A YouTube Interview with Jessica Ahlquist

Jessica Ahlquist is the high school sophomore at the center of the lawsuit against the city of Cranston over a religious banner hanging in the local high school. She recently sat down for a lengthy interview with her uncle, who happens to make a YouTube series called Philosophy On the Ground:

There aren’t too many high-schoolers out there with that level of courage and outspokenness. My appreciation for her just skyrocketed. She’s exactly the type of person you want leading the charge in a lawsuit like this — she knows what she’s talking about and she’s not doing it because she’s “anti-Christian.” She’s simply doing what’s right.

***Update***: Jessica was also interviewed the other night on Freethought Rhode Island.

(Thanks to Chuck for the link!)

  • Jalyth

    Thanks for sharing this. I think I figured out how to spend my Friday night. :)

  • http://seeminglyimpossiblequestions.blogspot.com/ Eric

    Actually I know some educated people who know absolutely nothing about atheism. One geology professor actually asked me, “Isn’t atheism a religion?” I think the myths about atheism are so widespread that even some of those who are technically atheists are brainwashed.

    • Mike Johnson

      Ten ways atheism qualifies as a religion:

      1. Atheists worship. We are all made to regard, respect and devote our lives to something greater than ourselves, and everyone worships something. Atheists do not acknowledge worship in a traditional ‘religious’ context. But in the vacuum of a recognizable God, they give themselves to human reason, materialism, wealth, science, naturalism, communism of sorts, nihilism, or themselves, or other prominent atheists (i.e. Richard Dawkins).

      2. Atheism is denominational. Just as every major religion has subdivisions with varying shades of beliefs on certain doctrines, atheists have different denominations that distinguish their beliefs in what atheism means, for instance. And of course, “gods” vary too (see #1).

      3. Atheism is dogmatic. Atheists will deny this (as with most of these points), but if dogma is defined as “the established belief or doctrine held by a religion, or a particular group or organization”, atheism absolutely fits this definition. They follow ideological rules.

      4. Atheism is exclusive and narrow. Atheism excludes any other possibility other than the conclusion centered on the non-belief in God, so it is no different than any other religion that makes exclusive claims.

      5. Atheists seek converts. Well, some do and some don’t, just as some religions prosthelytize and some don’t. “We Are Atheism” hopes that there are closet atheists and seeks to add to their numbers by encouraging their joining the ranks.

      6. Atheists have holy books. Take a look at the “Letters” section of RichardDawkins.net and you’ll find scads of letters from “converts” to atheism that praise Dawkins and his book “The God Delusion”, testifying how it changed their lives and lit the way to the “truth” of atheism. They revere it as Christians do the Bible.

      7. Atheists have a worldview, including ideas about ultimate origins and the place of humans in the world, their overall purpose and destiny.

      8. Atheists have seen persecution. As is true with any religion, atheists have endured discrimination and persecution for their beliefs.

      9. Atheism appeals to universal morality. To even argue for atheism, the atheist has to appeal to “moral law”, a sense of right and wrong that he assumes to be true for everyone. Otherwise, there would be no reason to debate. Atheists love to point out the “despicable acts” of the Old Testament God, even though doing so implies moral good and evil that ultimately cannot be explained by nature or biology and morall aw that clearly extends well beyond the jurisdiction  of humanity.

      10. Atheists have faith in the unseen, often asserting that the religious believe without evidence. Most religious people would say the same about Atheism. The evidence we all see, often the same evidence, is interpreted differently based on presuppositions. We all place faith in propositions that are not 100% empirically provable, in particular the things that we often place the most value on.

      • G.M.

        Atheism is much closer to a “belief system” than it is to a “religion” if you ask me!

        1) Worship is by definition either centered around a deity, or has religious ties. Atheism by definition is NOT centered around a deity, and if you wanna say it has religious ties you’ll need to prove that some other way before you come back to this.
        2) Isn’t this just stating the obvious? You’re essentially saying that people think differently, which is true in all situations.

        3) Look up the definition of dogma. Dogma is essentially an axiom established by a faith-based entity. Atheist principles are based on science and discovery, therefore there is no faith involved, therefore dogma doesn’t even come into it.

        4) What are you even trying to say? Obviously atheism excludes the views of belief systems, because it is atheism and not those systems. The making of exclusive claims plays no part in the definition of religion! Should I never vote? I want to vote for an individual who isn’t tied to religion, but oh all politicians make exclusive claims so they’re all religious?… That makes no sense.

        5) All belief systems try to convert, again with the electoral metaphor, would you call politicians “missionaries”?? You’re just using words with a particular connotation to try to prove your point, and that’s a little fallacious.

        6) Look up the definition of holy. A book has to be more than /inspirational/ in order to be dubbed holy. Any unbiased person would call Dawkins’ book “inspirational” before jumping to “holy”.

        7) Yes, but none of those views are based on religion, deities, the supernatural, etc. Are you saying physicists who try to explain the origin of the universe are intrinsically religious? That’s ridiculous!

        8) Blacks have seen persecution too. I’m pretty sure that’s not a religion. This is a really bad point, and all these points you’re making are based on manipulative wordplay, or logically flawed connections between events.

        9) But unlike religions, atheist morality is derived by nothing other than logic. Spirituality does not enter the picture, so it’s not enough to say that because atheism suggests moral laws it is instantly a religion.

        10) That was a really confident statement backed by a total lack of examples. Atheism is exactly NOT based on the unseen. Atheist beliefs are derived by science and observation. While some scientific principles in use today may not be 100% proven, we still abide by them because they have not been contradicted, and they have a high probability of being correct or very near correctness. And if they /do/ become contradicted, atheism will adapt and discard such flawed principles because it is a belief system that prides itself on rationality.

        I don’t know why you want to call it a religion so badly. It doesn’t matter what it is. I’m not offended at the notion that “semantically, atheism is a religion”, I’m just trying to say that I think every single reason you listed to justify that statement is totally wrong.

        • Mike Johnson

          G.M.

          //Worship is by definition either centered around a deity, or has religious ties. //

          “reverent honor and homage paid to God or a sacred personage, or to any object regarded as sacred.”
          Top search result, top entry. Worship is often of a deity, but any object or idea can be deified. Buddhism is the 4th largest religion in the world and involves worship of various aspects of humanity like self-improvement. No god in any agreed upon sense. “God” in Hinduism is often not even supernatural. Jainists don’t have a god either; instead they worship their own personal wisdom.

          //Look up the definition of dogma. Dogma is essentially an axiom established by a faith-based entity.//

          Top results for Dogma:
          1. an official system of principles or tenets concerning faith, morals, behavior, etc., as of a church. Synonyms: doctrine, teachings, set of beliefs, philosophy.
          2. a specific tenet or doctrine authoritatively laid down, as by a church: the dogma of the Assumption; the recently defined dogma of papal infallibility. Synonyms: tenet, canon, law.
          3. prescribed doctrine proclaimed as unquestionably true by a particular group: the difficulty of resisting political dogma.

          //Atheist principles are based on science and discovery, therefore there is no faith involved, therefore dogma doesn’t even come into it.//

          Spoken rather dogmatically. :)

          //Obviously atheism excludes the views of belief systems, because it is atheism and not those systems.//

          And this is no different than any other belief system.

          //would you call politicians “missionaries”?? … Are you saying physicists who try to explain the origin of the universe are intrinsically religious?//

          If any group chose to devote their lives to their principals and live by their code they would be doing so religiously.

          //Blacks have seen persecution too. I’m pretty sure that’s not a religion.//

          Right, because skin color has nothing to do with ideology.

          //…unlike religions, atheist morality is derived by nothing other than logic… Atheism is exactly NOT based on the unseen. Atheist beliefs are derived by science and observation.//

          Can you logically point to a natural origin of nature? Can you scientifically explain morality that evolved within humanity that all of humanity applies to any concept of God? Is there a scientific foundation for doing science? Have you observed and tested the making of something from nothing, or life from non-life? Can you empirically know what love is? It isn’t on atheism that you live by your presuppositions, it’s faith.

          //I don’t know why you want to call it a religion so badly. It doesn’t matter what it is.//

          I admit the similarities are not perfect. So let’s not even use the term religion, but just call it what it is: a belief system. At the end of the day the case of Jessica Ahlquist having a prayer banner removed is just one belief system claiming that theirs is superior to another on the belief that the banner’s presence is wrong and its removal is right. This is a appeal that an atheist makes on the basis of universal morality that he has to borrow from theism.

  • Nebalia

    Wow. As long as there a young people like Jessica out there, there is a reason to stay optimistic that change, while slow, will come.

  • phil234

    Wow, she’s absolutely great. And the fact that she’s a high-schooler makes it even more impressive.

    I really enjoyed listening to the full interview.

  • Sean Santos

    I’m so, so glad that she’s involved. She’s very well-spoken, reasonable, calm, and clear about what she means.

    It makes me feel optimistic about the future of public atheism.

  • gloomcookie613

    I joined her Facebook group just to show her that she has support all over the globe. I’d like to suggest others do that as well.
    She’s a young woman and all this stress and pressure has to be eating at her, so the more support she gets the better.

    Just search for “Support the Removal of the Cranston High School West Prayer” on Facebook and ask to join. Let her know that she’s fighting with people behind her and cheering her on.

  • http://blogs.xfir.net/moltzan/ Ashley Moltzan

    This is a super good interview. I’ll definitely be sharing with others too. I wish I could have been that confident when I was in 10th grade ten years ago.

  • Jordan

    Jessica is amazing! I wish that I would have been like this when I was 16. When I was her age, I was playing in a praise band at my church :/


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