Jessica Ahlquist Wins her Lawsuit: Prayer Banner in Public School Comes Down (Updated 1/13/2012)

Jessica Ahlquist is a typical teenager.  She has a twitter, worries about the Prom, and is an atheist.  Which doesn’t always work out so well in the strongly-catholic Rhode Island.  The reason? The prominently-displayed School Prayer that hangs in the halls of Cranston High School West; her high school.

“When I saw it there, I knew it didn’t belong,” Ahlquist said. “And every time that I saw it, it was a reminder that my school wasn’t doing the right thing and that my school didn’t necessarily support me and my views.”

While for people who take for granted that a public school should be allowed to posit a prayer in whatever God they want, causing division and isolation with students, it is a problem.  A problem that Jessica saw, and was willing to do something about.  A Constitution problem.

Jessica first went to the administration and asked that the prayer be taken down.  The administration ignored her request.  She then got the ACLU to call, pleading with them to not engage school funds to fight a battle they would lose.  The administration wouldn’t budge.  And thus, Jessica, at age 16, became the plaintiff in a lawsuit, represented by the ACLU, against the school in an open-and-shut constitutional violation.

Thats where things get bad.  Jessica was ostracized, facing criticism from her classmates, anonymous internet attackers, and even the adults of the city.  JT Eberhard points out the irony of painting someone fighting for the Constitution as “the bad guy.”  Instantly, because of her desire to have all views respected, and no one religion trumpeted as the ‘right one,’ Christians of the town began to show their true colors.  From the Cranston Patch:

Ahlquist… was dubbed “an evil little thing,” a “clapping seal” and a “pawn star” on WPRO today by state Rep. Peter Polombo. Students have threatened to beat her up. An anonymous commenter posted her home address on the Providence Journal’s Web site last night. Readers on this website and others that covered the story have called her “a little snot,” a “witch” and accuse her of seeking attention.

State Representative Peter Polombo.  Calling a child, a teenager an “evil little thing” for standing up for her civil liberties.  Really?  Meanwhile on Twitter, as news of the win spread, the religious began to show up:

The reason today was such a big day is the court ruled in favor of Jessica and the ACLU.  The judge ordered an immediate removal of the banner, and for the Cranston School Board to pay all legal fees, stating,

While all agree that some traditions should be honored, others must be put to rest as our national values and notions of tolerance and diversity evolve. At any rate, no amount of history and tradition can cure a constitutional infraction. The Court concludes that Cranston’s purposes in installing and, more recently, voting to retain the Prayer Mural are not clearly secular.

In response to the torrent of threats levied at Jessica this afternoon, atheists across the nation mobilized on twitter, and began shouting their support for Jessica, who has now been invited to speak at the Reason Rally in March.  She’s an amazing speaker, for a 16-year-old, and has endured more than most atheists do in their entire lives.  She is the Harry Potter of Atheism, and I support her, for one, and you should too.

UPDATE 1/13/2012: The blog site here has an additional set of threatening tweets (as well as facebook posts) Jessica received.  Remember this is a 16-year old girl who began by gently requesting the administration take down an overtly Christian prayer banner.  Reproduced, with permission (in the linked article).  Please do not attack these people; Report them.  They need no more attention for their inhumanity.

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  • Dave

    “And you should too…” and you criticize these guys for trying to indoctrinate people. Let it go.

    • http://CoffeeShopAtheist.com/blog Patrick

      What? I’m suggesting that someone standing up for the constitution despite incredible opposition makes a decent hero. That’s not indoctrination; it’s humanity. Do you hate Dr. MLK Jr. too? If people suggest (as they will Monday) that he was a hero for standing up for people, do you think its the indoctrination of our nation to celebrate his life?

    • http://twitter.com/CoboWowbo Cobo Wowbo

      It is just a suggestion. If he would’ve said, “support her or suffer eternal torture”, I would agree with you.

  • http://twitter.com/CoboWowbo Cobo Wowbo

    Patrick, I would put their names in plain text, next to the image of the hateful, spiteful thing they said. That way, Google would be able to pick up their names, and would be able to return this page in the future if someone does a Google search for that person’s name (say..a prospective employer…or a future boyfriend/girlfriend). I think the world has the right to know who these people are and what they stand for.

    Just a suggestion.

  • Rlcj

    This is a PERFECT example of why I left religion

  • whereisthelove?

    they put a bad name for the entire religion. but i guess there are no true Christians out there anymore. i’m a christian but i’m not mad at this girl.. that is her belief i support her 100% .. these people are just pathetic.