Out with the old, in with the new – but Rhode Island school snubs teen who forced the change

Out with the old, in with the new – but Rhode Island school snubs teen who forced the change

CRANSTON High School West, the centre of a bitter row and a highly publicised law suit over a 50-year-old religious mural in its auditorium, finally has a secular replacement.


At the centre of the controversy was 16-year-old atheist Jessica Ahlquist who fought — and won — a legal battle against the school over the religious mural.

Alquist was subjected to a barrage of abuse and threats by outraged Christians – and a Rhode Island State Representative Peter Palumbo even went as far as to brand her “an evil little thing”.

Speaking on on the John DePetro Radio Show, a Rhode Island talk radio programme, Palumbo compounded his offensive remark by claiming that:

She is being coerced by evil people.

Peter Palumbo

Christian blowhard Peter Palumbo

This implied that atheists and other secular Americans are “evil”.

A backlash immediately followed. Palumbo’s wholesale slander of an entire community was  challenged by atheists, freethinkers and other secular Americans.

Palumbo was furious because US District Court Judge Ronald R Lagueux had ordered the “immediate removal” of the prayer banner in 2012.

Those who slammed Palumbo said his remarks perpetuated a pernicious and ignorant stereotype of atheists and other secular Americans. His remarks were offensive, and should not be tolerated.

To insult and demean a 16 year old girl acting in good faith is in itself a despicable act unworthy of any adult, much less an elected official. But to insult and demean an entire community is simply intolerable.

The threats she received, including those from fellow students, made it impossible for Jessica to return to Cranston for her senior year.

Last Saturday, 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 is secular and constitutional.

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

At the 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. Eighty people were invited to the unveiling ceremony.

Jessica wasn’t on the list.

The Friendly Atheist commented:

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.


Since her court victory, Jessica Ahlquist has been giving talks all over America about her lawsuit. She is pictured here speaking at the Reason Rally in Washington DC last year. She also was among several winners of the Hugh M Hefner First Amendment Awards.

18 responses to “Out with the old, in with the new – but Rhode Island school snubs teen who forced the change”

  1. Pete H says:

    Good to see this finally sorted out, with a healthier, more useful and constitutional message now in place.

    Miss Ahlquist is a spectacular young lady, and can be justly proud of what she’s achieved with her courageous campaign.

  2. Broga says:

    Palumba, as he squats there, has the characteristics of so many Christians (especially in the USA); bigoted, cruel, vindictive, ignorant, smug and a fantasist who believes in the fiction of his hopelessly errant inerrant bible. In his ivory tower constructed of religious fantasy he will be amazed that he attracts criticism.

    In passing: I hear the PPC (Pope’s Broadcasting Corporation) spread the news this morning, without a word of surprise of challenge, of Frankie’s latest wheeze to garner support. Ready? Deep breath! He wants to make G.K. Chesterton a saint. Wasn’t G.K.C. anti semitic? Perhaps in the context of the history of the Vatican that doesn’t matter.

  3. Matt Westwood says:

    “Overcome prejudice and embrace diversity” …

    Let’s just hope they now start to live by this new aspirational motto.

    As for Jessica, not being invited to the unveiling, I hope she just shakes the dust from off her shoes and goes to the many other places in the world where she would be more than welcome.

  4. Pete H says:


    Interesting co-incidence that the person who seems to have first suggested Chesterton for sainthood was named Ahlquist!

  5. Stuart H. says:

    G. K Chesterton? J. K. Rowling would be a better bet.

  6. sailor1031 says:

    I don’t recall that Chesterton was particularly antisemitic for his times. But what miracles did he perform? Perhaps the “Father Brown” stories can somehow be spun into a miracle of english literature?

    The true antisemite was that friend of Chesterton’s, Hilaire Belloc a thoroughly nasty faux intellectual who actually wrote a booklength antisemitic tirade “The Jews”….. He’ll probably be Frankie’s next target for beatification.

    Still, WTF? If a thoroughgoing bigot like JP2 can be declared a saint it would seem that sainthood isn’t what it was supposed to be in my young catholic-kid days.

  7. David Anderson says:

    As Jessica is still receiving vile and digusting messages that even include her family, it would appear that the faithful are having a hard time following the lessons that they have written.

  8. Broga says:

    @sailor1031: I may have confused G.K.C. with Hilaire Belloc. It’s a long time since I read either. If I’m mistaken, and not being Frankie, I am able to admit to a mistake. Thanks.

  9. Pete H says:


    From the BBC News web site:

    The campaign has provoked a backlash from some quarters, with Melanie McDonagh writing an article in the The Spectator headlined Why G K Chesterton shouldn’t be made a saint?

    She argues that while he should be considered a great writer, his views on Jews outlined in The Problem of Zionism “make him unapt for sainthood”.
    The Right Reverand Peter Doyle. Bishop Peter Doyle has appointed a priest to look at Chesterton’s case

    In the pamphlet, Chesterton argued that Jews cannot be loyal to a country because their higher loyalty was to fellow Jews, Ms McDonagh said. His views, she said were “repugnant”.

    Columnist, author and television talk show host Michael Coren, who has written books on the author, said the issue of Chesterton’s anti-Semitism was complex.

    Mr Coren said the author was “extremely anti-Hitler and… not anti-Semitic as he had Jewish friends”, but he admitted that some comments he made were “hurtful”.

  10. Broga says:

    @Pete H: Much appreciated. I must have retained some residual impressions. But what about the miracle? The silliness of all this saint stuff is beyond ridicule.

  11. L.Long says:

    How can GKC be against Hitler and still be a good catlick? Hitler was a very good catlick! Just look at his record…
    Ruled much of Europe………….Ruled much of Europe
    Killed lots of innocent people…inquisitions & crusades.
    Killed lots of Jews…………..inquisitions & crusades.
    Said he believes in jesus & god..believes in jesus & god
    Had crazy bigoted dogma……….Has crazy bigoted dogma
    Had god & cross on all their stuff….god & cross on all their stuff

    What’s there not to like about Hitler as a catlick???

  12. L.Long says:

    Being a ‘SAINT’ isn’t about being a nice friendly person.
    Its about upholding the bigoted Dogma of the RCC against all odds.
    It helps to have some made up fairy tales about your actions but they can be invented at any convenient time.

  13. Trevor Blake says:

    We need more progressive moderates like Representative Palumbo. Why, if he were a Bible-believing sort of Christian he would carry out the injunction found in Hosea 13:16. “Samaria shall bear her guilt, because she has rebelled against her God; they shall fall by the sword; their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open.” Because atheists are, as he said, evil according to Psalm 14:1. “To the choirmaster. Of David. The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good.”

    Yep, that’s the clear explanation of why this atheist has been working with disabled people and homeless people for decades. Such abominable deeds!

  14. Pete H says:

    I see Miss Ahlquist is receiving some more of that wonderful christian love in the wake of the news of the new banner.

  15. David. P says:

    I really don’t understand the big issue here? Has everyone forgot what Tolerance is? Or is tolerance supposed to mean “my way or the highway”. This mural, although religious, is a part of the school’s heritage and really, if it was such a big deal, why not put a little plaque beside it saying “this is the work of the Christian Community of Cranston High School West. Then, to balance it out, have a second secular mural be commissioned. And yes, it would look like Christians were being favoured over everyone else but again, I’d like to see it as history of the school. Had this mural been painted yesterday, I would have been really upset, too. But this mural is 50 years old. It is history, and it was destroyed because… I don’t know why. I’m an atheist and I didn’t find it offensive. I just try and respect and preserve history so we understand it better for years to come but by all means, we should remove all religious iconography from all government and public institutions. Paint over the murals, remove the statues and any other form of artwork. It’s not like we’ve seen that before like when the Christians destroyed art in Constantinople or Jerusalem because it did not adhere to their views. But we’re not Christians, guys. We’re atheists! We’re so much more advanced and loving and respecting of others.

    And also as a side note, I like how in the article it mentions that Christians like to imply that all atheists are evil (Which in my opinion is offensive. I don’t like being called evil for holding a separate view of the world) but in the comment section all I see are very broad generalizations of Christians which again, are totally okay because… uhh, well I’m sure you have your reasons. Just saying though, when I became an atheist I thought I had left the hypocritical masses that was my congregation but it seems I’m surrounded by even more hypocrites. You should all be ashamed to consider yourself free-thinkers. You’re just as narrow-minded as religious people. When you promote peace between all people regardless of their beliefs I might just change my mind.

  16. Robster says:

    Ahh, good ol’ Christian love. Do these deluded twits have a dictionary? If they’re able to read, they could pop it open and look up “love” and learn something. If they can’t read,Google it and get a friend to read the results, they may actually learn that what their god/baby jesus/holy spook are said to offer in no way looks like love.

  17. Maggie says:

    “Overcome prejudice and embrace diversity”

    Oh the fucking irony!