Jessica Ahlquist on the Front Page of the Providence Journal

You all saw the front page of the Providence Journal today, right?

Because it’s pretty freakin’ amazing (PDF):

Paul Daviscover story highlights Jessica Ahlquist‘s legal battle against Cranston High School West and how its leaders have stubbornly refused to obey the law and take down the unconstitutional Christian banner hanging in the auditorium:

In March, the School Committee voted to keep the prayer because it is a historic document created more than 50 years ago — along with a school creed, school colors and a mascot — to give the new school an identity and tradition, they say.

The vote was “based not upon some desire to inject religion into the public schools,” but on a belief “that school history and tradition should be maintained,” they argue.

When a friend showed her the school prayer at Cranston West, she told her father, who said, “What do you want to do?”

“I wanted to say something, but I was busy with my final exams, and I didn’t know who to talk to,” she says.

Later, when a school board subcommittee met to discuss the issue, Ahlquist spoke up.

Since then, she says, students and adults have called her a “stupid atheist,” an ACLU tool, a witch and a “media whore.” They’ve also threatened her through e-mails or at school, she says.

A former classmate told her that, if she knew what he really thought of her, she would kill herself, she says.

Ahlquist says she made the statement to stop future threats and insults. She says she never imagined the issue would become so public — and so overwhelming.

“At first, I saw this as a legal issue. But people on the other side have turned this into a religious war against atheists.”

On a day when we celebrate people who go through the challenge of Coming Out and encourage others to do the same, it seems appropriate that Jessica is honored as someone who has shown little fear making her views (and her understanding of our Constitution) known to the public. She’s not afraid of saying she’s an atheist no matter how many threats Christians throw her way. She’s not afraid of saying this banner, as popular as it may be, has no business hanging in a public high school.

She’s an inspiration to a lot of us and I wish her luck (and a level-headed judge) this Thursday as she heads to court to defend church/state separation.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Jessica never stops inspiring me. Directly because of her example, I’ve become more willing to get past my own timidity in speaking out face-to-face with people on issues like this.

    She is helping to protect the freedom we all share.

    Jessica, thank you.

  • http://silveroutlinedwindow.wordpress.com/ Shannon

    Jessica – you are an inspiration and I (and many, many others) wish you well. 

    We are all eagerly watching and waiting for a resolution to this. 

    I’m so proud to have you in the reason category :)

  • Anonymous

    Just a quick aside regarding the “ACLU tool” comment… The religious seem to forget/ignore that the ACLU fights for them, too.

    http://www.aclu.org/aclu-defense-religious-practice-and-expression 

    That being said, I’m very impressed with Jessica and what she’s done so far. When I was her age, I would never have thought of doing something of this magnitude. 

    • Anonymous

      The problem is, the Christian media and pastors do not talk about things like that. It’s not about fairness or equality, it’s about winning. They’re so warped that they don’t see the benefits of a secular government, it protects their religious rights against other religions and other interpretations of their own faith.

    • Anonymous

      I have that discussion with my mother every year when I visit her.  There is always some comment about the ACLU and I remind her that they have also championed some Christians as well… and I just get this smirk that says, “SUUUUurrrrrre they do.”  So frustrating!

  • Dan W

    Keep fighting the good fight Jessica. Don’t let the ignorant religious folks get you down.

  • Anonymous

    I tried to look up some of the past decisions made by the judge (Ronald R. Lagueux) to get an idea of which way he may lean.  In spite of finding a few complaints of bullying (and a big spat with Alan Dershewitz), I couldn’t find anything that would hint at his view on this case.  I suppose those things can be hard to predict anyway, as I remember that the judge who slapped down ID in Pennsylvania was a Bush appointee who had me worried, but ended up doing the right thing.  Please share though if anyone knows more about the guy.

  • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

    Jessica is definitely an inspiration. I plan on attending the trial and writing in detail about it on my blog.

    I can only imagine what the hosts on the local talk radio station, WPRO, had to say about it. They’re all pretty much ignorant right-wing loonies… except for Buddy Cianci, the most sane among them and a pretty likable guy. Dunno if he’s right or left, but he seems to be somewhere in between.

  • Anonymous

    Jessica brings to the forefront an all too common problem – what do you do about historically significant documents, such as this, that are in violation of the Law as currently read? (and I phrase it that way, because as well know all too well, the same law can be read by 12 jurists and have 20 interpretations.)

    • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

       Same thing you normally do with history – stick it in a museum.

      There are still relics and records and studies of the slave trade, and it would be fine for schools to teach about it.That doesn’t mean that anyone thinks it would be OK for schools to keep slaves.

    • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

       Same thing you normally do with history – stick it in a museum.

      There are still relics and records and studies of the slave trade, and it would be fine for schools to teach about it.That doesn’t mean that anyone thinks it would be OK for schools to keep slaves.

    • oli kenton

      This isn’t a historically significant document. Its a prayer that they stuck on a school wall. It has no great significance and is hardly historic. If Jessica wasn’t fighting (correctly in my opinion) to have it removed, no one outside the school would have ever heard of it. What museum would take something so insignificant?

  • Ed

    It is a bit of shame the school couldn’t just edit the prayer a little (or remake it) so it would include everyone. If the “Heavenly Father and Amen” bit were removed there would be nothing to object to as the remaining aspiration is rather nice.

    • Anonymous

      My husband and I said the same thing… those are what make it religious in nature.  The body of it is very appropriate for a school.

    • Nude0007

      maybe change the first line to say “May we strive each day” also.  Good idea.

  • Nude0007

    I can’t imagine it being any sort of a historically significant document.  If it was a creedo lauding slavery or segregation it would be down in a heartbeat.  it is no different.  It is discrimination in and by a government entity.  End of story. Jessica is on the side of good and right.  Hang in there Jessica!  Well done!  Your country thanks you!

  • Michael

    I know America has some interesting ideas on what is historical, but surely 50 years isn’t historical even over there? We’re talking about something younger than Michael J Fox.

  • Winter

    I’ve been saying since the beginning, I’m sure there’s some local church, easily accessible to all the families with children attending the school, who would be more than happy to accept the banner and display it. The religious folks can go see it whenever they like, and it’s neatly out of the school where it didn’t belong in the first place.

  • Kevitts

    Tyranny by the minority . She doesn’t have to focus on the banner. She likes the media attention.,she’s just a kid. She needs to let it go. No one is forcing beliefs on her. O

    • Derrik Pates

      And I’m sure if it was a Muslim prayer, or a Hindu prayer, or a Baha’i prayer, you’d tell the Christian students (who’d surely be slavering and losing their minds over it) that they should just “look the other direction”, right?

      No?

      Yeah, that’s what I thought.


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