How Did the Jessica Ahlquist Hearing Go?

Jason Bachand was at today’s trial and he breaks down his experience for us. (If you want more background on the story, check out this post.)

I love this bit:

At one point, Judge Lagueux interrupted [defense counsel Joseph Cavanagh, Jr.'s] remarks to ask: “What if [the banner] had been written to the Great Buddha?” “Well, if that’s what the school had decided and established… if the school had grown up around it, that would be fine,” Cavanagh answered.

And Jason gives us a summary that bodes well for church/state separation supporters:

There’s an old saying in legal practice: “When the facts are on your side, pound the facts. When the law is on your side, pound the law. When neither the law nor the facts are on your side, pound the table.” Defense counsel Cavanagh did a lot of table pounding today, evoking the false memory of a bygone time when — evidently — everyone was a Christian and things were somehow simpler (through conformity? One wonders). It may have been typical to pray in public schools at some point in our nation’s history, but during that same era it was likewise customary to segregate schools, buses, and restaurants. Regarding segregation, most of us would likely say “We know better now.” How can it be that unconstitutional and discriminatory religious beliefs — publicly endorsed — are any different? We really ought to know better by now.

The judge’s ruling should be rendered within the next few weeks.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Sachi Wilson

    What gets me is that Cavanaugh said that the banner was secular, but then said that tearing it down would be discrimination against religion. 

    They are deficient in their grasp of logic, too, it seems.

    • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

      lol is that seriously their defense? I know Christians aren’t the most logical bunch but I’m skeptical cause I’d think as lawyers they’d at least be able to keep from contradicting their own defense all on their own on day 1.

      • Tasuret

        Normally, my colleagues and I are not complete idiots.

        Religion poisons everything.

        • Rieux

          Yeah.

           - Rieux, Esq.

    • Anonymous

      Well, we are talking about a country where the Supreme Court ruled that the cross isn’t a Christian symbol and that “In God we trust” doesn’t refer to the Christian god. Some people really think there is some kind of universal, non-committal religion

      • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

        those decisions don’t directly contradict each other from a purely logical standpoint though. It’s possible for a culture to see the cross as something other than a Christian symbol. It’s possible for a reference to god to be something other than a reference to a Christian god. But how can it logically be religious discrimination to remove a banner that isn’t religious? I am dying to hear the defense explain why they can make both those arguments.

        • Heidi

          How is it possible to see a cross as something other than a Christian symbol? Did they slap it up on buildings to glorify torture devices or capital punishment?

          • TheBlackCat

            That  is actually not implausible…

  • Ryan Moran

    I’ve always like the “tradition” defense.  It amounts to “We’ve been breaking the law for 50 years, therefore it’s totally ok.”

    • http://www.miketheinfidel.com/ MikeTheInfidel

      “My people have traditionally molested small children. How dare you insult our heritage?”

  • Rich Wilson

    For Jessica so loved the constitution that she put up with unmitigated crap and bullying from her fellow students and the public in general, that whoever believes in the separation of church and state  him shall not have their freedoms squashed but shall live in secular peace.

  • Dan W

    The judge’s comment makes me hopeful that Jessica might win this. It also helps when the defense lawyer’s arguments are utter crap.

  • http://twitter.com/jonathanfigdor Jonathan Figdor

    For a Harvard kid, this Jason guy thinks pretty clearly. Well said, “It may have been typical to pray in public schools at some point in our nation’s history, but during that same era it was likewise customary to segregate schools, buses, and restaurants. Regarding segregation, most of us would likely say “We know better now.” How can it be that unconstitutional and discriminatory religious beliefs — publicly endorsed — are any different? We really ought to know better by now.”

    • Anonymous

      Because it’s religion. Religion – especially Christianity – always gets special treatment and is different from everything else

  • Anonymous

    After a brief recess, defense counsel Joseph Cavanagh, Jr. spoke on behalf of the school district. “This case is about whether there is a secular purpose for the banner,”

    No it isn’t.  Whether religious symbolism has a secular purpose is irrelevant.  Someone can pray to give themselves peace of mind but if a school endorses prayer then they are going against the first amendment.

    The banner, he argued, represented not a religious message but a manifesto for “universal values” such as loyalty, cooperation, and fairness.

    If this is the case then remove the “School Prayer” heading along with “Our heavenly father” and “Amen” from the banner.

    “If we rip it out – it’s hostility toward religion,” Cavanagh concluded. “Where does it stop?

    It stops when state funded organisations don’t use their state funding to promote their religion.

  • Rike

    About the cross: even though I was brought up catholic,  the cross never seemed like a religious symbol to me. Somehow, when I see a cross, I think “dead”. Cemeteries are covered with crosses, there are crosses at the side of the road where accidents happened, some people put crosses on their dead pets’ graves. Even when I was still a believer, I would never have worn a cross – I wasn’t dead yet!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

      What would you use as the symbol of christianity then?

      • Anonymous

        Christianity is replete with symbols that are much better than the crucifix.  Fish, lamb, dove, egg, alpha-omega, halos, rainbows (not so much since those gay folk have adopted it), etc, etc.  That’s before you even get onto the saints.

        The cross is just easier to draw.

        Assuming that there ever was a Jesus I wonder what he would have thought about people using a method of torture and execution as their chosen symbol of him?

        • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

          “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

        • Anonymous

          So if Jesus had been born in America, would christians today be wearing little electric chairs?

          (Some comedian came up with that, I don’t remember who)

          • Heidi

            Lenny Bruce, I think.

      • Drew M.

        The ichthys.

    • Parse

      I’d suggest that this may be caused by your Catholic background, where they generally use crucifixes, not just crosses.  (For those not familiar with the difference, a crucifix depicts Jesus on the cross, not the cross by itself.)
      Most non-Catholic Christians use the plain cross, and as such is seen as one of the main symbols of their faith.

    • Heidi

      Christian cemeteries are full of crosses. They don’t put crosses on non-Christian people’s graves.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_63KPWHYAEOQP624IQ4BDMIWQQY Rocky

    If she were so offended by the mural, why did she wait two years to complain?

    • VeganPhD

      She didn’t wait two years. She first found out about it at the end of her freshman year (about 16 months ago), weighed her options over summer vacation, and brought it up at the first available school board meeting in November 2010. At most she waited six months before bringing it up in any official way, and probably only that long because she thought a board meeting would be the most appropriate venue. It’s just taken this long to actually get to trial.

      • Anonymous

        And even if we humour the argument that she waited, how does that change anything? Unless of course those whom consider that an acceptable justification for dismissal of her complaint are also be willing to allow the plea of “if she were so offended by being beaten by her husband, why did she wait two years to report him to the police?”.

        I doubt anyone of reasonable mind would try to argue that one…

    • Doug

      I hate this old “offense” canard. It it absolutely not the case that anyone need be “offended” by the banner, or any other public endorsement of religious ideas, for them to seek to stop it. It is merely the case that they recognize a violation of the separation of church and state. That is what this is about.

      • Anonymous

        Unfortunately, to actually bring a court case, it’s not enough to point to a violation of church-state separation. You have to show that you have standing to sue, which means you have to go through legal maneuvers to show that you were personally harmed by it.

    • Drew M.

      Why don’t we ever get any good trolls?

  • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

    Sorry, “in her own home and state she’s been alienated and attacked” gives me a bizarre little twitch. Why? Oh, Matthew 13:57, Mark 6:4, Luke 4:24, John 4:44….

  • Anonymous

    These types of post are a good service to others. Thanks Hemant.


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