Thanks for bringing your displeasure to my blog

Oh my.  Someone by the name of Benito Ramirez is displeased with Jessica Ahlquist and made his thoughts known on a post I made about her.

Never mind that the city of Cranston was founded by Protestants.

Are protestants not bound by the law?

Never mind that this “unsightly” prayer that just “had” to be removed was written by a 13 year old, as a gift nonetheless.

Does that make it legal?

Never mind that the prayer itself portrays the desire to do your best and grow mentally and physically.

Which is why nobody takes issue with those parts.  Stop acting like they do.  It also contains Christian terminology that constituted government entanglement with religion.  That’s the issue.  Nothing else.

Never mind that the prayer challenges an individual to be kind, helpful and honest.

Nobody takes issue with those parts.  Stop acting like they do.  Do you say of thieves, “Never mind that he sent his mom a Christmas card every year” to excuse their thievery?

Never mind that it implies to teach good sportsmanship and friendship.

Yes, it implores people to lose with grace.  It was clearly ineffective.

Jessica Ahlquist stopped believing in God at age 10, and we’re to then assume that she is an atheist.

That’s what we call people who don’t believe in god, yes.

She subsequently, sought to remove a prayer sign several years later from the walls of her school. So other than the 100% ostensibly positive nature of the message, she probably gives issue to the specific words “prayer”, “heavenly father” and “amen”; if you read the sign, you’ll see those are the only words with any religious implications.

First, the message is not 100% positive.  Read the ruling.  It marginalizes a group of citizens in the eyes of the government.  That’s not positive.

Second, yes, those words as endorsed by the government are the illegal part.  There is no grey area here.  This has been affirmed and reaffirmed through decades of court cases.  If the school board in Cranston elects to appeal, they will lose an open and shut case again.

It takes a special type of person to seek to exclude an entirely positive message just because they disagree with less than 5% of the words used.

Jessica and her lawyers offered to drop their case if the board removed the illegal parts.  The school board refused.  Benito implies a deep level of concern about this case, but that concern has clearly been insufficient to move him to read the judge’s decision.

The trouble with Jessica’s quest to remove this prayer from public view is that it completely invalidates her “belief” or lack of belief in God. Jessica fails to realize that by increasingly giving voice to her non-belief by removing messages of belief, simply gives others an alternative reason to choose religion.

She’s not trying to remove the prayer from public view.  They could take it to literally any privately owned building and Jessica would give less than a shit.  The issue is having it on the wall of a government building.

And yes, it riles up the believers who come out in force.  Thankfully, all the angry racket in the world does not make them above the law.

Is she worried that others might choose religion because they read this sign?

No.  She’s worried about government entanglement with religion.  She has said this repeatedly and it’s the grounds upon which the judge granted her victory.  You can keep trying to reach inside her skull and produce some other motivation, Benito, but it’s irrelevant.  The motivation she claims was deemed just in a court of law (and not by a small margin).

If that is the case…

It’s not.  Obviously so.

…then the act is pointless. If there is no God or heaven, then it doesn’t matter what religions other people choose to believe in.

Wrong!  Religions tell people it’s ok to be irrational.  It’s not.  It causes 21st century people to abide by moral standards that should’ve died in their parent centuries, such as discrimination against LGBT people.  What people believe determines their actions – actions that affect their neighbors.  And so the religious beliefs of others are of tremendous consequence to me, to Jessica, and to everybody who believes reason is necessary for a better world.

Therefore the sign is meaningless from a religious standpoint.

Curious, then, why those supporting it seem to be universally religious and invoke religious language.  Equally curious that when offered the chance to keep the banner minus the religious language the school board refused.

The idea that the banner is meaningless in terms of religion is unmitigated bullshit.

Removing it simply accentuates is defining purpose.

Losing with grace?

Is she is worried because it conflicts with her direct sensibilities?

In the sense that it means the government is marginalizing her?  Yes.  That conflicts with my sensibilities as well.  It should conflict with yours, Benito.

Then she is simply an obtuse person who refuses to acknowledge or accept that other people may have an alternative viewpoint to her own.

She realizes other people have different viewpoints.  The problem is that the viewpoint that government buildings can or should hang sectarian religious murals is in conflict with the underlying principles that make America great: that government must be neutral with religion, preserving the rights of Americans to worship without government interference and protecting people from discrimination on the basis of their religion.

Even if Jessica is as obtuse as you claim (even though the judge identified her as an intelligent and articulate young woman), she has managed to grasp this very basic concept where you have not, Benito.

Maybe she should seek to display a message on the walls of her school that she created herself that she can put a positive spin on. Rather than putting a negative spin on something somebody originally created to be positive.

You’re blaming her?  What about the judge who ruled it was illegal?  What about countless courts through the last several decades which produced the precedent that made this ruling an easy one?  It doesn’t matter if the intent of the banner was positive – that doesn’t save it from being illegal.

What’s more, Jessica does not take exception to positive messages.  Once more, she offered the school the chance to keep it by sundering the illegal parts.  They refused.  If keeping the positive message is your aim, Benito, your ire should fall on the school board.  But I’m willing to bet that the “positive message” is useful to you only as a means to keep religion on the wall, legality be damned.

And Jessica is producing a positive message: the government will not endorse one religion over another (or none).  That’s a spectacular message!

People who are disquieted by positive messages can only be expected to try and cause the same feelings of uneasiness and lack of peace in the people around them.

Benito, you are disquieted by the positive message of government neutrality with regards to religion.  This does not cause uneasiness with me.  Combined with your repeated attempts to assign Jessica some motivation beyond her stated motivation and your determination to talk about a situation about which you know very little (having clearly not taken any steps to familiarize yourself with constitutional law or to even read the judge’s decision), your disquiet with a positive message does frustrate and annoy the piss out of me.

So to all those who are outraged by her persistence, understand that, in hindsight, it was simply a foregone conclusion stemming from personal unrest; not about some words on a wall.

Look who’s a psychic!  Ok Benito, I’m thinking of a number between one and a million.  Go!

Jessica has been clear about the cause of her unrest, an unrest shared by atheists the world over as well as the courts that have ruled on similar cases in the past: the illegality of the banner and the marginalization of atheists which the judge ruled were achieved by those words on that wall.

The only people who don’t seem to be concerned with breaking the law or marginalizing a whole class of citizens seem to be the followers of the most loving religion.  Curious, that.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • nigelTheBold, Abbot of the Hoppist Monks

    Then she is simply an obtuse person who refuses to acknowledge or accept that other people may have an alternative viewpoint to her own.

    Wow! What a curious case of massive projection, and lack of self-awareness. Wasn’t Benito’s rant all about not accepting another viewpoint?

  • Cuttlefish

    Were it not for the phrases that make it a prayer
    It wasn’t a prayer at all!
    So how could a reasonable person object
    To a banner that’s hung on a wall?
    Were it not for the fact that it’s labeled a “Prayer”,
    Says “Our Heavenly Father”… “Amen”
    Why, the banner the judge said was going too far
    Would be nothing at all—and what then?
    If it hadn’t been phrased as a prayer (which it was)
    Who could ask—or demand—its removal?
    There are only six words—only six!—and that’s all—
    That prohibit the banner’s approval!
    It’s outrageous the judge’s decision I read
    Says the horrible things that it does!
    Cos the only thing making the banner a crime…
    Is the curious fact that… it was.

    • Rory

      This is by far the most delightful part of my morning yet. Kudos!

  • mariom

    (((IF Benito is around, this is for you)

    Dear Benito,

    My friend JT and I disagree on some things, but in his latest entry I must say that I MUST, MUST agree with almost everything he said and disagree with you. And so we are clear, I say this not as an Atheist but as a Christian.

    What Jessica did was to stand up not just for herself and many like her, but it was also an important, very important issue of separation of church and state. And this must be supported, NOT condemned because it also HELPS people like you and me AND it helps EVERYONE.

    Once we start taking down separation of church and state because some believe this is a ‘Christian Nation’, then what: would we then put up prayers in ALL public schools?. What if I am an Eastern Orthodox Christian and I disagree with one of those prayers? What if I am an Evangelical and I disagree? What if I am a Baptist and I disagree?

    And if you are still not convinced, remember this: does she deserve to be harassed and bullied (she still is!!!!) by others including fellow students, parents, and others in the school because of this? No, she does not! And it makes me specially angry when I hear Christians doing this bullying and these personal attacks on her character.

    I will cannot and will not support you on this. And many of my Christian brothers and sisters will continue to join forces with my Atheist brothers and sisters like JT on this issue. And if by me continuing to do this gets me to be called ‘heretic’, ‘not a real Christian’, or ‘atheist’, then so be it. I say this not only as a Christian, but I say this as a fellow human being. I hope that one day you may change your mind.



    • Aquaria

      Thank you, mariom, for getting it.

      Would that more of your fellow Christians would.

    • Tim Keating

      Not only that, but if 50,000 muslims suddenly moved into that school district and the good christian people of Cranston were abruptly rendered the minority, they too would enjoy the protection of the establishment clause and not be forced by the minority to endure having verses from the Koran plastered all over the walls.

      The First Amendment is a double-edged sword; it restricts you in how you may proselytize your beliefs, but it also protects you from unjust endorsement of the beliefs of others.

      • otrame

        Something like that actually happened to a small town out west. A cult moved several thousand people into town, and voted themselves in. But the one thing they couldn’t do was make the Christian kids pray to the cult leader in public school. Separation of church and state: it’s more important for the religious than it is for atheists.

  •!/Erulora Erulóra Maikalambe

    JT, thank you for continuing to kick ass. You’re awesome at it.

  • TerranRich

    People like Benito really need to read the judge’s decision on the matter. Here, I even highlighted the important parts:

    • Rory

      Yeah, but why bother learning when stupidity comes naturally?

      • kantalope

        No Rory I don’t think the stupid really comes naturally to most people but the stupid is like cheap moonshine: for most people, at first, teh stupid it burns when you try to swallow it (although some people are struck blind). But you mix that moonshine with some woo, a little bit exclusionary politics, and the bitters of hatred and racism and some people find it quite tasty. Then as they become habituated to the stupid, they can drink it in like water and all you can hope is that some day, when they are face down in the gutter of ignorance and sick from too much foxnews — that someone will offer them a critical thought or the helping hand of evidence and that they can begin the long walk back to civilized society. But, alas some folks will have drunk too long and too deep from the stupid well, and for them all we can do…is laugh and point.

  • John Kruger

    Is it so difficult to understand?

    Do not use tax dollars or institutions that use tax dollars to promote your religion. That is against the law. If you can obey the law, promote your religion in any way you see fit.

    The line by line takedown was way more than this Benito character deserves. Pathetic.

    • Tim Keating

      Not only that — and this is something I wish I would see more atheists saying — is that a banner saying “There is no god, so be good for goodness’ sake” would be equally unconstitutional and need to be removed.

    • Old One-Eye

      This line-by-line takedown is more than just “more than Benito deserves”. It’s a thing of beauty.

  • Arancaytar
    Jessica Ahlquist stopped believing in God at age 10, and we’re to then assume that she is an atheist.

    That’s what we call people who don’t believe in god, yes.

    I am to now assume that one plus one equals two.

    • mikeym

      I think is more analogous to one equals one.

  • michaelbrew

    It takes a special type of person to seek to exclude an entirely positive message just because they disagree with less than 5% of the words used.

    The thing that amuses me about this quote is how this person assumes that if a message only contains a small percentage of offensive words then no one should complain. What if the prayer had contained the phrase, “And let’s lynch all the black folks”? That would be about 5% of the words used, too. Would he think it unacceptable to ask for the entire message’s removal if they refused to remove that one phrase?* The percentage of words used to take a positive message and turn it offensive or illegal is pretty irrelevent.

    *I’m assuming Benito isn’t a NeoNazi or something, of course…

    • Rrr

      *I’m assuming Benito isn’t a NeoNazi or something, of course…

      Yes, so let’s give this one the benefit of doubt — even though it is a somewhat suggestive first name his parents gave him.

  • writerJames

    Excellent response, though I suspect Benito’s not a big one for dialogue. He left a verbatim identical comment below one of my posts on Jessica’s case at about the same time, so I suspect he’s not particularly engaging with the specifics of anyone’s content or arguments. (I directed him to Forbidden Snowflake’s response in your own comments thread.)

  • J

    Would the people defending the banner still be defending it if it ended with ‘inshallah’ instead of ‘amen’? Or would they be the ones bringing the court case against it?

  • adameve

    Why do people still believe in practicing religion?

    I mean whats with that?

    Some guy called jesus, was the son of god? Oh and he was born and grew up in the Middle East, and sadly it was before technology. Just hot sun and crazy people.

    I wonder if they hung up that religious banner in the boys urinal all would have been ok?

  • echidna

    It was Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island, who wrote of a “hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world”. He believed very strongly that government had no business endorsing any religion.

    This is the history of Cranston.

    And, however it is remembered, the judgement points out that the wording of the Cranston school prayer is identical to the one that hung in the nearby Bain school, which dates from the 1920′s.

  •!/Erulora Erulóra Maikalambe

    Just six words? Six words are enough to take down a prime minister.