Role Model and Fail: A Tale of Two Epics

If you read this blog (or any atheist media) and you haven’t heard about Jessica Ahlquist‘s lawsuit win yet, then you probably live under a rock.

Jessica, an insanely courageous 16 year-old high school student, did what some of us only dream of having the strength to do – standing up for what is right in the monstrous face of adversity and being the verbal punching bag for those who have no idea how to spell “constitutional” let alone know what it means.

Since U.S. District Court Judge Ronald R. Lagueux ordered the removal of the prayer banner on January 11th, I’ve been keeping up with the news surrounding it as best I can. There has been quite the negative backlash, as we all expected. And although we have seen all of the nastiness that can come from the Christian side, I was still deeply, deeply saddened by many of the loathsome responses. Some comments even made me gasp audibly.

Perhaps because I am a mother, I’ve let this story get to me more than a lot of other stories. Or, perhaps it’s because I still cannot grasp the fact the people are so ignorant and cruel, especially when those people are also kids.

Despite the adult venom being spewed towards Jessica (here, here, and even by her own Rhode Island State Rep., Peter Palumbohere), she has had to endure the snide comments and horrific death wishes from kids at her own school. Someone even posted her address publicly, endangering the safety of both Jessica and her family.

The comments made my stomach turn. I’m used to hearing the diabolic judgment from adults, but I could not be more disgusted than when it comes from the mouths of  children. These are the things they have learned… from their parents, their family, the people who teach them how to treat people. These families are doing a piss-poor job at teaching and raising minds to evolve in this country.

Our family takes values to heart. We teach respecting other people’s rights. We teach how to converse with others of different viewpoints. And we allow our kids to come to their own conclusions, especially in the religion/philosophy department. I have one non-believer and one believer. And this is okay.

What isn’t okay is being a hateful person and infecting the young impressionable minds in your care with your misdirected, uneducated, ignorant, bigoted hate virus.

And for those Christians who may think they have a “revelation” for us, let me stop you there. Before you enlighten me, I bet it sounds something like this:

I am shocked that people would say those things.

Those aren’t true Christians.

This is a rare occurrence.

I’m sure most, if not all, of those comments are fake.

Those people aren’t to be taken seriously.

To which I’m going to respond by quoting a man we honored yesterday:

“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

These vile thoughts, however entitled people are to them, are an abhorrent representation of our past, present, and future… unless we can start teaching otherwise. The common denominator when it comes to hate speech aimed at Jessica is religion. And, yes, we are all fully aware of the good people and good deeds that also happen to be ascribed to religion. But those “goods” do not outweigh the “horrors” nor do they deserve to be pardoned. Until more people are able to realize that religious beliefs create this hate, people of strength and honor like Jessica will continue being the minority and continue being threatened undeservedly.

January 2012′s Epic Role Model is Jessica Ahlquist. Her parents are doing it right and I hope to raise kids as intelligent and articulate as she. Even as an adult twice her age, I could not be more humbled and in awe of her. I look forward to meeting her at The Reason Rally.

In case you’re wondering who might fall short of being an Epic Role Model, we can definitely cross these people off the list:

  • The people who have said wretched things about Jessica as a result of her victory.
  • Rhode Island State Rep. Peter Palumbo
  • Every Christian who gets out of the way of the jeers pretending it’s not their problem.


About Shannon Burgdorf

A polymath (Greek πολυμαθής, polymathēs, "having learned much")[1] is a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas.

I fancy myself this type of person - possibly one day I will live up to it.

So many interests so little time....

Actor, Writer, Mother, Wife, Atheist, Home Educator, Secular Humanist

  • Anonymous

    “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what
    is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may
    benefit those who listen.”  –Ephesians 4:29 -

    That being said:)

    I would like to see those who perpetrated the threats brought up on the appropriate criminal charges and prosecuted.  There is no place in a civil society for this type of coercion and retribution. 

  • http://mamamara.wordpress.com/ Mara

    I absolutely hope that my kids turn out as brave and clear-minded as Jessica. And I would be ashamed if they turned out like the kids who are threatening her.

    (Not to mention…if I caught my kids treating someone else like that, they’d better be prepared to be grounded for the rest of their natural lives.)

    • http://www.facebook.com/jadelackey Jade Lackey

      I have the same hope for my son, and do all I can to help him get there.

  • Chris Harmon

    Our family rule is we treat others as we want to be treated- EVEN when *they* be it a sibling or whomever are not treating us properly. We teach others how to treat us by our behavior, so it is best to model what you wish back.

  • Parse

    Don’t forget the new classic excuse, “I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation why they’re acting that way.”

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Adam-Patrick/100000027906887 Adam Patrick

      There’s an explanation, but it’s not reasonable.

    • Alex

      Something along the lines of “she’s punished, therefore she must have deserved it”?

      • Parse

        More like extreme extenuating circumstances:

        That said, some of these people truly are Christians, and maybe they lost their job that day, or maybe they bombed an exam, or maybe they got some bad news, or maybe…the list could go on. Obviously this doesn’t excuse their behavior, but it gives us reason to treat them with a little bit of grace.

        By Allison

        • Alex

          Well. That’s a shitload of flunked exams and pink slips, then. However, dishing out such crap on someone because you have an unfortunate situation in your life is not reasonable and hardly excusable.

          Not that I really disagree with what you are saying. Religion and reason are not best friends forever.

  • Anonymous

    So the point of this article was to point out that Christians, although pretending to be all about peace and love, are really the scum of the earth?

    Thanks but I already knew that.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RZ5VEXJ3IYNGQBHI5APT4DETJI FSq

    Well said, and a great entry. Nice.

  • Ellesar

    I must admit I cannot work out wth a ‘real Christian IS supposed to be like as they all seem to interpret their bible in different ways. Quakers will never kill or intentionally hurt, at the other extreme there are people who are harassing Jessica, support the death penalty and kill abortion clinic workers. Makes my atheist head spin – I just can’t keep up!

    • Guest

      You could probably spin a thousand different beliefs off the Bible, but if you read only what Jesus said like most fundamentalists claim to do it’s pretty clear that most of them aren’t actually “Christians”…(openly criticizing those who enforced strict religious law, dining with “sinners”, stuff like that.)

  • http://hauntedtimber.wordpress.com/ timberwraith

    Until more people are able to realize that religious beliefs create this
    hate, people of strength and honor like Jessica will continue being the
    minority and continue being threatened undeservedly.

    More specifically, this is what happens when the privilege of a dominant group is challenged. They become outraged and then take out their anger on members of the subordinate/marginalized group.

    Christianity is the dominant religion in the US and has been centered in the culture and its institutions as the dominant philosophy. It has been this way for hundreds of years and hence, Christians take the privileging of their religion and philosophies for granted. Challenge that privilege and the dominant group will respond as though you are challenging “common sense” ways of being. You will be viewed as an immoral and/or mentally deficient trouble maker, worthy of scorn and hatred.

    This dynamic is not unique to religious discrimination. White people have responded similarly to people of color when white people’s privileged status has been challenged. If you want to see how deeply vicious the response of the privileged
    group can be, read the history surrounding the civil rights movement’s
    challenges to segregation in the 50s and 60s. White people’s hateful response was widespread and barbarically violent. Straight people have behaved violently toward queer people, men have done this to women, citizens to immigrants, rich to poor, and on and on. You can see this pattern play out across the globe whenever prejudice and privilege is challenged.

    Again, the hateful response of the privileged group is not unique to religious discrimination. This is important for all of us to recognize, because most of us belong to a privileged group of some kind (heterosexual, European, middle/upper class, male, cissexual, neurotypical, able-bodied, etc.) and as such, any one of us could respond in a negative or hateful way when our own forms of privilege are challenged. Considering that skeptic/atheist communities have been through several rounds of conflict over sexism and many men’s responses have been quite hateful and dismissive, I think it’s safe to say that we need to broaden our analysis of power relations beyond the monochromatic notion of religion vs. secular. We have heretofore been missing many layers of complexity.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=750428174 Paddy Reddin

    A state Representative calls a 16 year old girl “an evil little thing” and no one is screaming for his resignation?  The Dems turned on, and ousted, Anthony Weiner for a lot less.

    If the constitution of  the land this man works in offends his religious principals then he shouldn’t be in government.   Then again, the amount of theocrats determined to drag the America School system back to the dark ages is almost overwhelming.  They worry about China and yet while the Chinese kids study science and math, these fools are trying to make kids pray and tell them the world is 600 years old.  

    I despair. 

  • Guest

    While I would say that they aren’t true Christians in my sense of the belief, I completely agree that it is what they truly have grasped onto as their beliefs.  Religion can be very, very dangerous and any religious/spiritual person who refuses to acknowledge what can happen needs to open their eyes and get to loudly speaking out against those who extend their beliefs beyond their personal life.

  • Paul Little

    I’d like to see commentary on this case simplified a huge amount. I think we should stop talking about The Bible, and we should stop referring people to The Constitution. These are both things that most people have heard about, but few of them really understand. When people criticise Ms. Ahlquist for being against religion, we should simply point out that she isn’t. She just wanted her school to stop breaking the law.  Put as simply as that it puts the offenders back on the defensive, and changes the direction of the discussion toward where we really want it to be.


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