Sensible Voices Emerge in the Wake of the Cranston High School West Saga

This is a video you need to watch.

Tuesday night, there was a board meeting for the Cranston School Committee. But instead of focusing on things like the budget, the meeting centered around the banner that Judge Ronald R. Lagueux ordered removed last week.

You could point to a lot of ignorant people who spoke out in favor of appealing the ruling. You could *facepsalm* at the 200+ religious people who sang religious songs and recited the Lord’s Prayer before the meeting began.

But there were a few sensible voices amidst all the chaos.

Watch this video and you’ll see and hear some of them:

The first young lady is 16-year-old Taylor Grenga, a fellow Cranston High School West student. She calmly explains that while the Prayer Banner had a positive message, it didn’t belong in the school. She also points out that a secular version of the school’s creed already hangs in the auditorium, so there’s no need for a religious version.

And then she’s booed.

By adults.

Really. They are booing a 16-year-old for telling the truth. Adults! Human adults!

The next voice is that of Superintendent Peter Nero. He chastises the adults in the room for behaving so poorly. You can tell he’s ashamed by the behavior exhibited in the room. Good for him for calling them out on it.

Finally, you hear Jessica Ahlquist. The fact that she was willing to show up and speak at a meeting full of people who think the absolute worst of her is a testament to her courage.

She urges the school board not to appeal the ruling and then gives the audience a wonderful history lesson.

With community members and even local politicians acting in jaw-droppingly immature and despicable ways, don’t forget that there are other brave people out there (like Taylor) who are willing to stand up for what’s right, even if it’s not popular.

If the adults in that room had the same levels of maturity and brainpower as Jessica and Taylor, then maybe they could escape from this controversy without egg in their face. But it’s too late for that. Thankfully, we have some strong students to teach the adults how to do it right.

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.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Croteau/100000139232445 David Croteau

    I believe these are from Tuesday night, Not Wed.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      Yep. I fixed my mistake. Thanks!

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Croteau/100000139232445 David Croteau

        NP :D

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Croteau/100000139232445 David Croteau

    yes, it was Tuesday night

    News report:
    http://www.wpri.com/dpp/news/local_news/west_bay/cranston-hundreds-rally-to-support-prayer-banner 
    CRANSTON SCHOOL COMMITTEE MEETINGS AND WORK SESSIONS SCHEDULE:
    http://cpsed.net/schcom/meeting.pdf 
    (Sorry for the Caps, it is CopyPasta.)

  • Anonymous

    It’s nice to see some reasonable people speaking up and damn, booing, that’s low!  No wonder the teens think they can make threats toward Jessica and her supporters, they’re being implicitly supported in doing so by many in their communities.

    The thing that really gets me is that in any context where the christians were the minority they would use the Constitution as a defense of their equal rights to religious freedom.  It shows poor moral standing for people to try and interpret the law with such a bias toward their own feelings.

  • T-Rex

    Only one word to describe Ms. Alquhist. Amazing! 2 words to describe the adults and fellow students booing and threatening her. Ignorant assholes.

  • Myers24

    i am so totally impressed with these students. maybe now, six years out of high school, i would have the courage to do and say what they are doing and saying, but in high school? never. i was never that articulate, self-assured, or determined. i’m blown away.

  • Anonymous

    Not that it makes a difference, but I think that the crowd was booing  Jessica as she stood up and moved to the mike rather than Taylor.

    • Anonymous

      I thought the same.

  • Gus Snarp

    What the hell is wrong with these people? When I was a Christian high school student, I would never have behaved like that. I fully understood the First Amendment and that public schools are not the place for prayer, but even if I disagreed, I would not have booed someone for speaking out like that. I guess that’s why I’m not a Christian anymore. But really, these people are not deserving of the title of “adult”. Sadder still is that many are probably parents who are teaching by their example that it’s OK to bully people who are different from you. I truly love the comment I’ve seen elsewhere about this that maybe the Christians in Cranston really did need a banner to inform them that God wanted them to behave themselves. It’s obvious they didn’t learn the lessons the banner sought to impart, so maybe they really needed it plastered on the wall to remind them every day to be civilized.

    • Alex

      Sadly, this is what many adults look like. It would be wrong if they were kids, but the very fact that they are adults is all the more disturbing.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe the greatest irony is that these people don’t care one iota about the actual content of the banner. By their behavior it’s very clear that they’ve never read it. Minus the supernatural woo, it actually expressed a nice sentiment.

  • Rebecca M

    Wow, that is really sick. I shouldn’t still be surprised by the behavior of so-called “responsible adults” after going through my first year of being “out” as an atheist, but I am. And you know what? My mom would have kicked some ass if she saw anyone do that to ANY child while I was in school, and she was a conservative Christian at the time… so I am not sure what is up with these parents…

  • Anonymous

    Just when you thought the sensible people were winning…

    Cranston Florists Refuse to Deliver to Jessica Ahlquist

  • The Turtle

    This reminds me of the scene in Tombstone where the townspeople are upset about not being able to carry guns. Virgil Earp says ‘No ones saying you can’t carry a gun. No one’s saying you can’t own a gun. We’re just saying you can’t carry your guns in town.’

    No one’s saying you can’t celebrate Jesus/Mohammed/Buddha. No one’s saying you can’t believe in Jesus/Mohammed/Buddha. A public high school just isn’t the place to promote religion. 

    The biggest issue I have with a lot of religious people is this mentality that ‘if you feel differently than I do, you’re wrong, you’re a terrible person, and you’re going to hell (or whatever they think horrible people go)’. Many religions were good and originally taught people to love everyone and do the right thing, but have become so twisted and diseased that their followers are filled with love for their God, and hate for everything else.

    It’s people like these ignorant retches that turn my stomach and make me glad that I’m an atheist. Maybe when they are able to practice what they preach (which they will never be able to do, so no worries on my part), I’ll be willing to open my heart and listen to what they say. 

  • TiltedHorizon

    I’ll be honest, it shames me to say that when I was Jessic’s age, I would not have had the courage to face such a hostile crowd, I would have cowered away, or worse, I would have added my voice to the hecklers.

    Kudos to you Jessica, I’m 42 and I want to be more like you when I grow up. 

  • http://twitter.com/_mikeweber Mike Weber

    Brava, to Jessica for her history lesson at the end.

  • Annie

    This is not at all surprising to me… the booing, the refusal of flower deliveries, the rude comments by the senator.  Babies are not born bigoted bullies, it is a learned behavior.  If this passes as acceptable behavior in the Cranston High area, the most surprising person to come out of there is Jessica Ahlquist.

    The question begs to be asked… Who Would Jesus Boo?

  • Anonymous

    Even if they want to appealing the ruling they still have to actually take it down in the mean time right? not just cover it up in hopes of unveiling it later?

  • m6wg4bxw

    To me, it’s weird how our culture rejects honest negative criticism. It’s okay to openly express agreement and approval (applause), but not okay to openly express disagreement and disapproval (booing).

    • Jo

      Booing tends to have more connotations than just disagreement

      • m6wg4bxw

        Like what?

        • OkayWithThe

          It’s a societal conformation thing. You boo the people whose opinions you don’t like, with the expectation that it will pressure them into conforming with the group view. This is even more insidious, ridiculous, and outright juvenile when it’s adults booing minors.

          • M6wg4bxw

            I’ve never perceived booing that way. With that in mind, how is applause different? It could be interpreted as “Thank you for conforming with the group view,” and thus create pressure for people to seek applause instead of avoiding or reacting to boos. Just a thought.

    • https://www.facebook.com/GentleGiantDK GentleGiant

      There’s a huge difference in disagreeing with someone’s point of view and then disagreeing with them as a person. Booing someone seems to express negativity towards the person, not their point of view.

      I also wouldn’t call booing “honest negative criticism” – there’s nothing being articulated with booing, so how can it be labeled “honest?”

      • m6wg4bxw

        I think you’re expressing the very thing that seems weird to me. If I approve, it’s considered okay for me to cheer and applaud. But if I disapprove, … what am I socially permitted to do? Just because booing seems negative doesn’t mean it is. And, by the way, it is negative, as in NOT approving. So what?

        • https://www.facebook.com/GentleGiantDK GentleGiant

          You can present your opposition case at the “stand,” just like those you disagree with do.
          Even though you might think of clapping and booing as opposites end of the scale, they really aren’t. It’s also a question of etiquette and manners. These people booed at Jessica Ahlquist as she came forward to speak, thus it’s an indication of disliking her, as a person, not what she’s saying.It is much more socially acceptable to encourage someone, e.g. by clapping, than it is to boo someone. Clapping at someone shows that you agree with what they say (or it might be a “greeting”), thus you’re indicating that said person is “speaking for you.”
          You might then say that booing shows said person NOT speaking for you, but you’ve provided no reason as to why said person isn’t speaking for you, thus it’s not part of a productive dialogue.

          If you disapprove, wait your turn and speak to why you disagree with the subject at hand.

          • m6wg4bxw

            Though I disagree with you, I appreciate getting other perspectives. Thanks for sharing.

            • https://www.facebook.com/GentleGiantDK GentleGiant

              You disagree with everything I said or just parts of it?
              See, you’re effectively booing here. ;-)
              Tell us (me) what and why you’re disagreeing.
              Do you think it’s okay to boo an individual rather than the message said individual is presenting?
              I know it can be a fine line at times to distinguish between the two, but the way I see it there is a huge difference between them.

              • m6wg4bxw

                It’s unlikely that I disagree with all of your points, but certainly many of them to some degree. I feel I don’t have adequate space to express myself on this in the comments section of a blog—especially to each of your points with which I disagree. 

                 I’ve had trouble keeping up with responses. I tried to subscribe to the topic, but I haven’t received any notifications. My previous message was an attempt to gently withdraw from this discussion.

                I seem to be the only one here with my perspective, and this issue is barely topical. I think I’ll save this for another time and place. Also, “boo.”

                • https://www.facebook.com/GentleGiantDK GentleGiant

                  Fair enough. :-)

    • Rebecca M

      Honest negative criticism is totally cool. Adults booing a child because they cannot behave in a mature and constructive manner is not honest negative criticism.

      • Rebecca M

        They being the adults.

      • m6wg4bxw

        Who can be booed and who can’t? And what is the proper way to express disapproval and disagreement as a member of an audience?

  • Tyler

    I wrote to the superintendent applauding his effort to shut down the juvenile adults booing the girls.  He had a good response:


    Dear Tyler,
    Thank
    you. Long before I was an old Superintendent I was a teacher (a fairly
    young one). A good teacher always recognizes a teachable moment and this
    was one.  I would like to think that wherever I am in some reasonable
    charge that everyone will behave.
    Thanks again,
    Peter

  • Brambleshootmoth

    Also if you watch the video of her Uncle talking, I swear you can hear someone going “blah blah blah” in the background. Real mature. ( http://youtu.be/mukcSaOceFE at around the 20+ second mark. I tried listening a couple times to figure out if its feedback…not sure.)

  • Tyler

    Here was an interesting email exchange I had with the Senator.  Her thoughts are pretty scrambled…

    Tyler, 

    I deactivated
    my Twitter account because of the relentless harassment by her
    supporters. My 1st Amendment right was compromised. Does that make you
    happy?

    When
    I made the hate cult remark it was an opinion, which i have a right to,
    based on this attack-first-ask-later mentality. You did it also. There
    are many who are fabricating things to feed this hunger to attack
    SOMEONE (me).
    Do you believe you should be allowed to violate the rights of others to be satisfied that you’ve been able to exercise yours? Do you even know my opinion on the banner ruling? I bet you don’t.I
    dont believe i ever referred to her in my tweet about the devices, and
    to be honest it’s a legitimate question. I am perplexed as to how
    someone who finds a banner with certain words offensive handles our
    paper currency with “In God We Trust” on it. Have you never been asked
    that? If not I would honestly very surprised.From
    where I sit, the goal appears to be to punish and abuse as many people
    as you can, behind the protection of claiming to be being victimized.
     Its simply disingenuous and wrong to be using the internet to terrorize
    people, including me. Like you, Jessica and the others, I have rights
    and feelings.It’s a sad place we’ll be in when we forget that and stop treating each other like equal human beings.I may find claims of being offended by a simple word coy and exaggerated after the emails, tweets and so on. That is MY right. Please
    set the record straight and ask your like-minded associates to stop
    attacking innocent bystanders just because they can. It’s wrong and
    seriously compromises the validity of her claims of being a victim.**Message sent from my iPhone for speed, not proofed for errors**
    On Jan 19, 2012, at 3:12 PM, Tyler  wrote:

    Prior to them being deleted, you referred to Jessica as “ACLU’s
    sweetheart” and noted that her rhetoric, and that of her followers was
    not good.  You also condenscended her by stating that she shouldn’t be
    offended by the school prayer, because she was tweeting about it on a
    device purchased with money that says In God we Trust. 

    Perhaps I
    am reading more into it than you intended, but it is disrespectful to
    Jessica to imply that the ACLU has somehow manipulated her into filing
    suit against Cranston West.  And just because our nation’s motto was
    changed in the 1950′s to a religious one, does not make it right.  The
    fact that you deleted the comments only bolsters my interpretation. 
    Screenshots of the messages are available. 

    Jessica should be
    lauded for standing up for the Constitution, for what she believes in,
    and fighting for religious freedom.  A public school endorsing the
    christian religion is contrary to religious freedom.  Ironically, her
    State Senator ridicules her, and the adults at her school boo her (last
    school board meeting).  How childish and obtuse.

    I appreciated
    your response, thank you.  I think Jessica deserves better.  She is not
    even a politician, yet she she is already affecting change.  Can you say
    the same about you or your colleague’s records? 

    If you have nothing nice to say….

    Subject: Re: Comments regarding Jessica Ahliquist…
    From: senatormoura@gmail.com
    Date: Thu, 19 Jan 2012 14:49:38 -0500
    To:

    What comments? Please specify.
    **Message sent from my iPhone for speed, not proofed for errors**
    On Jan 19, 2012, at 12:17 PM, Tyler  wrote:

    Dear Senator,

    I think that you should be ashamed of yourself for
    the derogatory Twitter comments made about Jessica Ahliquist and the
    Cranston High mural.  I believe it is you (and your colleagues) who are
    supposed to be defending the Constitution, yet when a high school girl
    takes it upon herself to do your job, you have nothing to say but
    chastise her.  Unbelievable.

    -Tyler

    • Alex

      “I am perplexed as to how someone who finds a banner with certain words offensive handles our paper currency with “In God We Trust” on it.”

      This and similar other obtuse statements make my mind boggle that the person writing them is a state senator.

  • Tyler

    Sorry….you need to read the email exchange from the bottom up.

  • Christoph Burschka

    This reminds me of that play about the Scopes trial. “Ah, Hillsboro, heavenly Hillsboro. The buckle of the Bible Belt.” Except this isn’t the Bible Belt; this is a New England state as blue as can be. What gives?

  • Roshan

    You know what? Maybe in 20-30 years, these mature & intelligent girls will become Senators. The future looks bright. The present; maybe not so much.


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