Jessica Ahlquist is Victorious; Cranston School Committee Will Not Appeal Ruling to Take Down Prayer Banner

***Update***: The Patch has a wonderful timeline of what happened during the meeting.

After a night filled with speeches by Christians who don’t understand that public high schools are not proxies for churches, the Cranston School Committee voted 5-2 in favor of NOT appealing Judge Ronald R. Lagueux‘s decision to take down the Prayer Banner. That means the banner will come down for good:

Good riddance

The banner, put up in 1963, has been covered since a federal judge last month ruled it was unconstitutional and ordered its removal. The Class of 1963, which was the first to graduate from the school, gave the prayer and school creed as gifts.

Appeal opponents cited the legal costs as grounds for giving up the fight.

Lawyers representing Ahlquist have asked the court to order the city to pay $173,000 for legal fees. Attorney Joseph Cavanagh Jr., who represented the city, said a legal fight in the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston and the U.S. Supreme Court would cost another $500,000 in legal fees.

“You will be wasting time and incredible resources. Half a million dollars? How dare you,” resident Rosemary Tregar said.

The American Humanist Association applauds the decision:

“Given the strength of the ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Ronald R. Lagueux, it would have been tough for the school system to appeal,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “We’re certainly glad that the committee decided to not waste any more time and money in pursuing one.”

“Jessica Ahlquist has stood up against her most vehement and vile critics with class and style,” Speckhardt said. “Her example shows how a fight should be undertaken in favor of protecting the freedoms we are guaranteed by our constitution. Everyone should offer a healthy measure of gratitude to her and her family.”

The fundraiser for Jessica will remain up until the end of the month. Feel free to show your appreciation for how she’s handled herself throughout this ordeal by chipping in a buck or two:



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://profiles.google.com/v2blast Vis S

    Awesome. :)

  • Anonymous

    Now if only a few hundred others will take notice and make corrections before the year+ of time, effort, six-digit legal bills. etc – it would be really, really nice!

    Really, you can make corrections before complaints and lawsuits!

    • http://www.atheistatom.com/ Atheist Atom

      We should educate others, and use this as an example.

  • http://www.atheistatom.com/ Atheist Atom

    We educated them

  • Keulan

     Hooray!

  • http://www.nowhere-fast.net Tom

    I haven’t commented on this whole Ahlquist situation because I wanted to wait until it was over, and it looks like that’s finally the case.

    Without being too personal or melodramatic here, I want to say a few quick things.

    I’m an infantry soldier so my job is, quite literally, to kill and possibly die for this country.  I don’t mind it and I’m not looking for internet points here.  Despite the obviously crappy parts of the job we actually do get to do some pretty cool stuff.  What I do want to make clear, though, is that I’m willing to do the ugly part of what I’m asked to do because I, despite my years of carefully groomed cynicism, honestly believe in the freedoms that our country is about.

    I, and all of my brothers and sisters in arms, can do the work that we’re tasked with exceptionally well and be the swords and the shields that protect these freedoms, but it takes people like young Ms. Ahlquist to stand up and be the heart.

    It’s easy for a guy who does what I do to lose faith when you see your fellow countrymen squander their freedoms, attack and hate one another and embrace petty, divisive conflicts.  Even just walking down the street makes me sometimes ask myself, “why bother?”  When I read about this, though, I’m reminded that the principles this country is based on still do exist and that it is still something that’s worth fighting for.

    Ms. Ahlquist, thank you.  To all those who supported her and stood up to intolerance, ignorance and malice, thank you.

    • tennismom

      Can I please “Like” this at least a hundred times?  Beautifully put Tom…THANK YOU for your service to our country and your support for Jess!

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Buchy/542338898 James Buchy

       Bravo, Tom, bravo!! There is no group of people that I have more respect for than Canadian [I am Canadian] and American soldiers, sailors and airmen. 

      As far as I am concerned, the people who were opposed to Ms. Ahlquist showed great disrespect to you and your brothers/sisters-in-arms.

      At the risk of being melodramatic myself, I’ll close by saying thank you… thank you and your comrades for being willing to pay the ultimate price to keep me and my friends/family safe.

    • FSq

      Well said Tom, and thank you.

      Nice to see this coming from a military guy; it is a nice change of pace and is appreciated.

    • dave

       Outstanding Tom,
      I am a former member of the U.S. Navy’s River Assault Teams, with two tours in Vietnam and would like to let you know, that at the age of 65, my oath to ‘support and defend The U.S. constitution’, did not come with an expiration date. I’m sure yours didn’t either, and this fight will need you for the rest of your life. Thank you……

  • wright1

    Congratulations, Ms. Ahlquist. Well fought, well won. 

  • Anonymous

     I did learn one thing from Lisa French’s bizarre ramblings though, which is that the 1936 USSR constitution guaranteed Freedom of Conscience.  The next time that a Christian complains about their freedom of conscience being violated, I’m going to explain that although the 1936 Soviet Constitution contains such a protection, the US Constitution does not.  The First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”  Neither of these clauses prohibits the government from adopting neutral laws of general applicability that offend the conscience of anyone.   We live in the United States, not in Stalinist USSR.

    http://www.departments.bucknell.edu/russian/const/36cons04.html

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      Meandering off topic here, but 

      Women in the U.S.S.R. are accorded equal rights with men in all spheres of economic, state, cultural, social and political life.

      And yet, we failed to pass the ERA.  I was a child at the time, and it boggled my mind that there was anything to debate.  Still does.

      Unfortunately for the USSR, just because something was written in the Constitution didn’t make it a practical reality.  Although you were technically allowed to worship as you wished, in practice it had a detrimental affect on your livelihood.  So much so that kids were taught to not talk about the family’s religion outside of the home.

      • Anonymous

        That was probably because you were still an ignorant child and didn’t understand all the legal ramifications, for existing female and male privileges. For example the female privilege of being exempt from the draft and selective service. Look up the Hayden rider. It read “The provisions of this article shall not be construed to impair any rights, benefits, or exemptions now or hereafter conferred by law upon persons of the female sex.”

        The issues weren’t as simple as you understood as a child.

    • Anonymous

       The US Constitution is really bad when it comes to the number of rights it explicitly guarantees. All major advances are the result of court decisions. Having such general clauses means the document is somewhat more enduring, but it also prolongs these advances.

      For good modern constitutions look to the South African one or the Canadian Charter of Human Rights

      • Anonymous

        That’s because the philosophical assumption underpinning it is that the government doesn’t confer rights. The document is actually about conferring rights to the government that do not conflict with natural rights. The starting point being that the government has no rights.

        Unfortunately no document can constrain representatives intent on ignoring it. I think it pretty clear from the constitution that civil forfeiture law and the fiction of property committing and being charged with crimes is not allowed.

      • Anonymous

        The Canadian charter has the flaw of any positive list. Rights such as those to self defense have been left off. It also explicitly allows for draconian policies to be put in place such as the ones Mark Stein and Ezra Levin got caught up in. It explicitly allows theft of the property of non guilty party’s to redistribute as the government sees fit.

    • Tpaflgrl

      There has been Supreme Court cases which stated that as long as there was neutrality that something could be done/displayed/funded/etc.

      Thus as long as the Muslims could put up something, the Hindus, the Buddhists, and so forth – thus neutral then it could be argued that under “free exercise” the prayer could continue to be placed. As such though a school club or individual would be cleaning and maintaining so that the school did not… 

      • Anonymous

         I’m bringing it up more in context of the conservatives complaining that their “freedom of conscience” is being violated by the HHS rule requiring insurers to cover contraception.  According to Supreme Court case law, there is no such protection under the Free Exercise clause.  I think there is sweet irony in the fact that they their chosen formulation appears in the Soviet Constitution but not in ours.

    • Tinker

      But perhaps if our Constitution was as clear as the USSR’s, Christians would not get confused. That article states: 
      In order to ensure to citizens freedom of conscience, the church in the U.S.S.R. is separated from the state, and the school from the church. Freedom of religious worship and freedom of antireligious propaganda is recognized for all citizens.
      Sounds like separation of church and state to me.

      • Anonymous

        You think the USSR constitution was clear? Perhaps as clear as any Owellian newspeak, where freedom means the act of doing what the state tells you to.

    • Anonymous

      Saying you guarantee something and setting up the restrictions on government that actually guarantee it are two different things. The Qur’an claims it has no error, and is about freedom of conscience also. Those are properties that are or are not present in whole, not in part. You can claim everyone has freedom of conscience with one rule while with another rule prevent the exercise of the right.

      For example freedom of speech cannot be had without freedom to own property. Freedom of conscious cannot be exercised when the state decides what job you have to take (perhaps you wanted to work for charity, not weld turrets on tanks).

      Such guarantees are false and thus not guarantees at all.

  • Monado

    Maybe the FFRF or the ACLU could provide sample letters for asking schools to stop various violations, e.g. praying at school events, religious displays within school, pressuring to say pledges, etc., on their website.

    • Tpaflgrl

      And make sure there is no religious activity moving forward. No school activity can promote something religious… thus no mentioning of Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, or any other religion… no Yoga, no Meditation, no Tai Chi, no anything… oh and no secular religion either where people put their beliefs in some sacred game. 

      • The Other Weirdo

         Maybe I’m being ignorant, but what’s an example of a secular religion that has sacred games? What are sacred games?

        • Rrr

           …[Shhh. Mast..cough..bation] Well, it’s been a secret game, going on for secles and secles.

          And promotion is not the same as mention, you know. Teaching, instruction, information, that is what school is for.

  • guest

    by no means am i an atheist, but by no means do i condone the shoving of religion down other people’s throats, I applaud this, and believe that fighting for the right for this to be an open and accepting country is a wonderful thing GO jessica, and may your example be followed

  • Anonymous

    The wording of the Cranston prayer was the same as the wording of the prayer banner at nearby Bain school, which had been there since 1927.  Bain took theirs down the moment the   suit was filed.  Cranston did it the hard way.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Reed/692599362 Paul Reed

       If I lived in that area and had kids, I know which school I’d choose.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Leithiser/593361421 Chris Leithiser

         Would depend on their age.  The school which complied was a middle school.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Reed/692599362 Paul Reed

    It’s a shame that the only (or main) reason for the non-appeal was legal costs. If money wasn’t an issue, this could have dragged on even longer…

  • Anonymous

    Might I suggest a replacement prayer that might not be so offensive?

    You better watch out
    You better not cry
    Better not pout I’m telling you why
    Santa Claus is coming to town
    He’s making a list
    And checking it twice;
    Gonna find out
    Who’s naughty and nice
    Santa Claus is coming to town
    He sees you when you’re sleeping
    He knows when you’re awake
    He knows if you’ve been bad or good
    So be good for goodness sake!
    O! You better watch out!
    You better not cry
    Better not pout I’m telling you why
    Santa Claus is coming to town
    Santa Claus is coming to town

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    aww… I wanted to see them try again.

    The guy after him said that the attack on religion by Mr. Obama is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy.  Reading bible quotes now.  Oh and appeal or this is a communist country.

    Think that’s some inconsequential nut?  Nope!  It’s Peter G. Palumbo, a state rep in Rhode Island, and a Democrat.  And they applaud!  FML.

    Wait, what? Seriously? That’s actually quite inspiring. If you take a crazy homeless person preaching outside Walmart with a bucket on his head and put him in a nice suit, he can achieve anything!

    • http://www.facebook.com/cburschka Christoph Burschka

      … that … you know, with the “Evil Little Thing” part, I thought he was being tastelessly funny or something.

      Now it turns out that was actually comparably tame compared to how much of a nut he is.

      • FSq

        He was receiving a shit load of handshakes and “attaboys” after the show too. He is a gross and distasteful human and you could just see his pandering for votes. It was so obvious even someone with an IQ of 70 could figure that out.

  • FSq

    I was at the meeting, and several things stood out. Among them:

    * There were several parents who stood up and really gave it to the board via the economic aspect. This is always the most effective way to convince people not to do something stupid. Show them how it will hurt wallets and budgets. Sad, but true. It worked.

    * There were rumblings, mumblings and soft-toned “hisses and” hate filled noises directed at Jessica. This was not overt, but you could hear hush tones, and I caught a couple of nasty names being shared between “good christians” about her.

    * Peter Griffin is alive and well in Rhode Island. There were two fat-assed, mouthy Christian know-it-alls who used the time to point fingers and spew hate; distasteful. Now, the thing is, the majority of the people in the room essentially shut them down, even the hard core christer types…..maybe there is a little hope after all?

    * Outside, after the meeting, in the atrium and foyer, I heard several conversations. The amount of hatred, vile and nastiness was intense. I mean, I guess I knew it was there, but to actually see it, hear it, and be around it first hand was a real eye opener. People, we are hated! I mean H-A-T-E-D! I was amazed at the vile words and suggestions being made.

    It was an experience being there.

    • Jon

      Why is everyone a “Christian” to you if they dont believe what you believe? I’m not a Christian, I’m not religious and I don’t believe in god. But I’m also not athiest because i have my own individual thoughts. I don’t need to associate myself with others that have a common interest and slap a label on myself..sound familiar? Oh wait religion does that! So your actually a hypocrite. Now you know my beliefs and where I stand and I’ll tell you that what happened with the school banner was an embarrassment to humanity. Life is so short and precious yet you care so much about what other people believe? It’s a banner that you don’t have to read. Why take away from people who do believe? Because your sooooo sure there’s no god!? Well I believe in the big bang theory but guess what? Its still just a theory!! Religion and science neither have proof to how we got here. Non has more proof then the other by any means. So respect what others believe if you want your beliefs respected. Read my last post. It’s SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN the human brain contains “God spots”!<–(SCIENTIFIC TERM) which enables Us to overcome the anxiety of death. Maybe if you morons spent a little more time reading and a little less time acting like an organized religion (which u ironically seem to hate) you would be educated enough to understand why people believe and respect it because it's biological you dummy.that is all, have a nice day with your group of exact same belief people who aren't talented or smart enough to choose your own irreplicabble thoughts.

      • FSq

        Settle down Kazynski….Your manifesto is pretty out there Ted, you want to try and calm down a little and maybe try to give some citations beyond your conjecture?

      • ReginaldJooald

        Certain parts of the brain also light up if you’re watching a game of football. This implies that football is a biological necessity?

      • Xeon2000

        You don’t believe in god, but you’re not an atheist… That’s cute. *pats your head*

        You know what they say. What’s important is you’ve found a way to feel superior.

        • Xeon2000

          Oh the other hand. Maybe you’re just insane.

        • Anonymous

          I’ve run across this type of commenter before. They usually claim to be agnostic and fail to understand that one can be atheist and agnostic. There was a lot of ridiculous in that comment so I think it might be a Christian pretending to be non-christian to earn some credibility points. There are however some agnostics on the edge of insane.

      • Anonymous

        “Why take away from those who believe”

        They have churches and homes where they can teach their kids nonsense. So in fact nothing is being taken away from them other than a privileged spot that non-christians are forced to fund, and go to. So the only thing taken away is an unfair privilege that is only maintained by majority vote.

        Now if you are complaining more broadly about our challenges to their falsehoods then I want to know how you can justify coming here to “take away from those who believe” in the truth on these subjects.

  • Karl

    Right decision, wrong reason. If the school district had more money they wouldn’t have made this decision? Apparently they are still of the opinion that one religion should be  promoted in their schools — that hasn’t changed. So what if the banner is now down; what other things are they going to do to continue their preaching?

    • Publius

       Onward Atheist Soldiers marching as to war with the cross of Jesus trampled, broke and burned.  Intolerance is intolerance no matter how you package it. 

      It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or
      no God.Thomas
      Jefferson

  • Jon

    All you so called “Athiests” are some of the dumbest people I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter. First of all I DO NOT believe in “God”. Let’s get that clear. But as a person more intelligent then you all I’ve realized that god is w very necessary factor in human evolution since day 1. We all have (scientifically proven) “god spots”in our brain. So all you “Athiests” have them too no matter what you say or else your not human then. Without hope in god the human species would be overcome with Anxiety at a level that would of never even made human life possible. For you to attack religious people and discredit their beliefs is absolutely disgusting. You keep saying you won. What did you win? Read what the science community is saying about all you morons. You may know more about the earth and universe then religious people but your still dumb and uneducated to us science people so to me you LOST.

    • Thursday’s Child

       What in the hell are you talking about? The Ahlquist case is a political and constitutional issue, not scientific. But besides that:
      -Why is it ‘absolutely disgusting’ for us to discredit religious beliefs that we see as untrue and harmful? Do you prefer untrue dogmas driving political discourse and governmental decision making?
      -If the ‘science community’ is saying anything particular about atheists as morons it would probably be helpful to your case to provide specific references instead of vague assertions.
      -The ‘god spot’ research, besides being blown out of proportion by a media in search of headlines, does nothing but suggest that religious feelings physically manifest in the human brain, and in no way does it suggest the reality of god. In fact, if anything, it does the exact opposite.
      -When you say ‘your still dumb’ you are using ‘your’ incorrectly. ‘Your” is a possessive, as in ‘your bicycle’, or ‘your dogma’. You should have used ‘you’re’ which is a contraction that means ‘you are’.
      PROTIP: Before you post on threads, learn to spell, punctuate, construct a coherent sentence, and a coherent argument. Also: sober up first. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Furtado/1753821766 Michael Furtado

      Jon, Jon, Jon – you really like to overgeneralize, don’t you? Do you really think that all “Atheists” think exactly the same? Of course we do not. As to your intelligence relative to mine (or anyone else), let’s agree to disagree about that for the time being.  

      As I understand the research, the so-called “god spots’ in human brains are said to be an underlying reason why people generally create supernatural explanations for things that they do not understand.  Nothing at all about the research suggests that the ‘spots’ are evidence of the existence of any deity.

      The core of this case (and most of the discussion around it) have nothing to do with the beliefs of anyone. This case was based on a challenge to the idea that government (in the form of the Cranston PUBLIC Schools) is allowed to promote any religious beliefs.  If the “Prayer Banner” had mentioned Allah, or Yahweh (or Zeus, etc.), would that have been acceptable to you or any of its other defenders? Of course not. 

      In the end, atheists didn’t win this case – Americans who respect the Constitution won.

      • http://www.facebook.com/colleen.hutchison1 Colleen Hutchison

        Well stated, Michael.

    • ReginaldJooald

      Provide citations or you’re making it up.

      There’s some evidence that there’s certain parts of the brain that light up during intense prayer or meditation. They also light up if you’re taking magic mushrooms, and I assume they light up if you’re doing completely secular meditation as well.

      So… that somehow implies that God is a necessary concept for the wellbeing of humanity? And then *that* somehow implies that all of us “atheists” aren’t human? I really can’t follow your “logic”.

    • http://www.twitter.com/a_okafor007 Anthony C. Okafor

      OBVIOUS TROLL IS OBVIOUS

    • Elnielsen

       If you don’t believe in god then you are Atheist. So your whole spiel is moot. You only insult yourself. Brilliant.

    • Anonymous

      Trying to fake being an atheist who hates atheism only makes you sound insane. When you say that you do not believe in god you are claiming to be an atheist, yet you also claim not to be one. Then you call us stupid, but of course you are calling yourself stupid at the same time since you *are* one.

      If I have a “god spot” in my brain then why am I an atheist? Why would lacking one render me not human? Do you mean that we nonhuman atheists cannot area different species that cannot successfully impregnate Christian ladies. Should we stop wearing condoms? Should I suspect my atheist children by my Christian wife are illegitimate. Perhaps they are sterile mules?

      I looked at that research and it merely showed that humans use a particular area of the brain to process moral questions. Labeling it the “god spot” is silly since atheists use the same area to process questions of morality without believing in any god. All that shows is that atheists can do moral reasoning (use this area of the brain) without believing in god. It is even more evidence against religious claims that atheist lack morality.

      • Anonymous

        The area also seems to function perfectly well without god belief so it is extremely hard to argue that believing in god was selectively advantageous. The study did not prove that believing in god made it function better. The researchers (and journalists) were jumping to conclusions that are not supported by the evidence.

  • Anonymous

    U-U minister James Ford has also put up his impressions from the event — http://www.patheos.com/blogs/monkeymind/2012/02/on-attending-a-school-committee-meeting-addressing-whether-to-appeal-a-court-decision-to-remove-a-prayer-banner.html. He writes: “Maybe my sense of anxiety at their aggression was just, me, but I swear, I felt I could see these young men in brown shirts.”

  • Anonymous

    Of potential interest; over at the Boston Atheists blog, at http://bostonatheists.blogspot.com/2012/02/tweets-from-cranston-school-committee.html,
    I’ve posted a report of the tweets I sent from my seat last night in
    the Cranston High School East auditorium. I intend to write a fuller
    account of my impressions of the evening — the flashes of good will,
    the disturbing spectacle of hostility — but it was a long night and
    that will have to wait.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rewinn Randall E. Winn

    Matthew 6:5-6″ And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
    But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy inner room, and when thou hast
    shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father
    which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”
    As an American, I agree that this banner displayed in school to be unconstitutional, but as a Christian, I find it also to be embarrassingly unbiblical. Any expressions of hatred against the brave plaintiff are likewise wrong both as an American and as a Christian (…which, contrary to some people’s claims, are not the same thing.)
    I find it funny that some “christians” seem to feel that God needs Government help to spread the Word but even funnier that, of all the Abrahamic religions, the one that commands the most public prayer is Islam. Perhaps the defendants in this case should convert ;-)
    One thing is for sure: it’s a funny world!

    .

  • Obama

    Another poor soul that will burn in the lake of fire…for eternity.


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