In January of 2012, just days after Jessica Ahlquist won her lawsuit to take down a religious mural from Cranston High School West, Rhode Island State Rep. Peter Palumbo went on the John DePetro radio show and famously called her an “evil little thing,” quickly adding that even if she wasn’t evil, she was being “coerced” into fighting her lawsuit by evil people.

Peter Palumbo

Just to reiterate, an elected government official was name-calling a teenager because she was defending the Constitution. That’s how messed up it was.

Over the summer, Palumbo was caught up in the middle of a contract scandal.

And that may be the reason that, tonight, he lost his seat in the state House after 19 years in office:

Good riddance. Finally, a Democrat whose loss doesn’t upset me.

(Thanks to Brian for the link. Large portions of this article were posted earlier)

In January of 2012, just days after Jessica Ahlquist won her lawsuit to take down a religious mural from Cranston High School West, Rhode Island State Rep. Peter Palumbo went on the John DePetro radio show and famously called her an “evil little thing,” quickly adding that even if she wasn’t evil, she was being “coerced” into fighting her lawsuit by evil people.

Peter Palumbo

Just to reiterate, an elected government official was name-calling a teenager because she was defending the Constitution. That’s how messed up it was.

So you can imagine the schadenfreude I’m feeling now that Palumbo is in the middle of a contract scandal.

Here’s the story in a nutshell: Anyone could place a bid to manage the concession stands on three state beaches and the highest bidder would get the contract. The highest bidder turned out to be Palumbo, who bid nearly $1,800,000 for a five-year contact. Coming in second was David Caprio, the chairman of the state’s Democratic Party, who bid about $1,550,000.

Then things got weird:

… [Palumbo] won the contract but then backed out, prompting the state to award the contract to Caprio. After Caprio won the contract, he chose Palumbo to manage all of the stands. Palumbo told NBC 10 that he and Caprio are friends.

In other words, the state missed out on nearly $250,000 because of what seems to be a shady deal between buddies.

Caprio resigned (supposedly for unrelated reasons) this week, but Palumbo is still in office.

Steve Ahlquist (Jessica’s uncle) offered this analysis:

Should Peter Palumbo step down? If he and David Caprio colluded to profit… at the people’s expense, then yes he should. Certainly everyone is entitled to a presumption of innocence, and no one is sure as of yet that this entire affair involves anything precisely illegal, but the stench of insider politics and profits at the expense of taxpayers hovers over this mess in a way familiar to those who follow Rhode island politics

Given his track record of poor decision making, it would hardly be surprising if Palumbo was ultimately taken down by his own actions. It’s about damn time, isn’t it?

(Thanks to Brian for the link)

The video below, part of The Atheist Voice series, discusses how Jessica Ahlquist wasn’t invited to the unveiling of her (former) high school’s new mural after her lawsuit brought down the old one:

You can read more details about the story here and here.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the project — more videos will be posted soon — and we’d also appreciate your suggestions as to which questions we ought to tackle next!

The other day, I posted about how Cranston High School West, Jessica Ahlquist‘s old high school, was set to put up a new mural in their auditorium, to replace the religious one that Jessica’s lawsuit helped bring down. (As I mentioned, Jessica wasn’t invited to the new mural’s unveiling ceremony.)

The old mural (left) and the new mural

Back when Jessica won her lawsuit in January of 2012, there was no shortage of insulting comments and genuine threats pushed in Jessica direction.

It’s been a year and a half since all that happened. Surely religious people would be a little more level-headed toward Jessica now, right?

Not a chance.

Since the story about the mural unveiling came out, Jessica’s been hit with another onslaught of #ChristianLove. Here’s a glimpse at what she’s had to deal with on Twitter just in the past day or so:













That’s obviously not representative of all Christians, many of whom expressed shame that Jessica was being sent those messages in the name of their faith and offered their sympathy and support.

But what was the thing that Janice Bertino, the co-chairwoman of the mural-donating Class of 1963, said to the Providence Journal?

“The community is healed,” said Janice Bertino. “There is no more controversy.”

Maybe not in Bertino’s mind, but Jessica’s still dealing with the fallout from her bravery.

I asked her how she’s doing and if she’s handling all of this okay, and she wrote this:

While the Twitter war against me is hurtful and petty, I am very appreciative for all of the people who have come online to support me. It’s an amazing feeling when you know so many people have your back.

Damn right we do.

Nearly two years after Jessica Ahlquist fought — and won — a legal battle against her high school over a religious mural, Cranston High School West has finally found a suitable replacement.

Just as a reminder, this is the mural that was in the auditorium for nearly 50 years:

Our Heavenly Father.

Grant us each day the desire to do our best.
To grow mentally and morally as well as physically.
To be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers.
To be honest with ourselves as well as with others.
Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win.
Teach us the value of true friendship.
Help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West.

Amen.

Jessica sued the school (with the help of the ACLU) in April of 2011. This was a constitutional violation with its endorsement of religion and the debate over how to handle the mural divided the community. The school board eventually decided they would put up a fight, a decision that ultimately led to them owing the ACLU $173,000 in legal fees. The pushback and threats from other students also led to Jessica not returning back to Cranston for her senior year.

Yesterday, the Class of 1963 — the group that gifted the school with the original religious mural — gave the school a new one as part of a celebration of their 50-year reunion (as well as another matching banner with the “School Creed”). This one, thankfully, is secular and constitutional:

The new mural (Steve Szydlowski – The Providence Journal)

The mural reads FALCONS (the school mascot) vertically down as an acronym, with each letter representing lessons students should internalize:

Foster an atmosphere of good will and respect

Affirm our efforts to conduct ourselves with honor

Learn from our achievements and mistakes

Choose wisely the paths taken and friends made

Overcome prejudice and embrace diversity

Nurture ourselves, families, friends and communities

Strive for excellence in all our future endeavors

No mention of “Our Heavenly Father.” No mention of the word “Amen.” No reason for another lawsuit.

On Saturday afternoon, before an invitation-only ceremony at the school to unveil the new mural, representatives of the class said the new gift was a way of moving on from the conflict stirred up by the old one, which drew national media coverage.

“The community is healed,” said Janice Bertino. “There is no more controversy.”

80 people were invited to the unveiling ceremony.

Jessica wasn’t on the list.


But from now on, thanks to her bravery, whenever students look at the new mural in the auditorium, they’ll be able to take away valuable life lessons… instead of the school’s official position on the nature of God.

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