Ahlquist: Fight over Mural, Despite Harrassment, Threats, "Worth It."

School Officials have not decided whether to appeal a federal judge's order for the prayer mural hanging in the auditorium at Cranston West be removed. The auditorium is now locked.

Jessica Ahlquist, the plaintiff in the over a prayer mural hanging in the Cranston High School West Auditorium, said she has endured harassment, threats, and lots of "flak" over her decision to fight.

"It has been a very long and difficult year for me and my family and we're just so glad it has finally been decided," the 16-year-old Ahlquist said this morning at the ACLU's offices in Providence, one day after a federal court judge ordered the banner be removed. "I've had to deal with a lot of harassment and negative flak from people who disagree with my views and opinions, but it's all worth it."

Ahlquist today was dubbed "an evil little thing," a "clapping seal" and a "pawn star" on WPRO, a talk radio station, 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.

"Even if lots of kids in school hate you, even if there's nasty comments on the Internet, it's important to stand up for something you believe in," Ahlquist said. "I could have said nothing but I did what I believe in and I'm glad I did what I did."

It is unclear whether school officials will push to continue the battle over the prayer mural and move to appeal . School Committee Chairwoman Andrea Iannazzi said that the School Committee will discuss the matter next Tuesday, but most likely will not vote on the matter. In the meantime, the auditorium is now locked in order to comply with the ruling and the banner has been covered by a tarp.

The banner was erected in the auditorium at the high school in 1963. It begins with the phrase "Our Heavenly Father" and ends with "Amen," and hung in place for more than 50 years before it became the center of controversy. David Bradley, the author of the prayer and a graduate of the class of 1963, said he was tasked to write the prayer and the creed as a student council member in 1960 at the request of his adviser and the school administration.

The ACLU raised the issue in July of 2010 after a complaint from a parent. In a letter to the district, Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU, wrote "there can be no question that the school auditorium’s prayer display violates a core principle of the First Amendment."

The district refused to remove the banner and instead, held a series of public hearings during which several School Committee members and a majority of residents who attended argued in favor of keeping the banner in place, citing its "historical significance" and highlighting its positive and moral message. The committee ultimately voted to defend the banner and the ACLU promptly filed suit last May.

Ahlquist said she knows that there are other students in the school who agree with her and will probably feel a sense of liberation now that Lagueux's decision is final.

She said she was "thrilled" when she heard about the decision and "wasn't surprised" because "in my mind I knew what we were doing was right and I was sure the judge would understand that."

Lynette Labinger, lawyer for the ACLU, said that the case was a clear-cut case and no argument could be made to refute the fact the mural was a clear violation of the Establishment clause and a constitutional infraction.

"Roger Williams, the founder of the Rhode Island Colony, opposed government sanctioned or mandated expressions of religious significance and [the school district] attempted to reject and trivialize the message to preserve it," Labinger said, noting that school officials aruged there was no religious significance to the mural and emphasized its historic value.

"They attempted to reject and trivialize the message to preserve it," Labinger said.

The case "demonstrated the rancor and divisiveness" that arises when church and state mingle, Labinger said, and the law prevailed in this case "because of our heritage and core beliefs."

Since the decision, Cranston Police said they are , including numerous Twitter posts by some of her classmates declaring that she should be beaten up. Some of the comments could constitute cyberbullying and represent violations of the Safe Schools Act — recently passed legislation that establishes a unified state policy against cyberbullying approved by the Rhode Island General Assembly last year and signed into law by Governor Lincoln Chafee last summer.

The legislation, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Beatrice A. Lanzi (D-Dist. 26, Cranston) defines cyberbullying as "the use by one or more students of a written, verbal or electronic expression" that "causes physical or emotional harm to the student," "places the student in reasonable fear of harm to himself/herself," or "creates an intimidating, threatening, hostile or abusive educational environment for the student."

Yesterday, one Twitter user said "this girl honestly needs to be punched in the face."

Another user bragged "your home address posted online i cant wait to hear about you getting curb stomped you ****ing worthless c***."

And some users using their real names identified themselves as classmates of Jessica Ahlquist, the plaintiff, one saying "definelty laying it down on this athiest tomorrow anyone else?"

Police said they are patrolling Ahlquists' house and the school this weekend.

In a post on the blog RIFuture.org today, Steve Ahlquist, Ahlquist's uncle and founder of the Humanists of Rhode Island, said "To the credit of the Cranston School Committee, when I contacted them with my concerns, they were quick to assure me that the Cranston Police have been investigating these threats since last night, and that they are taking this issue very seriously."

Many Twitter users have deleted their posts but many have been saved permanently in screen shots and in postings on various blogs on the Internet, including this one. *Warning, link leads to content that is unsuitable for children.*

Ahlquist, who did not attend school on Friday, has said that she is determined to return to school next week and show she is not afraid to stand up for herself and her beliefs.

RDT January 20, 2012 at 03:33 PM
Now your bringing up abortion wow, so lets get this straight you want to abort as many children as possible so they dont have to be born will save the tax payers money. how would you feel if your mother had an abortion and you were not born? .
RDT January 21, 2012 at 03:43 PM
Jim Dawson: Amendment 1 - Freedom of Religion, Press, Expression. Ratified 12/15/1791. Note Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. If you read the Constitution you will see there no place where the word church is or the word seperation is. Where does it state in the constituation that religion has it place? It does not.. You need to read the Constitution...
RDT January 21, 2012 at 03:44 PM
It is a city not a town... are you a phd?
padraig January 31, 2012 at 07:08 PM
If you don't like separation of church and state, go move to some other country.
padraig January 31, 2012 at 07:34 PM
@biff_roughneck - when bible-addicted morons and koran-addicted morons and torah-addicted morons sit down and shut up then atheists won't have any reason to return your contempt with our own. how you like that, sparky? Shoe's on the other foot now, isn't it?
padraig January 31, 2012 at 07:35 PM
She's handling the heat just fine, thank you. She is a shining example of standing by one's beliefs and having courage in the face of adversity. I am proud of Jessica.
Stoney January 31, 2012 at 08:16 PM
Except that it never happend. Style over substance. Typical of those who would supplant the secular Constitution and rule of law for a neo-Medieval theocracy.
Ed February 01, 2012 at 02:02 PM
I agree Sheldon, but now that she quit school I think we have to add high school drop-out, now she'll fit right in...
Ed February 01, 2012 at 02:06 PM
There was a post from a law college that if it is appealed the decision would get over turned as it was wrong... Can you believe that???
brian brumbaugh February 21, 2012 at 02:26 AM
and yet these liberals say ZERO, not one word about schools sitting aside private prayer rooms for muslims. The ACLU and liberals are not for seperation of church and state--they are for separation of Christianity and State. They welcome special priveleges for Muslims with open arms. google it muslim prayer rooms public schools ohio wisconsin
Rob Sims February 21, 2012 at 02:41 AM
I lean liberal more than anything else, and public prayer rooms like those also disgust me. No matter the religion, it should not be supported in public schools. However, that does not suddenly make this okay. I would love to see the prayer rooms gone as well, but their existence does not mean we shouldn't support this. If the prayer rooms were brought to court, and the court ruled fairly and correctly, the rooms would be in violation. So - do you have a problem with the prayer rooms and not the banner? Or do you have a problem with both? Or neither?
Robin Lionheart February 21, 2012 at 03:08 AM
Are you referring to this story that Politifact gave a “pants on fire” rating to? “Victoria Taft says Rigler Elementary gave prayer room, rugs, special treatment to Muslim students” - http://www.politifact.com/oregon/statements/2011/jan/23/victoria-taft/victoria-taft-says-rigler-elementary-gave-prayer-r/ Politifact says what really happened was two students asked for permission to pray during their lunch period at Ramadan, and the school (with no resistance) allowed them use an empty office to do so. (And no, no prayer rugs were provided.) If the school maintained a neutral position toward religion, and would allow a similar accomodation for students of other religions, that seems reasonable to me. It’s not like the outright favoritism Cranston West showed with its eight foot mural of an official Christian school prayer.
Theresa March 14, 2012 at 01:43 AM
Really people are proud of her!! WHY!!! Tell you what sweetheart when you give up three months of your summer to be a missionary in a third world country then you have something to be proud of. Do you have any idea how many young adults leave the comfort of their homes, family, and friends to go to a dirty, uncultured country to help the sick and feed the starving and yes spread the word of God. Where is their write up in the paper? I know groups of teens that worked in filthy conditions after tornadoes ripped through hundreds of lives. They gave up their cushy beds, cell phones and warm food to help people in need. You are selfish. A banner on your school wall offended you. BOO HOO. Let’s see hmm a spoiled girl that throws a fit so her and her family can gain attention or young adults who sacrifice to help others... Yeah lets all be proud of the brat that wants her 15 minutes of fame!!! Hey Atheist God is real and one day you will have to answer to him. You can hold your breath and stomp your feet all you want it won’t change it. You won’t change a true Christian’s belief. We know he is real and we are right. We pity you because we know what is in store for you. Yeah the banner is down Oh darn I guess you win ???????
Edward Vidakovic March 16, 2012 at 01:31 AM
Yes, we won. By the way, God isn't real, and you and others who believe like you are becoming increasingly irrelevant. In fifty years, no one will share your delusions. How does it feel?
Joe The Plumber March 16, 2012 at 05:32 AM
Another militant lunatic atheist heard from! And another reason to hate atheists. It is no wonder that you and your cult of crazy people only represent 0.7% of our society. In 2000 years your beliefs have been that unpopular, and in another 50 you will still represent the lunatic fringe.
Robin Lionheart March 16, 2012 at 07:11 AM
There he goes again. Joe The Liar’s been constantly claiming that atheists make up 0.5% or 0.7% of our society, over and over, ad nauseam, week after week. Actually, the study Joe cites for this figure, the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey, says on its front page that: “Based on their stated beliefs rather than their religious identification in 2008, 70% of Americans believe in a personal God, roughly 12% of Americans are atheist (no God) or agnostic (unknowable or unsure), and another 12% are deistic (a higher power but no personal God).” Joe doesn’t like this result, so he cherrypicked a number from Table 3: Asked to identify their religion, a few atheists answered “atheist” (0.7%) (even though atheism is not a religion), but most were among those answered “none” (15.0%). And for weeks, Joe has misrepresented ARIS’s results, vilifying “militant atheist pseudo intellectuals representing that 0.7% of our society” and so forth. Though we’ve exposed his distortion several times, Joe persists in lying with statistics, perhaps hoping we’ll get tired of correcting him. Joe sanctimoniously calls atheists “denizens of immorality”, but his hatemongering disinformation campaign shows how Christianity has not instilled good morals in him. Of course, percentages don’t matter; even if a minority did comprise only 0.7% of our population, we must always respect their civil rights.
Ed March 16, 2012 at 12:35 PM
Edward Vidakovic says "Yes, we won"... I only saw one name listed as the plantiff... If it looks like swine, smells like swine, and acts like swine; it must be swine. After all isn't that what swine do? Take credit for what others do... Have a swine day Edward Vidakovic....
Joe The Plumber March 16, 2012 at 12:57 PM
Lion'sAss really gets very defensive over the fact that there are only 0.7% atheists in our society. Even after she referenced a report and survey conducted by ARIS that puts atheist respondents at 0.7% of our population. I can imagine that it is difficult believing in some silly and unpopular notion that only 0.7% of others in our society share with you, but that is a fact. And atheists are very good at ignoring the facts (ie. God exists) in order to try to make sense of their crazy beliefs.
Robin Lionheart March 16, 2012 at 04:52 PM
@Joe The Liar ◦ “Lion'sAss really gets very defensive over the fact that there are only 0.7% atheists in our society.” No, like I say each time, percentages don’t matter. It wouldn’t matter if it _were_ true; I keep pointing out that it’s not the case just because you keep _lying_ about it, over and over and over. ◦ “Even after she referenced a report and survey conducted by ARIS that puts atheist respondents at 0.7% of our population.” No, it doesn’t; you’re lying again. I invite readers to read for themselves what ARIS really found ( http://commons.trincoll.edu/aris/publications/aris-2008-summary-report/ ). ◦ “And atheists are very good at ignoring the facts (ie. God exists) in order to try to make sense of their crazy beliefs.” That’s your opinion, not a fact. And atheism has no “beliefs” per se; rather, it’s not having a belief in any gods. Your immaterial being with magic wish-granting powers that circumvent the laws of physics is a very extraordinary claim, requiring extraordinary evidence. Absent exceptionally strong evidence, nonbelief is a proper and rational default stance.
Joe The Plumber March 16, 2012 at 07:51 PM
Lion'sAss, Your Reference: http://commons.trincoll.edu/aris/publications/aris-2008-summary-report/ Page5 Table 3 Third line from the bottom. Atheist = 0.7% Please stop blowing smoke over agnostics and other non-comitted groups. The report clearly found Atheists = 0.7%
Joe The Plumber March 16, 2012 at 08:07 PM
The atheists commenting here who are representative of the rest of their cult, are a pitiful group. They spew hatred toward our God, show contempt for all of his teachings, and call all believers stupid for believing in mythology. And then scold all of us who criticize them and think we should give them love and kindness. WOW! They really are dillusional. You are not just confused, unsure or doubtful people. Through your words you have shown yourselves to be God's enemies. You mock Him by calling Him "immaterial being with magic wish-granting powers that circumvent the laws of physics". Be assured He will not appear to you as "immaterial" at the end of your days. You are the enemies of our God. Let there be no doubt about it. He has spoken very specifically about you and he has made it known what his intentions are for you. You are God's enemy and God will deliver his wrath upon you. He has promised you that. In the end it ain't gonna be pretty boys and girls.
Marc Gregory du Pille March 16, 2012 at 10:13 PM
Joe Cult? Since when has not believing in a deity become a cult? However, belief in something that doesn't exist can be called a cult. I also don't believe in God for much the same reason(s) you don't believe in Zeus. "And then scold all of us who criticize them and think we should give them love and kindness."? Aren't you supposed to love your enemies? Who was it who said you should do that? "Dillusional" (sic)? Since when has not believing in stuff that doesn't have any actual testable evidence to back it up constitute a delusion? Conversely, we typically think that people who believe in something which is demonstrably untrue (e.g. believing that they are immortal, that they are Napoleon etc.) are delusional. Mythology? Well if something is a myth (i.e.not true) and yet people still truly believe in it, how much credence should be given to people who base their world-view on it? "Confused", "Unsure", "Doubtful"? People who base their world view on supposed evidence which cannot be verified and whose tenets are hugely contradictory are much more likely to be confused and uncertain than those who do not. "Enemies of God"? How can one be an enemy of someone or something in whose very existence you don't believe exists? I am not an enemy of Yahweh, Dagon, El, Baal, Mithra, Zeus or any other deity. I am an enemy of many of the customs and/or traditions of the followers of such deities, however, which is not the same thing.
Robin Lionheart March 16, 2012 at 10:41 PM
@Joe The Liar Even if you wish to ignore soft atheists, Joe, the data does not back you up. For example, page 8, table 4, first line, reports 2.3% of respondents saying “there is no such thing” as God. Clearly, this study found more hard atheists than the 0.7% who identified their “religion” as “atheist” rather than “none” (or “refused”, for that matter). That’s why, on its front page, ARIS said “Based on *their stated beliefs* rather than their religious identification, 70% of Americans believe in a personal God, roughly 12% of Americans are atheist (no God) or agnostic (unknowable or unsure)...”.
Robin Lionheart March 16, 2012 at 11:19 PM
@JTP Atheism’s a cult like not believing in Scientology is a cult. Joe, according to his Holy Qur’an, you too are God’s enemy and God will deliver his wrath upon you: for your idolatry, your judgment shall be a painful doom forever, and you shall wear garments of fire, and your food shall be to eat from the tree of Zaqqum which shall burn in your belly like molten brass, and you shall have no appeal, for God shall not relax your punishment, and you shall be speechless with despair. (Qur’an 98:1-8, 22:19-23, 44:40-49, 43:74) He has made it known that it shall not end well for you, Joe. It ain’t gonna be pretty. But me, I’m not afraid of Allah’s nor Yahweh’s wrath. Nor of what Osiris’s tribunal will find when he weighs my heart against a feather. Nor the hardships of a four year posthumous journey across Mictlan. Because they’re all ancient myths of primitive peoples.
Joe The Plumber April 25, 2012 at 11:53 PM
And you Lion'sAss.... you are just worm food?
Robin Lionheart April 26, 2012 at 12:26 AM
We already conversed about that in the “Prayer Banner Removed” comments. I refer you back to my response there.
Prof. Frederick Sweet April 30, 2012 at 10:57 AM
Concerning the ACLU's defense of Christians preaching in public parks; "... Students from Belmont, MTSU and Tennessee Tech who hold church services with the homeless in a Metro park will be allowed to continue conducting services after the ACLU of Tennessee (ACLU-TN) successfully negotiated with the Metro Board of Parks and Recreation to revise a policy that unfairly blocked religious groups' regular use of park space. ACLU-TN commended the Board's Tuesday vote to change the language of its policy so that it will no longer prohibit regular religious speech in public parks." See: http://www.aclufightsforchristians.com/ What the ACLU would not defend are the rights of the badly behaved, primitive people making vicious threats against Jessica Ahlquist for insisting the Cranston school board obey the law. Evidently those hostile, foul mouthed individuals slept through Sunday school when they were teaching Jesus' principles of treating people the way you wish them to treat you. His "do unto others ..." principle.
Galileo Galilei September 16, 2012 at 09:53 PM
what is wrong with these people that they feel the need to verbally attack this 16yo girl. Is their religion that weak that they need to kill this girl? Just goes to show what the USA would be like if it was a theocracy
Annabelle October 18, 2012 at 10:52 PM
I don't think any of us wants a theocracy. What religion would we pick? I am a Christian and think it's very sad that atheists are so deeply offended by religion that we have to remove prayers from our school walls. Nobody was being forced to pray, worship or attend a church service. Freedom of speech works both ways. I believe atheists want to push atheism because it empowers them, not because they really care about society. They have no real cause. They believe in nothing but themselves because they have nothing to believe in. It's about pushing an anti-religion agenda and nothing else. If it were about tolerance and acceptance, the prayer wouldn't bother them. They preach tolerance while they try to silence those who disagree with them. Some call it hypocrisy.
Robin Lionheart October 19, 2012 at 06:26 AM
@Annabelle “Nobody was being forced to pray, worship or attend a church service.” Not today, but in 1962, yes they were. Cranston High led students in reciting that School Prayer daily after the Pledge of Allegiance. “I believe atheists want to push atheism because it empowers them, not because they really care about society. They have no real cause. They believe in nothing but themselves because they have nothing to believe in.” In this case, atheists fought for the cause of separation of church and state for the betterment of society, and did not push atheism. “If it were about tolerance and acceptance, the prayer wouldn’t bother them.” That’s backward. If Cranstonites were interested in tolerance and acceptance of non-Christians, taking down a Christian prayer wouldn’t have driven them to such rage. “They preach tolerance while they try to silence those who disagree with them.” Also backward. Jessica wasn’t trying to silence anyone, but many Cranstonites were trying to silence her. “Some call it hypocrisy.” Hypocritically.


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