Moderate Religious Leaders Come to Jessica Ahlquist’s Defense

by Jesse Galef -

Perhaps I’d gotten too cynical, but I didn’t see this good turn of events coming. As announced yesterday, religious leaders in Cranston, Rhode Island stepped up to defend Jessica and speak out against the hateful comments, the bullying, and the threats.

Here were the rapid reactions I jotted down as I watched:

  • Yes, like you, I cringed every time the news anchors opened their mouths to talk about the case. I would have loved it if they actually stated facts as facts: The banner was unconstitutional. We can cite the judge’s authority. Some threats were death threats. They were made publicly. There’s no reason to make them sound like allegations, they’re facts viewers should know.
  • I’m a bit confused about what the clergy was trying to say by comparing Jessica as a prophet.
  • I’m ever so glad that someone is condemning the death threats because they still hope Jessica will come to faith. (Yes, that was my sarcastic face.)
  • When Jessica used the phrase “I already won the lawsuit — and fairly so,” I couldn’t help but start grinning. I’m not sure why, but the way she slipped it in was perfect. For some reason, that was left out of the WPRI transcript online.
  • I also loved the way Rev. Gene Dyszlewski called out the “radio demagoguery.” Damn straight. It WAS toxic and harmful.
  • It would have been nice to hear a defense of the separation of church and state, though the press release mentions that they “speak in support of Jessica Ahlquist’s right to challenge the banner at Cranston High School West.” Perhaps that didn’t make it into the two minutes of air time.

Overall, I’m really glad to see this press conference happen. True, the bar wasn’t set very high. It would be a sad day indeed if religious moderates wouldn’t come out in favor of the Constitution and against death threats to 16-year-old girls.

Jessica’s case has been deeply polarizing in her community — but at least we’re finding out which “pole” the religious moderates are closer to. It brought together 18 leaders: Baptists and UU’s, Jews and Muslims, all coming together to defend an atheist from violence. We atheists often say that we need the religious moderates to be on our side, condemning the extremists. This is a start.

About Jesse Galef

Jesse is a career atheist, and is currently Communications Director for the Secular Student Alliance. Before that, he worked for the Secular Coalition for America and the American Humanist Association. He also blogs about science, philosophy, and rationality at Measure of Doubt with his sister Julia.
(The views expressed are not representing the Secular Student Alliance or any other organization.)

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    As an aside, the ‘alt’ for your ‘disclaimer’ image should be the actual text in the image.  That holds true just about any time an image has text in it.  Always try to think what a blind person would need to know about your image.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Rich, that’s a good point!  I’ll keep it in mind for the future.

      • Forrest Cahoon

        Then there’s the question of why it’s an image in the first place. It’s text.

        • Anonymous

          Hi Forrest – actually, it’s so that Facebook and other social media programs don’t grab the disclaimer as its teaser text.   I’d much rather Facebook/Twitter show people content than a disclaimer.

  • Gus Snarp

    I like how the anchors called Jessica the one who “caused the controversy” at the top of the piece. Or more to the point, I don’t like it. Jessica caused the controversy? Single handed? No one else had anything to do with it? Like the person who first hung the banner? Or the fact that no one realized it was unconstitutional in all this time? Or dragged the obvious issue into court in the first place?

  • Cd1809

    Sounds like it was religious liberals -not moderates- that came to defend her.

  • Achess

    I’m definitely not going to applaud these people for saying (and not in an entirely satisfactory fashion…) what religious folks should have been saying a long time ago and with consensus.

    Yeah, it’s cranky me today.

  • T-Rex

    Took them long enough to respond. I guess the backlash from all of their bigoted and hateful bretheren finally became too much to bear. So we get what we got here today, spin control and lots of free exposure for religion. Lest anyone think they give a fuck about Ms. Ahlquist.

    • Nordog

      Still waiting for the atheist community to respond to your bigotry.

      [crickets]

      • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

        ok, I give.  My atheist privilege has blinded me to my fellow atheist’s bigotry.  And probably my own. My best guess (and it’s a stab in the dark) is the ‘bretheren’ part.  As in all the vile spewed at Jessica wasn’t by True Christians?

        Or maybe it’s the assumption that they only care about damage control and not Jessica?  I’ll grant I don’t think they’re that shallow. But care to clarify?

        • Nordog

          Clarify?

          How’s this?

          Still waiting for the atheist community to respond to your bigotry.

          [crickets]

          I can explain it to you, but I can’t comprehend it for you.

          • JimG

            Still waiting for Nordog to look up the Biblical definition of “Pharisee,” then check the mirror.

            [locusts]

            • NorDog

              Jim, please explain exactly how I’m a pharisee.

              • Anonymous

                In reality the  Pharisees seem to have been the precursors to Rabbinic Judaism, but in the New Testament account (in which the authors were at pains to distinguish themselves from any variety of Judaism that survived the 67 A.D. revolt), Pharisees are presented as obsessed with ostentatious piety, deeply hypocritical and less concerned with human kindness than with denouncing others’ perceived transgressions.

                Your idea of Christianity is to troll atheist websites, sneering at anything positive we do for others, accusing rather than conciliating, whining about imaginary persecution, ignoring the teachings of Jesus while congratulating yourself on your piety.

                Your recent refusal to join moderate Christians in condemning bigotry merely illustrated your hypocrisy. If everyone who claimed to be a Christian came anywhere close to your supposed values, you’d win plenty of converts. Instead we get some nice Christians who were nice people anyway, and not in a proportion easily distinguishable from nice people in other groups; and then we get sanctimonious blowhards like you.
                In short, if you’ve ever been self-reflective enough to wonder why millions are turned off by Christians, consider your own works. (This is JimG, posting under Disqus rather than as a guest.)

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

                  Incredibly well said.

                  And to paraphrase the asswipe nordog, as we sit here waiting for his less than illustrious response…*crickets*…

                • Nordog

                  Incredibly well said?  I guess, to the extent that any  falsehoods can be well said.

                • Nordog

                  “Your idea of Christianity is to troll atheist websites, sneering at
                  anything positive we do for others, accusing rather than conciliating,
                  whining about imaginary persecution, ignoring the teachings of Jesus
                  while congratulating yourself on your piety.”

                  This just isn’t so.  I have never sneered at the positive things done by anyone, let alone atheists.  Nor have I whined, or even complained at all, about being persecuted, imagined or otherwise.  Likewise, I don’t hold myself out as possessing piety.  Faith?  Yes.  Piety? No.  As far as “accusing rather than conciliating” goes, I do accuse many here of a mindbogglingly lack of irony, especially as regards the charges of bigotry made by atheist here against Christians.   This was my original point above, in response to T-Rex.

                  So yeah, I make accusations.  The accusation here is that many of the atheists here are bigots, and it’s fascinating to see them rail about the bigotry of others.

                  It’s fair to say I’m snarky, but I am hard pressed to think that snark is, in principle, not allowed around here of all places.

                  Lucilius, the immediate point here is that your charges against me are simply false.  Either you haven’t read my posts, you don’t understand what you read, or you are lying.  My money is on the first; you just haven’t read them.

                  Case in point, you write:

                  “Your recent refusal to join moderate Christians in condemning bigotry merely illustrated your hypocrisy. ”

                  My refusal?  Hardly.  I spoke out against the death threats against Jessica on this very blog.

                  Just how exactly am I to be conciliatory with you if you are unwilling or unable to even know what I stand for?

                  As has been said many times, you are entitled to your own opinions, but not to your own facts.

                  So, with the exception of Timberwraith, I see no atheists being forthright in calling out hateful bigotry among atheists.  I’m waiting.

                  [crickets]

                • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

                  I often disagree with Nordog, but he doesn’t, IMO, troll.

                  (coming from someone who has been called a troll himself on rare occasion, so perhaps I don’t have the proper perspective)

                • Nordog

                  Thanks Rich.  I don’t think I troll either, though I do snark (is that a verb?).  The line between the two can be very thin on occasion.

                • Anonymous

                  You can try evasion and hair-splitting denials all you like, but it’s not working. Your pompous condescension is plain in every post, and again totally unlike the Jesus you supposedly revere. If you ever hope to convince anyone of the superiority of Christianity, try living up to those standards. Otherwise, you’re just another troll, promoting nothing but yourself.

                  As for your refusal to stand against anti-atheist bigotry, you’re either delusional or lying. My money is on both.

                  Case in point, when I asked just a few days ago if you were going to put your money where your mouth was with Cranston, R.I., florists, you gave this non-answer: 

                  “Of course it’s easier to snipe at atheist bigots, besides, it appears that your camp has the calling out these Christian bigots covered quite well.”

                  A backhand admission that you would do nothing. Your words, Nordog. Eat it.

                  As for opposing death  threats to Ahlquist on “this very blog” – wow, that takes some courage. I could wander into a church and say “Y’know, that Jesus guy was pretty nice,” and take exactly the same risk.

                  What matters is standing up for people in the face of opposition, in doing what’s right when it’s difficult, not when you’re on safe ground.

                  And I have done that. Plenty of times. Not here, because for all your mewling about “atheist bigotry,” it’s not a regular feature here, and gets slapped down when it appears. I’m talking about actual bigotry, not disagreement on issues, not deploring someone’s actions, but real hatred directed against someone for who and what they are. Of course, you’ll never be honest enough to admit the distinction.

                  I’ve encountered very, very few bigoted atheists; and when I have, I’ve immediately told them I think they’re wrong, why I think they’re wrong, and refused to associate with them anymore.

                  So if you’re so convinced that we’re a pack of bigots, why don’t you just follow that example? Especially the last part.

                • Nordog

                  You’re delusional.

                  That is all.

          • JimG

            Still waiting for Nordog to look up the Biblical definition of “Pharisee,” then check the mirror.

            [locusts]

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          I’m of two minds on this.  And minds that have obviously been stewing for some time.  I think you have a point Nordog in that we are an insulated echo chamber here, and our reverberations go over the top.  We don’t always (or nearly ever) disclaim “Not all Christians” or “most theists”.  And that’s why I appreciate a people like you and Momma J and Andrew (but not so much “atheistlegitimacy”, ’cause he’s just got his fingers in his ears).

          And yes, we lump, and we apply our worst assertions to the larger group.

          My other mind is that T-Rex wasn’t talking to Christians, other than the ones who willingly enter the Friendly Atheist Den.  The anti-Jessica people are being very public in their attack, and include state level elected officials.  Although this blog certainly isn’t private, it is kind of our own little barber shop.  And the title not withstanding, you’re going to get barber shop anger here.  And although I hope I don’t lose site of the reality of my truly loving and supportive Christian friends and family, I don’t want to lose my barber shop either.

      • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

        Point to which part of T-Rex’s post was bigoted, please.

      • Keulan

        Nordog, explain what part of T-Rex’s you consider bigotry. If you don’t then you’re just another internet troll.

        • Nordog

          “Took them long enough to respond. I guess the backlash from all of their
          bigoted and hateful bretheren finally became too much to bear. So we
          get what we got here today, spin control and lots of free exposure for
          religion. Lest anyone think they give a fuck about Ms. Ahlquist.”

          The assumption and assertion that those Christians that speak out against the hatred directed at Ms. Ahlquist is nothing more than spin control and that those Christians don’t “give a fuck about Ms. Ahlquist” is prima facie prejudicial.  It poisons the well.

          I may or may not be just another internet troll, but the bigotry here is real.  That haters gonna hate, and bigots don’t believe they are bigots should not surprise anyone.

          That you can’t see the bigotry…

          …well I let you do the math.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      Fuck T-Rex I’ll drop anchor on his face.

      (chirp)

    • Guest

      T-Rex

         I am an agnostic, who is thankful that moderate people
      of faith are DEFENDING Jessica.  I think think they are sincere.  I
      think denigrating comments towards these good citizens is just one step
      above the hateful comments directed at Jessica.  The only reason I give
      your comments “one step above” the others is that it did not include a
      threat of violence.  But it was pretty hateful, if not threatening.

  • T-Rex

    Local clergy a.k.a. local snake oil salesmen/witch doctors/sooth sayers/ shaman/fear mongerers.
    And what that rabbi said last? “We are pushing her away from faith based communities instead of drawing her in.” Creeped me out. Yes, “she is a lost soul that needs some indoctrination so that she can be saved and see the error of her godless ways.” is what that statement sounds like to me. Creepy fuckers.

  • http://twitter.com/WilliamRDickson William R. Dickson
  • Anonymous

    I wrote the following comment on the WPRI website:

    Corrections: Ms. Ahlquist did not “cause the controversy”. The people
    who failed to obey the law caused the controversy. She didn’t sue
    because the banner “offended her” (no one has the right to not be
    offended). She sued because the banner was an endorsement of a specific
    brand of religion by the government and therefore infringed on the
    rights of those in the minority. The threats of violence and death
    against her were made publicly and therefore, she has no need to claim
    anything about them. Mr. Montecalvo or one of his assistants could have
    taken the trouble to confirm their existence, rather than making it
    sound like she’s made them up or exaggerated them.

  • Nordog

    The fact of the matter is that everyone should come out against death threats to anyone.

    The specifics (e.g. this person is atheist, this person is a Christian, etc.) are important in certain respects, obviously.  But the are completely irrelevant regarding how people should react to death threats.

    • Xeon2000

      While death threats should be universally stood against, I believe a death threat with the specific intent to oppress or silence a minority or dissenter is more severe.

      There is a reason they distinguish between violent acts and hate crimes. The later is aimed at a specific minority with an intent to oppress, silence, or control.

  • http://twitter.com/missus_gumby Martin Burn

    I find it ironic that the religious upper-hierarchy of Cranston are speaking up for Jessica and endorsing her Constitutional rights. And yet, it is also their various ‘flocks’ that have been threatening Jessica – so what have they been teaching them that their reaction should be so venomous/hateful? They are truly ignoring the elephant in the middle of each of their own religious buildings.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    On their Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/ristatecouncilofchurches the Rhode Island State Council of Churches has provided a link to Youtube with a video of what apparently is the entirety of everyone’s speeches. It’s 32 minutes long. I’m going to listen to every word very carefully, to see:

    How much of it was merely acknowledgment of Jessica’s legal right, and how much was support for the rightness of what she did.

    How much of it was spin to mitigate the ugliness of the mob’s behavior, and how much of it was to support the principle of church-state separation.

    How much of it was about “Let’s all be nice,” and how much of it was “Let’s all show integrity and protect everyone’s freedom, not just our own.”

    Here is the link to the video. Please watch it with me, and share your impressions.
    http://www.youtube.com/embed/nPkplBTfX5c

  • Erpease

    At least one or two of the leaders told the school board they were wrong when the board initially decided to defend the prayer banner.  They might be downplaying this now because the current key point is the general nastiness towards Jessica and they don’t want to dilute that message.  In contrast the local Catholic diocese buried the bishop’s criticism of the bile towards Jessica by burying it in the middle of a long article mostly denouncing the decision.

  • Keulan

    It was nice to see some religious people standing up against the bigotry Jessica Ahlquist has been facing. The news report of it was fairly crappy though.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger/featured GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    Rev. Don Anderson put on a good program, but then at 31:40, in the home stretch, he had to PRAY for Jessica that GOD would GIVE her the grace to forgive those who have harassed her.
    It was like he couldn’t resist speaking in a way that imposed his
    (mythical) God upon her, and his (imaginary) God’s gifts upon her.
    It would have been MUCH more powerful and in keeping with the program
    to end by saying he was hopeful and confident Jessica herself probably
    already possesses graciousness. Why invoke your God in what is supposed to be a tribute to someone who doesn’t believe in your god?

    It would be like me saying the following as a “tribute” to Rev. Don Anderson for having created this event:
    “Clearly the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) God has worked through
    Rev. Don Anderson is guiding him to create this great event. I thank
    Rev. Anderson for allowing himself to be a vehicle for FSM’s love of
    Rhode Island and humanity.”How would he like that “tribute”?

    • Guest

      Yes, I found his praying for God to give Jessica . . . etc. to be inappropriate. In this case, knowing that Jessica is atheist, it would have been more appropriate to say “May she find it in her heart . . . ”  However, I wonder if being a religious person, if this way of talking is so ingrained in him, that he just said that out of habit, OR, if it was his backhanded way of expressing his hope  that Jessica eventually becomes a believer .

  • Guest

    T-Rex

       I am an agnostic, who is thankful that moderate people of faith are DEFENDING Jessica.  I think think they are sincere.  I think denigrating comments towards these good citizens is just one step above the hateful comments directed at Jessica.  The only reason I give your comments “one step above” the others is that it did not include a threat of violence.  But it was pretty hateful, if not threatening.

     


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