Ideological Bullies and a Young Woman Standing Up To Them

As the high school specialist at the Secular Student Alliance, I have spent a fair portion of the last year working with Jessica Ahlquist.  I have worked with her not only to help her request that her school stop breaking the law, but also with handling the backlash from Christians who cannot fathom why somebody would think the law is more important than their religion.

If, for some reason, the ripples of Christianity have not yet pissed you off, look into this story.  The short story here is that there may be one high school student in the whole country capable of keeping their head on straight while dealing every minute of every day with the ideological bullying of Christians across America, and thankfully she was in Cranston, Rhose Island at the right time.

Digital Cuttlefish wrote a post on it that sums up the whole sordid mess elegantly.  Here’s an excerpt, but you should all go read the whole piece.

I mean, how can you not laugh, when you compare the pragmatic protest that Jessica represents, with this:

Wouldn’t it be neat if all Christians all over the world united to pray for this teenager. Her name is Jessica Ahlquist. I promise to pray for her daily for the next 30 days. If you are with me pleasecopy this and put this as your FB status. It would also be neat that a girl who tried to take prayer out of school managed to get hundreds, thousands, or even millions of Christian’s to pray for HER.

Yes, let’s all pray for her. And then… wait.

Get right on that, would you?

After that great start, the stupidity just kept coming. It is quite clear that the commenters have no idea about the issues at stake, and they really don’t seem to care. It’s all about her attention-seeking; it’s all about an individual trying to deprive a Christian majority of their rights. For a network that features American flags as prominently as they do, Fox is doing a poor job attracting readers that actually understand the law of the land. There is a history of establishment clause cases; Jessica knows this, and Fox readers do not. And again, do not seem to care. When the occasional commenter brings it up, they are accused of being libtards, aclu lackeys, godless evolutionists (seriously, in the comments on this story, I swear to you, some pinhead actually wrote “if we descended from monkeys, how come there are still monkeys?”).

And then I read this:

I say just take her out to the parking lot, put on some gloves so as not to leave any marks, and just b e a t her selfish little a s s for her. If she tells on you, b e a t her a s s again. What have you got to lose? I can guarantee that throwing bibles at her isn’t going to help.

And this:

She should be removed…PERMANENTLY…Nothing here but a wannabe future aclu w h o r e….

They are talking about a 16-year-old girl. A five foot tall girl.

It turns my stomach.

Jess is the future.  She is a badass.  And she’s taking on a nationwide cabal of thugs and she’s going to win.  This nation, not only the atheist movement, owes her a tremendous debt of gratitude.

  • julian

    put on some gloves so as not to leave any marks, and just b e a t her selfish little a s s for her. If she tells on you, b e a t her a s s again.

    Ah, believers. Self-righteous assholes almost to the man.

    You probably don’t need to hear this from some random guy online, but you’re one brave young woman, Ms. Ahlquist. Taking this this far is more then most people would do. So many of us fool ourselves into thinking injustice isn’t so bad (makes getting through the day seem a little easier) it’s encouraging to see someone who won’t stand for that kind of bs.

  • The Ys

    I see some true Christians are commenting over there.

    Jessica – you rock. I’ve been very disappointed in my country lately, and people like you give me hope that we may yet return to some semblance of rationality and intelligence. I hope your family understands and appreciates how remarkable you are.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/ Ophelia Benson

    Well hey, when in doubt, threaten, bully, and defame. That always works! It’s impressive, too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kevin.colquitt kevincolquitt

    Please give Jessica Ahlquist my regards JT. I joined her facebook page-the one to remove the prayer mural from her high school. She is indeed a courageous young woman. More and more every day that goes by in this wretched, ideological climate (fueled mainly by Christian/Republican thugs and their infinite echo chamber-the thousands of talk and Christian radio stations and the majority of the MSM)I think that there is no hope and then some brave young person comes along and gives us all a glimmer of it!

    Last night, I was reading the comments from articles in the Providence Journal about the trial and they are also similar to the ones above. Lots of nastiness and threats of violence whether, physical or hell and the reporting is so slanted and pathetic that I also feel that journalism is dead. Christians ruin everything they touch!

  • Ayla

    I would love to encounter the people who wrote those comments.

  • Noah the epistemic pinata

    There is a Facebook support group here if anyone wants to post friendly encouragement.

  • Michaelyn

    I’m literally shaking with rage. Jessica is such a kind and genuine person, with maturity well beyond that of your average 16-year-old. I have only met her once and spoken to her briefly at the SSA conference this summer, but it doesn’t take more than a minute of talking with her to know what a good person she is.

    The fact that people feel the need to threaten this girl over her fight to remove a prayer being illegally displayed at her public school makes me indescribably angry and entirely disappointed with mankind.

    But Jessica gives me hope. I know she will win this, and I’m sure she is aware, but with all those threats and awful things being said, there are even more of us standing behind her, ready to defend her cause at any second.

  • Aliasalpha

    Good thing to hear that she’s handling things so well. In fact, perhaps we should describe sticking to your guns despite overwhelming and hateful opposition and doing so with class as “Doing an Ahlquist”

  • carolw

    Ms. Ahlquist is an inspiration to all young atheists. Heck, to all atheists. I’m so impressed by her courage and apparent grace under the pressure from the hateful christians. I know when I was sixteen I would never have been brave enough to take a stand like she has. I foresee great things in her future. Tell her to not let the turkeys get her down.

  • Rebecca

    I’m a Christian and I think that looking at the majority of us from the few that do the wrong thing is misleading. I, as a Christian personally hate it when other Christians shove their religious beliefs down other people’s throats, and they goes for all religious and that includes Atheism. I do not agree that the school should be focused to take down the mural, nor should prayers be forbidden in school. That disadvantages Christianity as a religion. If this was a discussion in terms of something that impacted non-Christians in a negative way then it would be something worth discussing. The responds from Christians on this issue though, is also appalling. Threating physical or emotional abuse towards someone who has a different view on life is wrong also. Jessica should not be focused to pray nor should she be a focus of a public Facebook attack using pray as a defence. However, trying to remove this mural is not a moral correct move on her part either. We live in a world where we must all be tolerant of each other, or hate crimes are just going to get worse.

    • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ M

      How is it intolerant to argue that the government must follow its own laws? If government can privilege no religion over any other (and it can’t, that’s long-established legal precedent), why privilege Christianity by saying it can have public banners and no one else can? Why privilege Christianity by implicitly telling all the students, parents, and teachers that this space is a Christian space? Would you accept a banner that said “There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is His prophet” hanging from the wall of a public school, even if it’d been there for 50 years and no one had ever complained about it before? If not, why is this banner acceptable to you?

      Tolerance doesn’t mean putting up with illegal actions. It doesn’t mean accepting marginalization and discrimination from others. It does mean working within the established legal system to see that full legal protections are offered to everyone. That’s exactly what Ms. Ahlquist did.

    • Glodson

      I do not agree that the school should be focused to take down the mural, nor should prayers be forbidden in school. That disadvantages Christianity as a religion.

      It was illegal. It was flatly illegal. There’s established jurisprudence to attest to this simple fact. It violates the Establishment Clause, which was incorporated to the State level via the 14th Amendment.

      It doesn’t disadvantage any religion. It prevents a religion, any religious position, from being endorsed by a state agency or agent. A teacher, for example, should never force their religious beliefs into a classroom, however relevant they might be. This is important to understanding my next point. Prayer is perfectly legal. Preventing a teacher from leading a class in prayer is another function of the Establishment Clause. This would be an example of a state agency endorsing a religion. This is illegal.

      On the flip side, it is illegal to prevent students from praying own their own violation. Reasonable measures need be made to accommodate a student’s religious beliefs. Be it dietary needs, or just a simple need to say a quick prayer. A school that tries to prevent this will be in violation of the Free Exercise Clause.

      Threating physical or emotional abuse towards someone who has a different view on life is wrong also. Jessica should not be focused to pray nor should she be a focus of a public Facebook attack using pray as a defence.

      She shouldn’t have had to have filed a lawsuit to get the school officials to comply with laws in the first place. She had the law right. Further, these attacks are common in Establishment Clause cases. It is a common tactic to name those bringing the lawsuit in public, as the public harassment they face can lead tot the case being dropped. And the lawyers on the side of the state agency know this. They use the Christian Persecution Complex as a Heckler’s Veto to silence people who bring these lawsuits. The threats and bullying of a sixteen year old young lady is par for the course.

      However, trying to remove this mural is not a moral correct move on her part either.

      Balance fallacy. There’s no middle here from which both sides are wrong. She had the law right. She was within her legal rights. One could say the leaders of the community had a moral imperative to follow the laws, just as everyone should. One could say that the largely Christian Community was blind to the privilege enjoyed by the religion of the majority. The banner was a reminder to non-Christians that they are a minority in the group, that their religious views make them outsiders, and that those who are Christians get to enjoy a perk of ignoring a law.

      We live in a world where we must all be tolerant of each other, or hate crimes are just going to get worse.

      Not only is this a bit of the Balance Fallacy, trying to say both sides have equal merit when they don’t, it is also an example of Tu quoque. That is the idea because one side did something, this excuses the other side side of their crime as well. And a bit of a false equivalence as well.

      Jessica Ahlquist fought for her Constitutional Rights to be recognized. There is no two ways about this. She was right. They were wrong. These laws exist for a reason, to prevent theocratic principals running our governments. Her treatment was disgusting. Adults slandered her and attacked her. They ignored her rights, called her an “evil little thing.” To suggest that she was intolerant because she wanted her rights recognized is wrong. It stinks a bit of blaming the victim as well.

      • Glodson

        Also, holy shit, this was like two years ago.

        • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ M

          Yeah, but Rebecca posted earlier today so I wrote something too. Hey, the debate never ceases, even if the events happened awhile ago.

          • Glodson

            Oh, yea. Me too. If I see a reply, I’ll still respond if I feel I have something to add, or feel like being snarky.

            I am just surprised she dug this on one up as there are more recent postings along the same vein. I’m sure one wouldn’t have to go back to far in just Anne’s postings to find an example of a person, or group, being attacked for expressing their First Amendment rights.

        • Andrew Kohler

          Perhaps she is a newcomer to the blog? When I came along a couple months ago, I (rather self-consciously) wound up commenting on old things. But, along the lines of what M says, no topic comes to mind that isn’t still relevant. (In many cases, I wish they weren’t.)

      • Andrew Kohler

        “It violates the Establishment Clause, which was incorporated to the State level via the 14th Amendment.”

        Glad you pointed out that constitutional principle. I first became aware of this after reading the following statement from Ron Paul in the Congressional Record in a debate over of those hideous and abhorrent proposed constitutional amendments to make the flag a sacred symbol. To his credit, Paul did note that the amendment was idolatrous by using the word “desecration” and made several other very fine points, but I think, alas, that the following quite cancels them out:

        “I also support overriding the Supreme Court case that overturned State laws prohibiting flag burning. Under the Constitutional principle of federalism, questions such as whether or not Texas should prohibit flag burning are strictly up to the people of Texas, not the United States Supreme Court [the reference is to Texas v. Johnson]. Thus, if this amendment simply restored the State’s authority to ban flag burning, I would enthusiastically support it. However, I cannot support an amendment to give Congress new power to prohibit flag burning…..Let me emphasize how the First Amendment is written, “Congress shall make no law.” That was the spirit of our Nation at that time: “Congress shall make no laws.” Previously in the same statement: “So even the laws dealing with fraud and slander should be written by the States. ” (108th Congress, June 3, 2003, on HJ Res 4; Record page H4826)

        A bit tangential, but I feel it’s worth noting that a prominent libertarian Republican thinks (provided he hasn’t changed his mind on this in the last ten years, which I’m inclined to doubt) that our state legislatures can violate our First Amendment rights.

        • Glodson

          People like him seem to still insist that State Nullification should work.

          It won’t.

  • Pingback: Second comment: Rebecca doesn’t think the Cranston banner should have come down.


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