We’re still awaiting the judge’s ruling on whether Cranston High School West gets to keep its Prayer Banner, but in the meantime, Jessica Ahlquist, the high-schooler who’s leading the charge to take it down, has been talking about the case in a few select venues.
A few months ago, she was awarded the Thomas Jefferson Youth Activist Award by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. A transcript of her speech is finally online:
A lot of irrelevant stuff came up at the [School Committee] meetings. People were talking about abortion and how prayers in schools somehow lowered the teen pregnancy rate. This was all coming from people who didn’t really know that the prayer mural existed before. I spoke at that meeting also and could feel how much people hated me. They stared and glared at me.
They were angry from the very start, and that was reflected at school. After it was on the news, weird things started happening. I would sneeze in class and people would scream, “God bless you!” in my face.
I’m also not lying when I say that the banner is offensive. It’s entitled “School Prayer” and addresses “Our Heavenly Father” and ends with “Amen.” They’ve argued that it isn’t a prayer. They’ve argued that it’s historical. They’ve made every claim there is. But one claim that I don’t think they can fairly make is that I’m not offended by it. Because I am and other people are, too. Even Christians are. I have a Muslim friend who is.
They’re trying to keep the prayer in the school simply to push God on people who don’t want it pushed on them, and they’ve succeeded many times. In my school there are atheists who have told me that they disagree with what I’m doing. I’m always a little bit sad when I hear that, because it seems that they just haven’t really thought about it enough.
When I was younger, I didn’t necessarily see religion as something that needed to be fought all the time. But the more research I did, the more I learned that religion can be a big problem. That kind of inspired me to start fighting this prayer.
She’s 16, people. 16.
If Jessica can stand up to her classmates and the adults at her school, there’s no reason some of us should remain closeted as atheists to our most trusted friends (or even a compassionate stranger or two).