Teen atheist wins lawsuit vs. school, religious banner


After a protest led by a young atheist, a federal judge has ordered the removal of an inappropriate prayer banner from a high school auditorium in Rhode Island.

Teen atheist Jessica Ahlquist, 16, a student at Cranston High School West, had campaigned for the banner's removal, joined by the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island. She sued the city of Cranston and its school committee in April 2011, on the grounds that the banner made her feel offended and ostracized. She stated that the school was in violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution's First Amendment, which prohibits the government from promoting one religion over another.

The school argued that the eight-foot-tall banner was intended to serve as a historical memento, reported Reuters.

U.S. District Judge Ronald Lagueux rejected this claim, as the banner's message opened with "Our Heavenly Father," and closed with "Amen." As such, "No amount of debate can make the School Prayer anything other than a prayer," said Lagueux, "and a Christian one, at that."

Furthermore, read the judge's 40-page decision, "No amount of history and tradition can cure a constitutional infraction."

Lynette Labinger, a volunteer attorney for the ACLU who represented Ahlquist, praised the judge for his decision. "Placement of a public government display of a religious message in a place with impressionable young students has not been upheld," she declared triumphantly.

Ahlquist has been an atheist since the age of 10, and remarked that when she first saw the banner, she knew it was wrong, and knew that protesting it was "the right thing to do."

She had subsequently made a Facebook page to support its removal. The page received a number of heartfelt responses to Ahlquist's campaign, including those from people who were given hope and inspiration by her actions.

At that time, she also won the support of secular Americans: The Freedom from Religion Foundation recently honored her with the Thomas Jefferson Youth Activist Award.

She told the Freedom from Religion Foundation, "I've started becoming much more open about my atheism and feeling a lot more confident saying that [I'm an atheist]. Now I'm trying to start a secular group in my school."

When asked who showed her support, Ahlquist responded, "There are kids [who] I've gone to school with for years, and they're now telling me they're atheists and support what I'm doing. That's a great thing."

After the federal court ruling, Ahlquist is now facing a barrage of threats and abuse from angry, self-proclaimed Christians. Many of these threats have hit Ahlquist's Facebook, and some of them are currently under investigation by Rhode Island police.

A report by the Examiner noted that Ahlquist's ability to demonstrate her opposition to religion in a civil and intelligent way, as well as her passion and decision to stand up for the rights of others, ought to mark her as a role model for all young Americans.

Photo: Jessica Ahlquist is honored with the Thomas Jefferson Youth Activist award of $1,000. (Freedom from Religion Foundation website)


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  • Bravo to Jessica for standing up for her beliefs. We need more activism from young students like this.

    Posted by Fifth Column, 02/04/2012 1:13pm (4 years ago)

  • This is a joke, and a big reason why this country is going down hill. I am not religious in any way. This was a banner that has been a staple of this school for decades, a banner that many students probably looked up to, and one that many may have not even given a look to. The fact that one person does not like something should not give enough reason to force the rest of the population to suffer by having it removed. This PC style America and giving into everyone's dislikes and beliefs is ridiculous. People need to learn to ignore things, and stop killing the actual cultural foundation of this country. Kids are growing up thinking all they have to do to get any where in life, is to sue. People need to start realizing how grateful they should be for living in a country where they can openly practice any religion, belief, hobby, and so on that they want. At the same time, they need to start worrying about themselves and their own future, rather than staples of heritage.

    Posted by Brian, 02/02/2012 9:13am (4 years ago)

  • As a Christian, I too applaud the courage and convictions of this young woman. Please don't judge all Christians by the members of the so-called Christian Right for they are, in reality, neither Christian nor right. True Christians do not ignore the multitude of verses in the Christian Bible that command those who claim to be Christian to advocate for the poor and admonish bosses who mistreat and steal the wages of their laborers.

    Posted by Rev. Paul White, 01/23/2012 2:08pm (4 years ago)

  • Isn't it amazing that so-called Christians would be spewing such hate. It is in direct conflict with one of the basic tenets of what they themselves say they believe.

    So typical

    Posted by Ronald Humphrey, 01/20/2012 9:36am (4 years ago)

  • Thanks Jessica for your courage. Luckily America is not ruled by Christianity or you might well have been stoned to death for blasphemy.

    Posted by Rodney Hinds, 01/20/2012 7:21am (4 years ago)

  • We fully support Jessica and her stance to uphold the First Amendment and Jefferson's Wall of Separation of church and state. It is very difficult to do the right thing in the flood of the oppressive religious cacophony that is so pervasive in America. Great job Jessica, we Americans who live abroad in the world applaud you for keeping American sane for us to return to, thank you.

    Posted by April Edwards, 01/20/2012 4:00am (4 years ago)

  • nice work kids 'liberty' is on the way!

    Posted by edward westphal, 01/19/2012 6:57pm (4 years ago)

  • Jessica Alquist is pretty amazing to have become an atheist at age 10, evidence of early and evolving progressive thinking. She is an example of humankind striving to go beyond the antiquated abstract assumptions of blind faith that were created by earlier humans w/in their given level of development. The reactionary attacks of her detractors are not surprising since blind faith does not tolerate being questioned and criticized, thus requiring regression and not a whole hell of a lot of thinking. But that will not stop the further evolving and maturing of humankind.

    Posted by revolution123, 01/19/2012 4:01pm (4 years ago)

  • Unfortunately this young girl received a number of death threats and general verbal abuse after winning her case.

    Posted by blue eyes, 01/18/2012 5:40pm (4 years ago)

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