Illinois Family Institute Lashes Out Against Jessica Ahlquist for Speaking About Her Case in Local High Schools

Thing I knew: Jessica Ahlquist was coming down to the suburbs of Chicago this week to speak to some area high schools about the importance of the First Amendment and why she fought so hard for her case.

Jessica Ahlquist

Thing I did not know: She’s visiting a high school in my district (as well as a couple of other local ones).

Thing all of you could’ve predicted: Laurie Higgins of the Illinois Family Institute isn’t taking this news very well.

… Last year, [Ahlquist] successfully sued her Rhode Island high school to force it to remove a banner on which a prayer was printed. The prayer was written by a 7th grade student, placed on the banner, and presented as a gift to the school 49 years ago.

York and Waubonsie Valley high schools sent out permission slips to parents, permission slips that failed to include any information whatsoever about Jessica Ahlquist, the specifics of her lawsuit, or any details regarding the topics she would be addressing or the learning objectives her presentation is intended to fulfill.

This goes on for a while… Higgins doesn’t explain how the religious prayer banner in Jessica’s high school was unconstitutional, or the fact that many of the rape/death threats Jessica received from anonymous people and students at her school were from Christians, or how a local politician called her an “evil little thing” for standing up for her rights.

But Higgins did manage to use the 17-year-old’s Twitter history against her:

After the court decision, Ahlquist tweeted:

*[Jessica] Is dancing her brains out and annoying her family*

and

And the prayer falls ; ) *dance*

and to her Twitter pal, the ubiquitous “Friendly Atheist,”… math teacher Hemant Mehta, she tweeted:

we WON. As in lawsuity goodness!

Surely our educational establishments can find more substantive speakers to enlighten our students on constitutional issues.

Wow. Deriding a high school student for being excited after winning a year-long lawsuit everyone in her community wanted to see her lose. That’s pretty weak, even for a hate group.

Just to be clear, Jessica isn’t speaking about why everyone ought to become atheists. She’s talking “about advocating for an issue about which she cares deeply and about being bullied.”

And IFI doesn’t want her to do that. Maybe because the bullies are often kids from Christian families.

Read how Higgins addresses some of the hate directed at Jessica, because it actually starts out strong only to fail miserably by the end:

Although I don’t believe Jessica Ahlquist should be addressing bullying in a presentation that is being promoted as a presentation on constitutional issues, I do believe that the way she has been treated by some in her community is reprehensible. If we hope to have a civil society in which diverse people can exercise their First Amendment rights, we must stand firm against abusive words and actions, particularly when the victims are young people.

That said…

“That said”?!

Why not “Full stop”?

What could IFI possibly add to go against the whole “no bullying” idea?

That said, conservatives need to better understand how “progressives” (or more accurately, “transgressives”) cynically exploit the issue of bullying to promote their causes and ideologies. By demagogically exploiting real victims of bullying, transgressives manipulate non-rational, emotional psychological processes.

So, if Jessica Ahlquist were to tell students about being bullied, students would be less inclined to increase her suffering by expressing their disagreement with her atheism or her political cause. This ploy is most often used in public schools in the effort to silence expressions of disapproval of homosexuality.

In other words, Jessica speaking out about the bullying she experienced for fighting a First Amendment case is really part of her nefarious liberal plan to get everyone to loooooove atheists.

I think I can safely say that I know Jessica pretty well by now. So let me say this: The bullying she went through wasn’t a fun time in her life. As happy as she was to win her case, I know there’s a big part of her that just wants her normal life back, so she could enjoy senior year, going to class, going to prom, talking about college with her friends… but because of everything that happened, there’s no way she can do those things without drawing unwanted, unwelcome attention her way.

But that’s the price she paid for fighting an unpopular battle. IFI and other Christian groups wanted her to stay silent and let the prayer banner hang in her school’s auditorium forever because it was part of school “tradition” and it promoted their personal religious beliefs. Jessica showed us that “tradition” didn’t excuse the school district from following the law and the courts agreed with her.

You don’t have to be an atheist to appreciate what a courageous thing it was that she did. I have no doubt that the students who hear Jessica will benefit greatly from her talks.

But because she fought against the Christian majority in her community, IFI wants to trash her.

***Update***: Higgins wrote this in her post:

But when I contacted the Citizen Advocacy Center who invited Ahlquist, paid for her flights and hotel, and offered her to these three schools, I was told that since Ahlquist is only 17 years old, “she won’t be able to speak articulately on the First Amendment issues” but rather that she would be talking about advocating for an issue about which she cares deeply and about being bullied.

Maryam Judar is one of the organizers of this event from the Citizen Advocacy Center and she says Higgins misquoted her:

Hi. I am Maryam Judar, a community lawyer at Citizen Advocacy Center, who facilitated bringing Jessica Ahlquist to the Chicagoland area to highlight youth who help to keep government accountable and our First Amendment freedoms during Constitution Week.

For the record, I never said that Jessica Ahlquist was inarticulate when I spoke with Laurie Higgins at the Illinois Family Institute. I said that Jessica was a high school student and probably not able to discuss the complexities of First Amendment jurisprudence and that attorneys from the Center would be accompanying Jessica and also speaking to make sure that the law of the land was presented accurately.

So Higgins took Judar out of context to make Jessica seem unqualified to speak… when, in fact, she’s fully qualified to talk about the matter she was brought in to discuss, and the “experts” would be there to provide more nuance.

Where’s the apology from IFI?

Nowhere to be found.

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.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X