Rhode Island State Council of Churches Will Come Out to Support Jessica Ahlquist

In response to all the awful threats thrown in Jessica Ahlquist‘s direction, a group of Christians are coming together in her defense:

… The Rhode Island State Council of Churches will hold a news conference in support of Jessica Ahlquist, the 16-year-old atheist who challenged the Cranston prayer banner, on Tuesday at 2:30 p.m.

The news conference “in favor of tolerance and civility” will include faith leaders in Cranston and throughout Rhode Island speaking out to support Ahlquist’s right to challenge the prayer banner.

The press conference will also condemn the treatment and inappropriate language and words use to describe Ahlquist.

We usually don’t see many moderate Christians speaking up when it comes to issues like church/state separation, so this is a very welcome gesture.

The event will take place at the Edgewood Congregational Church in Cranston tomorrow.

Feel free to show some love on the group’s Facebook page.

Or, you know, send them some flowers from Glimpse of Gaia.

(Via Steel City Skeptics)

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://twitter.com/0xabad1dea Melissa E

    This is pretty awesome actually. 

    I know some of “us” pitch fits when “civility” and “tone” are called to one’s attention, but just because they must always take a back seat to the facts presented doesn’t mean it’s always okay to be nasty. Sometimes one just has to step back and say “whoa, hang on, NOT cool.” I’m glad there are people on the other side who agree this went too far. Jessica is awesome and religious people willing to call out other religious people are awesome. 

  • Anonymous

    I am very happy to hear about the support coming Jessica’s way from this Council. The separation of church and state is the central tenet of our religious freedom. It’s encouraging to hear a religious group embracing this freedom in a public way.

    • benjdm

      I’m not sure they’re taking a position on the banner / separation of church and state.

      • Elerena

        From the release:

        “The Rhode Island State Council of Churches is pleased to join with other faith leaders from Cranston and the rest of Rhode Island to speak in support of Jessica Ahlquist’s right to challenge the banner at Cranston High School West…”

        If nothing else, the worst position they might be taking is that they disagree with the results of the lawsuit, but not her right to file it.  Which would be a very odd position indeed.

        • http://twitter.com/KevinSagui Kevin Sagui

          It’s not an odd position at all.  It’s Voltaire’s (I think?) old “I disagree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” mentality.  They’re supporting her exercising of her constitutional rights and condemning the threats and attacks against her.  That says nothing of her actual stance on the prayer banner.

          • Elerena

            I’m not entirely sure Voltaire’s sentiment would expand to “I disagree with what you have to say, but will defend to the death your right to sue me for saying it” in modern times.

      • Winto_bungle
  • Dan W

    Wow. I am genuinely surprised to hear this. Too often the moderate Christians do nothing while the hateful, bigoted Christians are being nasty towards atheists. I look forward to footage of this press conference tomorrow.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_LNWAM4DYCN4MLBLHFGDHE2YKZM GloomCookie613

    Most awesome.  I shall be off to leave them a thank-you on their facebook wall!

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    About Time.  I thought I was used to people spouting off with no clue of the basic facts.  (Maybe we need a new word for that, like, “Victoria Jacksoning”)

    But when you combine the utter lack of knowledge of the facts (“The ACLU has overstepped its bounds, maybe it’s time to strip the ACLU of all Federal funds”) and where some of it’s coming from (State Reps), I never cease to be amazed.

    to be fair, that exact ACLU line didn’t come from a state rep, but I have no reason to believe it couldn’t.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lane.r.taylor Lane Taylor

    No True Scotsman in 3…2…1…  ;-)

  • Marella

    It should be entitled “In defense of the Constitution” instead. I’d be surprised if they actually come out in support of the judge’s decision rather than just spout a lot of “let’s play nice” pabulum.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Interesting group. Five Reverends, one Rabbi and one Imam are scheduled to speak.  I’ll wait to hear what they actually say before I give them my praise and thanks. I hope it’s as much about the rightness of what she did, by protecting everyone’s freedom, as much as it is about the wrongness of the lynch mob who were posing as pious Christians.  I really want to see them stand up for the principle of religious freedom and church/state separation, rather than just do damage control for their hypocrisy-splattered reputations.

    • Anonymous

      I was going to make the same comments, but you nailed it all right there Richard :)

  • Tom

    Even though it should never be the burden of those anyone in any group to answer for what others say, it is heartening to see a group of moderates not only express their support but also hold an interfaith conference to do so.  The fact is, there are plenty of religious individuals who think it’s not the place of a school to sponsor the messages of any faith, despite the spin that often casts any individual of any religious denomination in a condemning light.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t know for sure, correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m guessing these aren’t Evangelical churches. . .

  • Anonymous

    I’m willing to give them a tentative congratulations ahead of time. I think it would be great if they came out with a full on defense of the separation of church and state, but if they merely limit themselves to harshly condemning the treatment Jessica has gotten that’s OK for me as well. 

    I think that defending someone who disagrees with you on an issue from radicals that agree with you is a good stance.  It’s also not easy to do, since many on your own side will

    condemn you for giving aid and comfort to “the enemy’.

    There does exist a slight risk that they will take the opportunity to make it a “pox on both your houses’ situation, saying something like “What Jessica did was wrong, but those threatening her are also wrong”, which would sour the matter, but I tend to doubt it. What I expect is that they’ll say something along the lines of  “No matter what your position is on the court case, nothing can excuse such reprehensible behavior towards a young girl and we as faith leaders condemn it as contrary to our religious values”. If that’s what they say, that’s good enough for me.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sarah-Venhartly/100003164475597 Sarah Venhartly

      I think you are being overly cautious.  The fact that say they “support Ahlquist’s right to challenge the prayer banner” makes it  a long way from “What Jessica did was wrong”.   What would be ideal would be a statement they agree with the judge’s ruling, but at this point just saying Jessica won a fair court case and that it is time to accept it and move on is what Rhode Island bigots need to hear.

      • Anonymous

        You’re right about that. I somehow missed that part of the statement in the first reading. Clearly they support her right to make her case. Bring interfaith I wouldn’t be surprised if they also supported the ruling, since they tend to understand better than others how church state separation protects the religious add well as the nonreligious.

  • Ubi Dubium

    So often we criticize religious moderates for turning a blind eye to the abusiveness of the fundamentalists.  For once, it appears that at least a few of them are taking a stand against it, and it’s very gratifying to see it.  I hope that what is actually said at the press conference is as positive as the announcements indicate it might be.  I’m looking forward to seeing what they actually say.

  • Randomfactor
  • walkamungus

    Sorry to sound grumpy, but I just have to say: About bloody time!

  • T-Rex

     I suspect this more about spin control for the hate being spewed by Xians, and the Council of Churches getting free exposure and getting their “good word out” about their organization/religion than it is about supporting Jessica Alquhist. Let’s see what they actually say before we heap praise upon them. It sounds good up front, but I’m cycnical enough to suspect alterior motives here. Free exposure and way to get the “good word” out about their organization to thousands of people. What do you want to bet they open and/or close this whole affair with a prayer?

  • Torea

    Just a small comment about the archaic (private) Health
    insurance system in the USA:

    -  Republican candidate Ron Paul told on TV that in the beginning of his
    career as a doctor, people did not need Health Insurance, Medicare nor
    Medicaid: nobody was refused health services (also in his hospital) since
    “the churches took care of these people”
    - Republic candidate Mitt Romney confirms he pays about $4 million per year to
    charities, mainly to his Mormon church.

    Conclusion for the older and for the help needing people:
    Your church will evaluate your presence every Sunday as well as your generous
    volunteering activities. This information will be abused to decide if you get
    medical assistance or not.

    Of course “we the atheists” will get nothing except burning in hell. :)

     I think it’s time for Obama to finish the introduction of a public health
    insurance system – just as in every other civilized country in this world.
    Not only will this reduce the health expenses for everyone by more than
    50% but more important: everyone will have the right to get health insurance.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Aaand the Catholic response

      “When cultural icons, religious symbols or traditional moral values are challenged, it is understandable that individuals will respond in a very intense and emotional way.  In the same way that atheists are frustrated with public references to God, people of faith are frustrated with having to defend their beliefs from persistent secular, atheistic attacks,” said Bishop Thomas J. Tobin.
       “Nonetheless, resorting to personally insulting and even threatening language in such public controversies is totally unacceptable, especially when it is directed at a young person such as Jessica Ahlquist who has every right to promote her beliefs and express her opinion.”

    “promote her beliefs”?  Like, “That’s unconstitutional”?http://www.dioceseofprovidence.org/?id=14&uudis=257 

    • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

      It’s sad that a Catholic bishop would be so ignorant of his own religion’s history with public education in this country. There was a time when Catholics would have been grateful for “persistent, secular” school environments because it meant that their children weren’t being indoctrinated in the ways of Protestantism.

  • Trina

    Well, better late than never.  I admire Jessica immensely, and am only glad that she seems to have the internal strength, and support, to weather the awful things she’s had to hear.

    I watched the entire video.  Most of the speakers did a good job – a couple of them, though, I expect well-intentioned, blew it nevertheless.  This is what I wrote on the YouTube page for the press conference:

    “The vitriol aimed at Jessica Ahlquist has been appalling. It is to her
    credit that her responses have been so mature, thoughtful and graceful.
    Here, nearly all the speakers showed not just compassion but
    understanding of the constitutional issue involved. I am an atheist. I
    have read the bible from cover to cover, more than once. I have yet to
    feel safe enough to ‘come out’ in my views to some people I know, due to
    the discrimination so rampant among conservatives. That, too, is
    appalling.”

    I did take time to make a similar comment, as well, on the group’s FB page. 


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