland

Federal lawsuit challenging a city’s preferential treatment of parochial schools over public schools in granting permits for the use of city athletics fields.

2010: Ahlquist v. City of Cranston

Federal lawsuit challenging the display of a “School Prayer” mural in a public high school auditorium.


Return to: Recent Church and State Cases


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