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Judge in ball fields suit needs more information

April 1, 2011

PROVIDENCE—In a case that delves into the area of separation of church and state, a federal court judge on Thursday said she needs more information before she can render a decision in the lawsuit involving allegations of favoritism by Pawtucket city officials in granting the use of city athletic fields to a local parochial school over the city's public schools.
On Thursday morning, attorneys for the plaintiffs and defendants presented arguments for summary judgment in U.S. District Court in Providence. However, Chief Judge Mary Lisi said she would have to consider arguments and review additional information from both parties before she could render a decision.
The lawsuit was filed against the city in October of 2009 by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of seven Pawtucket parents who said they were frustrated by a practice that has gone on for years. The lawsuit claimed that Pawtucket Parks Supt. William Mulholland and other Pawtucket city officials violated the First Amendment by granting St. Raphael Academy, a parochial school, exclusive access to city playing fields. The parents said this arrangement has led to public school athletes having insufficient field space for practices and games.
In particular, the lawsuit cited a city-owned field that was refurbished with taxpayer dollars but which the parents claim has since been reserved almost exclusively for use by St. Raphael Academy's football team while a public middle school has been denied use by its soccer teams. In addition to wanting the practice by the city declared unconstitutional, the lawsuit also calls for clear-cut rules to be established and adhered to in regard to field allocation.
City officials have denied the allegations and maintained that no preferential treatment is given to St. Raphael Academy. Former Mayor James Doyle, also named in the lawsuit, Mulholland, and others in city government have said that the city's position has historically been one of trying to accommodate all of the city schools' athletic teams, public or private. The city's attorney has previously asked for the case to be dismissed.


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