The Catholic-turned-atheist teen who’s waging a war on prayer

She’s caused a firestorm of controversy and protest in Rhode Island.  Who is she?

Details:

She is 16, the daughter of a firefighter and a nurse, a self-proclaimed nerd who loves Harry Potter and Facebook. But Jessica Ahlquist is also an outspoken atheist who has incensed this heavily Roman Catholic city with a successful lawsuit to get a prayer removed from the wall of her high school auditorium, where it has hung for 49 years.

A federal judge ruled this month that the prayer’s presence at Cranston High School West was unconstitutional, concluding that it violated the principle of government neutrality in religion. In the weeks since, residents have crowded school board meetings to demand an appeal, Jessica has received online threats and the police have escorted her at school, and Cranston, a dense city of 80,000 just south of Providence, has throbbed with raw emotion.

State Representative Peter G. Palumbo, a Democrat from Cranston, called Jessica “an evil little thing” on a popular talk radio show. Three separate florists refused to deliver her roses sent from a national atheist group. The group, theFreedom From Religion Foundation, has filed a complaint with the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights.

“I was amazed,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the foundation, which is based in Wisconsin and has given Jessica $13,000 from support and scholarship funds. “We haven’t seen a case like this in a long time, with this level of revilement and ostracism and stigmatizing.”

The prayer, eight feet tall, is papered onto the wall in the Cranston West auditorium, near the stage. It has hung there since 1963, when a seventh grader wrote it as a sort of moral guide and that year’s graduating class presented it as a gift. It was a year after a landmark Supreme Court ruling barring organized prayer in public schools.

“Our Heavenly Father,” the prayer begins, “grant us each day the desire to do our best, to grow mentally and morally as well as physically, to be kind and helpful.” It goes on for a few more lines before concluding with “Amen.”

For Jessica, who was baptized in the Catholic Church but said she stopped believing in God at age 10, the prayer was an affront. “It seemed like it was saying, every time I saw it, ‘You don’t belong here,’ ” she said the other night during an interview at a Starbucks here.

Since the ruling, the prayer has been covered with a tarp. The school board has indicated it will announce a decision on an appeal next month.

Read the rest.

Comments

  1. well, I guess I will just pray for her anyway…and all involved from those who seek to understand a ‘turn of the heart’ and those whose responses (far from providing an example to be imitated) have been dramatically un-Catholic and un-Christian.

  2. I feel sad for her and wonder what happened to her that made her so angry. Would also be interested to know more about her family/parents and their feelings.

  3. Amen. What a teachable moment wasted by folks who didn’t stop to ask, “What would Jesus do?”

  4. naturgesetz says:

    I read the whole story, and she says that she became an atheist when her mother became sick and she prayed and didn’t get what she was praying for. She had understood that God gives us what we pray for.

    IOW, what she has rejected is not true faith, but a caricature which was fed to her.

    This points up a problem, apparently, in religious education. While we gear our teaching to children’s ability to understand, we have to be clear about what prayer can do and what it can’t, so as to avoid raising false expectations.

  5. naturgesetz says:

    Of course there is no excuse for the threats and expressions of hatred directed at her.

  6. It is good to have a cause. Perhaps eventually (like some who spend to much time and energy on blogs) she will redirect her energy for something more worthwhile.

  7. “This points up a problem, apparently, in religious education.” Yes, it might.

    It might also be that this is just another teenager raging war on all the Forces of Darkness that went unchallenged before this year’s crop of teenagers arrived on the scene to free us blighters from evil, yaddah yaddah yaddah, but, as her cause happens to coincide with with the major media / secular powers talking points about how religion is the bane of mankind, she gets major attention and plenty of funding and fulsome praise, etc., etc. Just look at the adulatory photo!

    Poor, exploited, kid. She should talk to Norma McCorvey, but she really gets in over her head.

  8. Elizabeth Scalia says:

    Since she believes she is “defending the constitution” and appears to be passionate about that, I wish someone would ask her to identify where exactly in the constitution this “constitutional separation of church and state” is. Then, since she is a passionate defender of the document, I hope she’ll consider further defending the constitution by opposing the administration’s attempt to deny the churches the freedom to be who they are.

  9. Read the judge’s ruling. You’ll find a link to it on the Friendly Atheist blog.

  10. Yes, she’s being exploited and misled. Those were my first thoughts when I read how the ACLU asked her to be the plaintiff. Yet, I am appalled at the immoral way some Rhode Islanders are attacking her.

  11. I have to wonder if the vitriol leveled at her suggests this matter is, for her opponents, less about prayer than it is about self-expression. It makes about as much sense to me to muse about the anger of a particular youth as it would to consider the narcissism of some of her Christian opponents.

    And the bottom line is that Ms Ahlquist was not the judge.

    By the way, that NYT image from Gretchen Ertl is very interesting. It’s just a camera angle, but the reflection shows lights that look like candles, and a window vaguely churchy.

  12. Oregon Catholic says:

    Another person who thinks it’s all about ME, ME, ME! The prayer had hung there for nearly 50 years, but she just had to have it taken down because it made HER feel bad. Poor, poor thing. Maybe she can find some small comfort in her new celebrity? Nah, I’m sure she’s too devastated by having had to look at that offensive prayer.

  13. Oregon Catholic says:

    I’ve been at that blog. No thanks. It’s anything but friendly to other religions. But I do appreciate the fact that it is a group of atheists who recognize their belief system is in fact a religion. Now, if only they could stop forcing their religion on the rest of us.

  14. Another narcissistic little beast throwing a tantrum. She deserves every ounce of opprobrium that she is getting (but not the threats). This ought to be a life lesson for her. One doesn’t get to tear down what is sacred to others because one is having a less-than-expected good time in life.

    She didn’t engage in self-expression of the benign sort, such as writing an article in the school paper, or debate the issue in class. She invoked the Federal Judiciary and brought the weight of the Federal Judiciary down on her community. Now she is tasting some of her own intolerance.

    No pity here.

  15. The true face of political Christianity is revealed now that this girl had the courage to tear the mask away. Death threats against a 16-year-old girl? Why exactly did we waste so many lives and so much money fighting the Taliban?

  16. Her prideful young mind!! She will do a lot of damage. She will be very sad as a grownp up when she realizes her selfishness at this point in her young life. Then in the future for he immature mind! She will see that God will never abandon her! I will pray for her to come back home to the church and stop self pitying herself. She doesn’t realized all the blessings in her life right niw. She just wants attention and she wants company in her immature thought process!! She will always be a baptized catholic! Even though she chooses to reject her faith! I thin when she comes back to the Church she will come very strong and very repentant and The Church will wait for her with open arms!!! Pray for that day!!! ;)

  17. She had it taken down because it was the LAW. It has been recognized law since at least the year before it was installed. It’s not like she waged some decade long litigation full of novel legal arguments. This was such a slam-dunk case that no judge had to work very hard to see that it was in violation. The fact that they got away with something illegal for so long has no relevance to anything.

  18. Gerard Nadal:
    I agree with your points, except for “Another narcissistic little beast throwing a tantrum” which contributes nothing to discussion of the issue.

  19. The life lesson she, or any reasonable person, would likely learn from this is that the atheists were right all along. She did nothing worse than use our country’s legal system as a citizen to seek enforcement of a very well established law, and one which founding Christians in this country once understood and respected. In doing so, “Christianity” in her locale reveals itself to her with a fury and intolerance and ugliness of spirit which can only be described as Satanic. If she had any doubts about her cause going in, the results have confirmed the rightness and necessity of her cause a thousand times over.

  20. “I’ve never been asked this before,” she said. A pause, and then: “It’s almost like making a child get a shot even though they don’t want to. It’s for their own good. I feel like they might see it as a very negative thing right now, but I’m defending their Constitution, too.”

    She should learn to understand the Constitution BEFORE she decides to defend it.

  21. According to a federal judge, she understands the Constitution quite well, at least on this point.

  22. And as we know federal judges are always right. Yeah right.

  23. Where are her mother and father in all of this? They are the adults in this family and as adults they are expected to guide and protect this child (and she is still a child). They had to know that this would cause an explosion of emotion that would be focused directly on their child. Why did they allow this to proceed? Why didn’t they tell her to let it go or just tough it out until she graduated. Why oh why did they allow their daughter to be exposed to all of this vitriol? Was it worth it? In the age of Google, this event will follow her for the rest of her life. She was hardly mature enough to make that decision.

    I really feel sorry for this girl. Her parents? Not so much.

  24. Oregon Catholic says:

    So we have to right every wrong and correct every violation we ever come across in our lives? It reminds me of the neighbor who moves into a neighborhood where one person has been violating an HOA rule for 20 years and everybody has tolerated it because no one thinks it’s worth causing a rift with an otherwise good neighbor and peaceful neighborhood. Then a new person moves in and goes straight to the HOA and gets them to lay down the law just because it’s the law and it offends them to see it violated. Who do you think ends up getting the wrath? I’d say the newcomer rightfully gets it for getting the whole peaceful neighborhood upset. No one appreciates their rule righting.

    Sometimes people need to look beyond their personal feelings and consider the larger context of the community they are disrupting. I am so sick of the me, me, me activists who care nothing for others. The fact that prayer was there for 50 years before she came along beautifully represents how civility has drastically deteriorated recently.

  25. Slavery and later Jim Crow segregation were cool with the majority in much of this country? Should we have let that ride to keep the peace? We certainly tried for a long time. Middle aged men raping young teen girls was part and parcel of the culture on Pitcairn Island for a long long time, until pesky outsiders put their noses into it. Drunk driving was considered cool. A funny lark, really, up through the early 1980s. I’m old enough to remember high school classes with casualty rates like those of a front line combat unit. They, too, thought people should have left well enough alone.

  26. so, basically, kenneth can’t tell the difference between minor violations of purely positive law, and major violations of natural law, and thinks ALL laws must be treated IDENTICALLY, lest the world will dissolve into a chaos of hypocrisy.

  27. naturgesetz says:

    Of course, the line of decisions on which this case was based is tainted at the root. THe error lies in a profound misunderstanding of what constitutes an “establishment of religion.” The First Amendment was written at a time when the meaning was clear: it meant a state church like the Church of England. It did not mean a generic expression of non-denominational theism like those in the Declaration of Independence, or “In God We Trust” on money and in the national anthem, or a prayer like the one in this case.

  28. When Catholics go bad it’s always spectacular. In her defense. She’s young and therefore a fool. She will grow up and she’ll learn to regret all this if we stop feeding her vanity and ignore her. It’s like when your senile grandfather strips naked in the front yard. You don’t laugh. You don’t yell at him. You take him inside and don’t speak of it again.

  29. Oregon Catholic says:

    My thoughts as well, Mr. Peters. The outrage this girl has stirred up has as much to do with the point you made as anything to do with religion. People are getting fed up with activism for activism sake – especially by a teen who probably hasn’t even cut her teeth by paying taxes yet.

  30. a war on prayer!?? Since when has understanding the law of the land and fighting for its fair application a war on prayer? What ridiculous headline.

  31. The young lady was courageous and correct. The federal judge was correct. Kenneth is correct in his posts on this issue. The “Christian” community, on the other hand, seems incorrect and very unchristian as evidenced by their overall vitriolic responses.

    I wonder what the reaction on this blog would have been if it was a Catholic protesting a Protestant version of the Ten Commandments that was posted on that public school wall for nearly half a century? Or if it was a sentence containing the phrase “born again” in some context?

  32. pagansister says:

    My former 18 year state of residence, RI, is a great, great “little” state and I must admit I miss it (not the ice and snow however) since we left in October last year. I admire Jessica’s bravery in bringing the lawsuit, and amazingly enough, succeeding. IMO, the school is a public institution, and the prayer didn’t belong there. It would have been appropriate in one of the many Catholic high schools that are in the state. What I don’t find appropriate is the actions begin taken against her—-she had a right to so what she did and just because folks disagree with her and the decision, is no reason to be as childish about it as they are. Also an adult(Palumbo) calling a 16 year old “an evil little thing” needs to grow up—really, grow up!

  33. pagansister says:

    So, O Catholic, the fact that it hung there for 49 years means it’s OK? And IMO, it wasn’t all about her—she just had the courage to do something about it. Cranston West isn’t a Catholic high school. It has many religions represented and probably some who consider themselves atheists or agnostic.

  34. ron chandonia says:

    From involvement in some unpopular left-leaning causes, I know that a key part of the strategy for currying public support is provoking and then publicizing overreactions from those on the other side of the issue. Getting the police to bash a few heads is a great way to win over those who already have misgivings about police. Likewise, getting some conservative Christians to make un-Christian threats against a child is sure to win over those who suspect such Christians are all hypocrites anyway. Kenneth’s hysterical posts on this thread illustrate that point very well. The Freedom from Religion folks who put the girl up to this stunt now profess to be “amazed” at the “level of revilement and ostracism and stigmatizing” they are seeing. More likely, I’d say, they are delighted at their success.

  35. Richard Johnson says:

    It’s unfortunate that otherwise decent rebuttals to the judge’s decision are framed buy referring to the girl as a “narcissistic little beast” or some similar epithet. It makes me think that such individuals truly don’t agree with the prayer in question and are simply projecting their own problems on the situation. Whatever came of being angry but not sinning?

  36. pagansister says:

    It is entirely possible that her parents agree with her. IMO it would be harder to continue as a 16 year old without the backing or at least the support of 1 or both parents. The ones I feel sorry for are the so called adults(and perhaps some teens) who we can assume include Catholics and others who claim to be Christians, since the prayer sounds like a Christian one, that are acting most un-Christian like towards her. If their actions represent their faith, she has proof that being an atheist was an excellent stand.

  37. A disheartening disgrace and more opportunities for the atheistic left to raise their stupid straw man BS about “separation of church and state.” I need to stay off of these message boards.

  38. According to the law, she was right. A judge agreed. People are naturally upset about it. They don’t like “losing” to a kid. Given the tenor of her critics, it seems less about freedom of religion and more about sour grapes.

    It’s a nice prayer; what if a church offered to display it? And if it were a prayer to a non-Christian deity, would people be as quick to defend it.

  39. In our system of government, yes, judges, in the aggregate, are right. Individual judges, can, and do make errors, and there is a very nice system of appeals and reviews. Once the Supreme Court has its say, or lets stand lower rulings, that is the final word on whether the actions of the legislative or executive branches are legitimate under our Constitution.

  40. I’m not the least bit amazed at the vicious reaction this girl is experiencing in this case. It is entirely consistent with the instincts of the movement which feels the right and the need to use government to force their notion of religious virtue on the rest of society.

  41. I don’t feel sorry at all for this girl. I admire her. She’s got twice the smarts and 100 times the guts of the thugs who have tried to intimidate her into silence. Her parents are teaching her to stand for something and to hold up even in the face of adversity. If more parents did the same, we wouldn’t be the third rate nation we are rapidly becoming.

  42. You’re absolutely right. By the way, one the last suits of this nature brought in Alabama a number of years ago, was brought BY LUTHERAN AND CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS, who were harassed by the local evangelical students for not participating in some school religious event.
    Interestingly, James Madison who WROTE the First Amendment, didn’t believe that military chaplins were constitutional and an objective look at our “Founding Fathers” is really a pretty mixed bag religiously.
    I’ll bet if this girl were a Wiccan and sued to be allowed to practice her “religion” in a public school, these guys would go crazy.

  43. Catholics have plenty of history to draw upon to know full well how tyranny of the majority works and how ugly it is. For centuries, Catholics in Ireland were virtual slaves in their own country. They had absolutely no standing before the law and lived, or died, at the whim of others for having the “wrong” faith. In England, they were slaughtered by the hundreds of thousands at times. The people up in arms over this fail to draw that line because they’re triumphalists themselves. They have no problems with the dog-eat-dog reality of triumphalism, as long as they get to be the top dog…..

  44. ron chandonia says:

    No one more angry at the world than a Catholic who has stopped practicing his faith.

  45. This judge, like others, cannot read the simple words of the Constitution. “Congress shall make no law regarding the establishment of religion” was not addressed by the prayer on the wall of a school. The school is not owned nor operated by Congress. The prayer was not written by Congress nor placed on the wall due to passage of a law. The presence of the prayer, neither promulgated not endorsed by Congress and not the subject of any federal law, does not establish a religion. In other words, the prayer has absolutely nothing to do with Constitutional rights, pro of con.

    The judge in this case is either willfully ignorant, illiterate or advancing a personal agenda. The Constitution was written to be clearly understood by a populace with limited formal education. Somehow, 18th century farmers could understand the words that seem to elude graduates of our elite universities. Why is that, I wonder?

  46. I’ve never made death threats to a 16-year-old girl. Or anyone. Nor will I ever demand that the government officially sanction my faith or put its symbols up on public property, unless the same right is extended to all other religions and philosophies.

  47. We can argue all day about what the Constitution really, really means. I get paid to make those kinds of arguments, at least once in a while. No prob.

    But at night, when I think about this episode, it boils down just to this: a teenager occasioned the removal of a benign invocation of God’s blessing on human society. She’s responsible for what she did. Nn more. But no less, either.

  48. The idea that the Constitution was mean to be a stand-alone document free from interpretation is absurd. Constitutions are not comprehensive law books, nor could they ever serve as such. They are statements of principles, with a tiny handful of specific proscriptions and prescriptions. It is the foundation and framework for a living body of law. That’s not at all a new invention by some creative liberals. That’s been established law for going on 210 years.
    There is no plausible way whatsoever to use the Constitution as a governing document without someone interpreting that, and that role fall squarely to the judiciary. There would simply be no need for that third branch of government if that were not the case. “Constitutional Law” could be practiced by any minimum wage worker overseas with a text-search function in MS Word, and 99.99% of all cases would go unadjudicated.
    What, for example, does the Second Amendment mean, from it’s text alone? It references the necessity of a militia and goes on to say that the “right to bear arms….shall not be infringed.” Well, what, exactly does that mean? Does one have to be part of an organized military reserve to own a gun? Are we all “militia” by virtue of being citizens? Does “shall not infringe” mean the government has no power to bar me from owning a machine gun? A nuclear warhead? Do I have the right to carry a loaded concealed weapon on an aircraft? How do we answer a single one of these questions from the text of the amendment alone with no interpretation?
    Or the Fourth Amendment. What, exactly is an “unreasonable” search and seizure? Well, the text says you need an element of “probable cause” for a search or arrest warrant. Without interpretation by a judiciary, we have no basis for a rule of law. Whoever has the guns gets to say what’s reasonable or probable.

  49. Oregon Catholic says:

    You are turning a molehill into a mountain again. This girl experienced nothing like what you are describing. You have to use these extreme analogies because there is nothing similar to her situation that you could name that would inspire more than a yawn.

    All you have to do to keep this whole thing in perspective is to recognize that atheism is a religious philosophy and has no more right to become the state religion than any other. But that’s what’s happening and it’s the opposite of what the Constitution says and what the Founders intended. It’s like saying the only color allowed in public spaces will be white – the absence of color – because some people find color offensive. Color-haters may think that absence of color is fair to all and no one is hurt when a non-color if favored. But it’s not. The color-haters have simply created their preference of a colorless space and oppressed the color-lovers.

  50. So if Muslims ever become a demographic majority where you live, you’d be cool with them putting up Koranic phrases in the courthouse and holding Muslim prayers at board meetings and sending public tax dollars to Islamic organizations, just so long as they don’t formally declare Islam to be the state faith?

  51. Deacon Steve says:

    I know City Council meetings where that happens. Each meeting someone from a different faith is invited to do the opening prayer. It is what it means to have freedom of religion under the constitution. No one religion is given prominence.

  52. Ahlquist’s victory in no way establishes atheism as the state religion. If she somehow took over the school board and put up an atheist slogan or Richard Dawkins type billboard in that same room, a Catholic or anyone else who lived there could sue, by simply re-writing her original complaint, and they would win on the exact same groups she did.

    The establishment clause and the body of law that amounts to a wall of separation does not require our government to take a position for atheism and against religion. It requires it to say that it takes NO position whatsoever on the question, and therefore cannot give its seal of approval or even be seen to play favorites among them.

  53. ron chandonia says:

    Easy to say if you have no faith, I suppose.

  54. Oregon Catholic says:

    An atheist slogan or a Richard Dawkins billboard could not be taken down under religious rules because atheism, as it stands today, would not fit the criteria. But thank you for acknowledging atheism is a religion. It has also become our de-facto state religion through the misguided notion of courts that a belief in the absence of God does not constitute a religious belief. One of these days someone is going to make and win that argument before the SCOTUS.

  55. Giving truly equal access to all religions and religious viewpoints, including atheism, is a perfectly legitimate way to solve the problem. They put this issue to rest in R.I. the same way and neither I nor any court would object. They could keep that prayer up, IF they made provisions to allow equal access for similarly sized and placed displays from other religious views.
    I think that’s a reasonable, if cumbersome way, to approach such issues, but I’d bet my last dollar that it wouldn’t satisfy most of the people who see Ahlquist as the enemy. If you or I or she raised that solution at a board meeting, they would scream bloody murder.

  56. I have a faith, believe it or not. It’s just that I find its message compelling enough on its own that I feel no need to have my government legitimize it by forcing its message in the public square. In fact, I know that government sponsorship would, ultimately, cheapen the real power of my faith. Christians, especially Baptists, used to understand that as well.

  57. An atheist message in a public school or other government space, one that made a clear statement on the nature on the existence or non-existence of a supreme being, would absolutely be subject to removal under the establishment clause. The only reason that has not happened, to my knowledge, is that atheists know the law too well to attempt such a thing, and absolutely no government in this country would countenance official atheism or its messages.
    Is atheism a religion? Well, for many purposes of the law, it is. Under IRS rules, for example, a belief is a religion if its sincerely held and if it proposes to answer the “big questions” of existence, the nature or existence of supreme beings, etc. Government neutrality or the refusal to officially endorse sectarian Christianity is not a de-facto endorsement of atheism. Nowhere is government saying “there is no God.” It says, in effect “make up your own mind, that’s not our job.”

  58. ron chandonia says:

    The new UCLA attitudinal survey of incoming college freshmen has just been released, and it’s no surprise to learn that American high-school grads are increasingly supportive of gay marriage and abortion-on-demand:

    http://www.heri.ucla.edu/index.php

    Perhaps there is no official religion taught in public schools, but a rigid secularist creed now shapes public education, and woe to anyone (particularly a parent) who thinks the kids ought to be made aware of alternative views, particularly those which gave rise to Western civilization.

  59. Clearly, for the Rhode Island dissenters, the message never left the wall.

  60. Absolutely the children should be made aware of alternate views — and that is the job of parents through their actions, examples, “talks”, and membership and participation in the church/temple/mosque of their choice.

    But please don’t interpret this reply as an endorsement of your phrase “… rigid secular creed …”, for I do not believe it is such, though I admit what is taught should be in the general realm of moral without being religion specific in definition or nuances. The specifics are in the religious realm and are parental responsibility, not governmental responsibility.

  61. If anyone wants to read the actual decision in the court’s own words, here’s a nice link to the document:

    http://tinyurl.com/7xdvztz

    I think it’s no small irony that the court found that the angry atmosphere at the school board meetings and the intimidation of Ahlquist actually lent weight to the plaintiff’s argument that the mural violated the establishment clause. The outpouring actually clarified that the mural is meant, and perceived by reasonable people, as a ringing endorsement of specific religion.

  62. Atheism is NOT an officially recognized religion, unlike Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc.; however, atheists are a protected class. This distinction is crucial and often lost upon atheists (like those who try to get their message displayed next to Christmas/holiday trees in the public square). If you don’t like that atheism as a “religion” doesn’t enjoy the same rights as what is recognized as a religion, do what is right: argue to change the law, not read something into the Constitution or constitutional principles that isn’t there. And as for this judge who ruled in the girls favor–if it makes it to the Supreme Court–his ruling will be overturned, and his poor logic brilliantly exposed.

  63. Again, see my comment above. The Establishment Clause, separation of church and state, and freedom of religion doesn’t touch upon atheism because it is not an officially recognized religion. And it certainly doesn’t touch upon philosophies. If you want atheism protected to the same degree as religions currently are, work to change the law… do not read into the Constitution or constitutional princples something that is not there… namely, equal protection for atheism.

  64. Ronald King says:

    I am Catholic and I am happy that Jessica had the courage to express her disagreement with authorities and others who supported hanging the prayer in her school. Experiences such as this reveal to us what remains sinful in our faith and needs to be confessed. Spiritual narcissism is extremely harmful to our faith and to those outside our faith. It has no insight into how it effects others and only sees others as good or bad objects depending on the others’ beliefs. The narcissist is easily offended and usually reacts with much self-righteous indignation claiming that his freedom has been attacked. The spiritual narcissist is always on guard against “the enemy” who may threaten his perceived position of superior moral authority. In this case Jessica has shown us what needs healing within our faith and perhaps if we are humble enough to admit this she will begin to heal from the pain which has been inflicted on her.

  65. This is a very sad story. The girl is only 16 years old; 16 years old and she’s an atheist! This speaks very loudly in my opinion of how important the responsibility is of parents in the faith development of their children. It says she was baptized but did she complete her Sacraments of Christian Initiation? Did she attend mass with her family? She developed an erroneous understanding of God and it sounds to me like there may have been no or very little catechesis going on which is very common these days with parents who bring their children to religious education in preparation for reception of the Sacraments but never attend mass and do not live their faith and set a good example for their children. It would be great if someone in her community would reach out to Jessica to see if there is anything they can do to give her a better understanding of God and of the Catholic faith.

  66. Most sad of all is how the Christians in her community have reached out to her: revilement, threats, name-calling. If it’s clear if Ms Ahlquist was not well-catechized, it would seem equally clear her detractors are not, either.

  67. Ronald King says:

    You have hit the nail on the head. I might add that all the catechesis in the world does not change an angry self-righteous heart into a loving heart. Only the insight and acceptance that oneself is a hater will with the Grace of God change that hardened heart.

  68. I have to agree with Willi: “Where are her mother and father in all of this?” The transition from a child’s faith to an adults isn’t always smooth. I’m sure most of us can remember times of doubting and questioning. Why not encourage her to work through this phase. I can’t help thinking it probably would have been just a phase if she had not been allowed to take it viral in this very public way. I mean, a 14 year old kid is a minor, right? And does the legal system not have more pressing matters to occupy its attention?
    If we read the Psalms we find out that all the things we struggle with, have been struggled with by others. As it says in Psalm 42, “My tears are my food day and night, as they say to me day after day, ‘Where is your God?’” I think it is a mistake to make a kid feel that she is unique for struggling with the same issues which have occupied believers and non-believers since the beginning.

  69. Freedom of religion and non-interference from the establishment clause is fully extended to atheists in establishment cases going back at least to the 1940s. It’s crystal clear that government has to stay neutral not only by not favoring one traditional religion over another, but by not advancing ANY form of religious belief or non-belief.
    In this latest case, the judges cited McCreary v ACLU, a 2005 case involving Ten Commandments displays. The Supreme Court very clearly laid out the legal standard:
    ……….
    “The touchstone for our analysis is the
    principle that the First Amendment mandates
    governmental neutrality between religion and
    religion, and between religion and
    nonreligion. When the government acts with
    the ostensible and predominant purpose of
    advancing religion, it violates that central
    Establishment Clause value of official
    religious neutrality, there being no
    neutrality when the government’s ostensible object is to take sides.”…………………
    Two other cases, Reed v Great Lakes Companies and Kauffman v McCaughtry, also clearly ruled that atheism can be considered a religion, at least if it progresses beyond a mere statement of disbelief in deity to a system of ethical deliberation, attempting to answer how humans should carry on in the absence of a supreme being etc.

  70. To Bob’s point: If you read the Ahlquist decision, you will see that the case and the ruling in no way turned on the status of the girl’s atheist beliefs as a “religion” or not. She would not have had to assert atheism at all. If she had been Buddhist, or Muslim, or even a devout Christian who felt offended by public exhortations of prayer in public spaces, she would have prevailed in exactly the same was as she did. Displays of prayers or religious symbols on government property is unconstitutional no matter who the complainant or their belief system.

  71. Oregon Catholic says:

    Hopefully not for long, kenneth. That law may not be as settled, or as Constitutional, as you’d like to think. I hope the school decides to keep the prayer and post some inspirational prayers from a variety of religions. Wouldn’t that frost her to have to see all that God talk every day! It would be the perfect karmic consequence for her lawsuit.

  72. Pray to St. Rita and St. Monica for the girl and her parents for their return to the practice of the Catholic Faith. The girl’s father filed the complaint on her behalf.

  73. The law, at least for the set of facts presented in Ahlquist, is very settled. There is not a hint of wording in 65 years of Supreme Court rulings which even suggest that such a prayer, standing on its own in a school gym, is constitutional. There is no conceivable way even the Court’s most conservative Catholic judges would go for that. There are no substantial cross-district ambiguities or disagreements in the case that would even prompt the Court to waste its time reviewing the case. If the school board goes ahead with this foolish cause, they will lose, and they will pay the ACLU attorneys for their time.
    You seem to suggest a scenario where the board could “get around” it by allowing other religious messages in the same space. They could, but they’d have to grant truly equal access, including atheist messages, the Church of Satan, Hindu, Wicca you name it. You and I both know they’d sooner be torn apart by wild pit bulls before they ever did that.

  74. Oregon Catholic says:

    Nah, they could represent just the big 5 and get away with it. It would be very easy to find inspirational passages from each of those traditions that would not offend any other. Most of the others you mentioned don’t have traditions, accepted by the entire faith, upon which to draw from anyway. The pagans can’t even agree on who/what god is.

    Remember, atheists don’t get to participate until they get recognized as a religion – which they won’t – because then they’d have to be subject to the same restrictions.

  75. naturgesetz says:

    But that prayer doesn’t represent a specific “religious view.” So there are no “other religious views” that need to be represented.

  76. We are told nothing of the parents. Don’t fall into the trap of presuming you know them through the child. They may well have educated her well and she still went off the rails. It happens every day to good loving conscientious parents. Instead … I advise you pray for the girl and her parents. If the parents are who you seem to assume they are, they need your prayers too. If the parents are good conscientious Catholic parents who are wondering where their lovely little girl went to, they are suffering more than you can know. May God bless them either way.

  77. That prayer doesn’t represent a specific religious view? Really? You really want to go with that? Is the supplication to “God” not pretty obviously Christian, or at least Judeo-Christian? Are we to believe that it was equally directed to, say, Cernunnos, or Horus, or “God” as our own higher self? Do you suppose we could get the school board to draft a resolution to that effect?
    Come on. Federal judges tend to be up in age, but they’re not senile. As they noted in their decision, the records of the school district and their recent actions make it crystal clear that the mural is intended to represent a specific religious view.

  78. First off, the board would likely still scream bloody murder if they had to share space even with the “big 5″ faiths. They’ve made it clear their intent is to promote Christianity over all else. Nor would that satisfy the requirements of the establishment clause. Government doesn’t get to decide five faith are the only legitimate ones any more than it can champion one over the others.
    The fact that “minor” faiths seem less organized to you has no bearing on anything. The idea that Christianity or any of the other major faiths are monolithic entities in broad agreement is likewise absurd. Many millions of Christians died at the hands of other Christians in disputes over what the “real” message of the faith was.
    As for atheists, the Court has already provided some clear guidance on how they would qualify as a religion. There is nothing at all in law to provide a basis that would let the school board specifically limit access to theistic belief systems. There is also precedent which suggests atheists would have to have a fair shot. There was a case in California where public space had to be parceled out by lottery for things like Nativity displays etc. Atheists won a big handful of the spaces.

  79. naturgesetz says:

    “They’ve made it clear their intent is to promote Christianity over all else.”

    Kenneth, that prayer has nothing specifically Christian about it. It is not a Christian prayer. It is simply a theist prayer: nothing more.

  80. A prayer that is merely “theist” is no less unconstitutional than one that is sectarian ie Catholic or Presbyterian. In any case “God” as a proper name, is only used in a widespread manner by the Abrahamic faiths.

  81. Did the girl receive threats? If so, that would seem (SEEM, I said) to validate atheism and repudiate Catholicism. One commenter said that the girl ripped off the mask of “political religion”. It would seem that she indeed did. If these Christians have threatened her, then once again Christians have spoiled the face of Christ.

  82. Well said, Brian. It SEEMS that some posters, have indeed, embraced “politcal religion.” Because I am close to 60, I remember the original Supreme Court ruling on prayer in the public schools and I remember the prayers in public schools as well. It might surprise some to know that the reason that Catholics started their own schools was because public schools were, in effect, Protestant parochial schools. They were set up, in part, to make “good Americans” of school children and that meant shared values which included Protestanism. Remember, untile the election of JFK, Catholcis were viewed with suspicion as to whether or not we could, in fact, be “Good Americans” and Catholics as well. That ruling protects US as Catholics from having schools used to try to inculcatge our children with Protestanism. Don’t believe me. Try reading the court case involving the Lutheran and Catholic children in Alabama. SOME posters may trust, the school systems, BUT I DON’T.

  83. Just another reason to abolish “public education.” Bring on the voucher system and get rid of this perverted government entanglement with education.

  84. pagansister says:

    FrMichael:
    Abolish public education? Vouchers? No to both. Public ed is just that. All can attend no matter what religion etc. If a person wants to send their child to a private school—Catholic or otherwise, then they can seek help from the school for financial help. The Catholic school I taught in had knowledge of such help for parents. The government has no business helping folks pay for a religious school education—no matter what faith the school is connected with, IMO. Public schools are there for free, equal ed for all (yes, it is not perfect by any means, I know).

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