Brave student wins prayer mural lawsuit

AS prayer signs go, the one hanging for over 50 years in the auditorium of Cranston High School West in Cranston, Rhode Island, was not as cheesy as most. But its presence was in clear violation of church-state separation – and, thanks to the action of a brave humanist student, the school authorities were ordered by a judge this week to remove it.

'Despicable little monster' Jessica Ahlquist and the prayer mural she made vanish

Jessica Ahlquist’s dad Mark filed a lawsuit on her behalf, which resulted in a ruling by US District Court Judge Ronald R Lagueux that it should be removed immediately.

American Humanist Association leaders, according to this report, applauded the ruling. AHA’s Executive Director Roy Speckhardt said:

We are so proud of Jessica for fighting to protect church-state separation. She recognised injustice, stood up for what is right, and persevered in the face of harassment. She fought for the rights of non-believers and religious minorities and is an example for everyone.

The AHA ran a full-page newspaper advertisement in Cranston during the recent holiday season that stated Bias Against Atheists is Naughty, Not Nice, because of the harassment Ahlquist experienced at the hands of some  fellow students and community members during the lawsuit.

Details of her harassment are contained in this report, which reveals that:

The Internet, which in recent years has become a popular outlet for teenage bullying, has once again provided a forum for particularly discriminatory comments. One specific commenter exclaimed: It was by the grace of God that this despicable little monster of a girl has the freedom to express her anti-beliefs and nationally broadcast her extreme tolerance: the atheist way. I try really hard to be a good Christian, but this is just too much. This is what happens when kids don’t get discipline, and when parents are deadbeats. Boo these people, I hope they lose their homes.

Ahlquist, not letting comments like these bring her down, responded:

This one actually made me giggle.

Noted Monica Miller in Humanist Network News:

It is Ahlquist’s grace in the face of this type of public intolerance that has made her such a hero in the eyes of other humanists.

Judge Lagueux stated in the ruling that the “guiding principle” of the First Amendment to the US Constitution is “government neutrality” and that:

No amount of debate can make the School Prayer anything other than a prayer, and a Christian one at that.

The judge also noted that the open meeting conducted to get public input about Ahlquist’s request to remove the banner “at times resembled a religious revival.” In addition, Lagueux didn’t give weight to the claim that the mural should stay for traditional reasons – having been erected in 1959 – stating that:

No amount of history and tradition can cure a constitutional infraction.

And he said of Jessica:

Plaintiff is clearly an articulate and courageous young woman, who took a brave stand, particularly in light of the hostile response she has received from her community.

Bill Burgess, attorney and legal coordinator of the AHA’s  legal arm, the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, added:

The ruling by the District Court again confirms something that by now should be crystal clear to government officials: school-sponsored prayer has no place on the walls of a public school. The court clearly noted that the prayer mural’s long-standing nature, considered a school tradition by some, did not overcome its unconstitutional nature and justify its continued presence.

The AHA said it was proud to play a role in Ahlquist’s future by working with Hemant Mehta, blogger for the popular website The Friendly Atheist, to manage an education trust fund to help pay the cost of her future education. The Scholarship for Jessica Ahlquist account has already raised over $3,000 from more than 100 contributors.

Hat tip: Adam Tjaavk

22 responses to “Brave student wins prayer mural lawsuit”

  1. AgentCormac says:

    Ahlquist’s local newspaper, the Providence Journal, is running a couple of polls asking whether the Judge was right to find in her favour and if state and church should be more or less separated. You can lend your weigh to them here.

  2. Barry Duke says:

    Thanks for that, AgentCormac. I have voted and noted that opinion is running very much in favour of the judge’s decision – 87 percent when I looked a minute ago,

  3. Daz says:

    That poll’s been pharangulated; that’s why it’s so pro the decision. It was about 50/50 when PZ posted about it yesterday evening.

  4. Atheist4Life says:

    She is a very brave girl. On the Friendly Atheist blog it looks like some Christians don’t like the fact that she’s won and posted some hateful messages (and even threats) towards her.

    Where are the sane Christians in all this standing up for her? Are they too chicken shit to defend her or are they deep down on these lunatics side?

  5. Graham Martin-Royle says:

    Isn’t it amazing how many Americans believe in breaking the law when it comes to religion? They knew it was illegal, they knew they would lose the court case but they still insisted upon their right to break the law. Why? Because it’s christian, that’s why. If it had been a prayer specifically to another deity, they would have been demanding it be taken down, but it was a christian prayer so they decided that the law no longer applied. And now, can’t you just feel the love coming from all those good christian folk.

  6. Matthew says:

    Regarding the hatemail/abuse she received: I find it laughable that in defence of the very prayer that Ahlquist is campaigning against, they violated almost every piece of advice the prayer itself suggests … insofar as the abusers are concerned, it doesn’t seem to be doing them any good in the first place!

  7. remigius says:

    Er, doesn’t that prayer ask the wizard to help them be good sports and to take defeat graciously.

    The hateful and abusive attacks against Jessica would suggest that either they hadn’t actually read it, or are wilfully choosing to ignore it. Just like their Bible.

  8. Laurence says:

    Why didn’t they just get rid of the first line and final word of the mural? It would’ve saved a lot of fuss.

  9. Pete H says:

    What a fantastic young lady, good to see someone so young so committed and courageous in standing up for her beliefs in the face of the oh-so-predictable US religious ignorance/bigotry.

    I’ve donated to her college fund too.

  10. remigius says:

    Some of the comments by Christians on social networking sites are truly nauseating…

    So much hatred directed against a teenage girl who was standing up for everyone’s constitutional rights.

  11. Graham Martin-Royle says:

    Yeesh, Reading the comments on that site is just amazing. Do these people realise what they’re saying, have they really thought about it at all? I wonder if some of the posters there should be allowed out on their own, they’re obviously very sick people.

  12. AgentCormac says:

    That’s what I really like about xtians, remigius – so full of love and compassion.

  13. Atheist4Life says:

    The way I see this is Christians are showing their true colours in this affair. While I imagine there are Christians who may be disgusted by the comments along with secular Christians the majority of them will not speak up to defend this girl. The staff in that school are breaking US law by putting that prayer in a state funded school yet because they are Christians they believe they are above the law due to their pathetic book of myths. Going as far as revealing the girl’s address show just how low and pathectic these sick fucks are.

  14. JohnMWhite says:

    From the JesusFetusFishsticks article’s comments:

    In the first comment we have this – “It appears that is what Christianity is really about and they actually get it from their Bible. Hate one another? Hate your enemy? Slap the other cheek? I think I read all those in your bible somewhere.”

    This is the very first reply to it, from a Christian: “Not my bible”. This person then goes on to say “I have a relationship with my Savior and I follow the word of God”.

    Good grief…

    Anyway, this young woman is of course incredibly brave and should be commended for sticking her neck out, though it pains me that she should have to have ovaries of steel to deal with the inevitable fallout from her supposedly loving Christian community around her. Why should somebody need to steel themselves to point out simple reality? That banner was a prayer in a public school. It said “school prayer” on it. It violates one of the governing principles of the country that school is in. I don’t believe an old prayer printed on a wall is a huge deal but she did nothing wrong by pointing out that it should not be there, and to respond with such barbarity and vitriol to someone for doing so completely undermines any attempt at claiming some kind of moral high ground. It makes them look like thugs and bullies to such an extent it exasperates me that they do not appear aware of it.

  15. Stonyground says:

    The Constitution that she is sticking up for was put in place to keep such thugs and bullies in check. What they don’t understand is that they can behave like thugs and bullies while they are in the majority. Even the US wil grow out of Christianity eventually and then these people will be in the minority and glad of the protection that their constitution affords them.

  16. northern light says:

    “I try really hard to be a good Christian, but this is just too much. This is what happens when kids don’t get discipline, and when parents are deadbeats. Boo these people, I hope they lose their homes.”

    Whatever happened to ………turning the other cheek.

    Hope this young girl grows up to be president ….but not likely.

  17. Buffy says:

    They’re all about peace and love until you challenge their privilege. Then they’re all about beating you into submission for daring to exist.

  18. Newspaniard says:

    @Daz, sorry, can’t find “pharangulated”, am I being thick?

  19. Barry Duke says:

    Daz meant “Pharyngulated

  20. raulito says:

    Where do these people get the idea that this is a Christian nation? It is secular and the Founding Fathers wanted to keep it that way.
    I commend that girl for her courage, it is far too often that we let these Christianists slide and they will continue their quest for domination…unless they meet our opposition head on, we have to be assertive and we should no longer handle them with silk gloves…they should know they are opposed or they get emboldened by our lack of opposition.


  21. D. Austin says:

    “No amount of debate can make the School Prayer anything other than a prayer, and a Christian one at that.”

    Christian prayers are the worse according to the unbiased judge.

    The woman was technically correct, that doesn’t make her right.

    That prayer was historic and artistic, a vision to an earlier time
    and a simpler and more ignorant age, or so we think.

    It’s Like the Taliban blowing up those Buddas.
    It not that they’re so offended, but pissing other people off gives them the giggle.

  22. […] UPDATE: Teenage atheist Jessica Ahlquist, who won law suit that compelled her school to remove a tacky, unconstitutional, prayer thingummy from a hall wall continues to be the target of Christian rage. Jennifer […]