Jessica Ahlquist; Secular Activist Prevails

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The underlying foundation of our nation is the Constitution. Day-by-day and State-by-State, the ideal of the separation of church and State is being eroded by legislators who would cast the Constitution aside in favor of religious dogma. From “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance to “In God We Trust” as the national motto, from religious preferences being carved out in health care to the barrage of proposed bills that would insert creationism in public school curricula, those who stand for a secular America must be ever-vigilant against the attempted erosion of our ideals. The National Atheist Party stands against those who would insert religion into government and serves as a vocal ally to those who stand behind the Constitution’s guarantee to keep the church and State separate.

In part, the National Atheist Party’s platform reads: “In all cases and in all ways, the N.A.P moves for a strict interpretation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. While we do not wish to inhibit anyone’s practice of the religion of their choice, we do not want government to engage in the practice or the perception of engaging in the practice of promoting any one religion.”

The National Atheist Party recognizes and applauds those who have found their voice and are striving to create a secular America for everyone. Some battles are little, some are personal, and some create national headlines. Nonetheless, each person or entity involved in the secular movement is an activist in his or her own way and each can be admired for his or her strength, encouragement and guidance. One such example comes in the form of a brave, 16-year-old girl by the name of Jessica Ahlquist. A young woman who felt her high school was defying the Constitution and promoting Christianity through a prayer banner displayed in its hall, Ahlquist took her fight all the way to the Supreme Court. Last week, she prevailed and won a major battle in the secularist fight to keep religion out of our public schools.

For those who are just now learning about Jessica Ahlquist and her battle to have her school’s prayer banner removed, here is a quick overview of the events leading up to her ultimate victory.

1959. Cranston West High School opens and its student council is asked to select a school prayer along with the school colors, creed and mascot. The prayer read as follows:

Our Heavenly Father.

Grant us each day the desire to do our best.

To grow mentally and morally as well as physically.

To be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers.

To be honest with ourselves as well as with others.

Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win.

Teach us the value of true friendship.

Help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West.

Amen.

1960. The Cranston West High School school board adopts the school prayer and begins reciting the prayer on a daily basis

1962. Following the Supreme Court ruling in Engel v. Vitale, which made it unconstitutional for state officials to create and encourage the recitation of a school prayer in public schools, the first graduating class of 1963 creates banners for the school bearing the school creed and prayer. The banners are then placed on the wall in the school’s auditorium.

April 4, 2011.
After making attempts to work with the school district for several months and advising the school that it would lose any legal battles that result from the banner, the ACLU files a lawsuit on behalf of Jessica Ahlquist  to have the banner removed. Soon after, Ahlquist releases the following statement:

“The prayer’s presence in the school promotes and endorses the ideals of Christianity and the concept of a single “Heavenly Father”. I firmly believe that it should not be on display in a public school and is in direct violation of my and other students’ civil rights. As an atheist, I do not feel included in the message of the prayer; in fact, I feel excluded. And the public hearings that I have attended have added to that feeling– that my views and beliefs don’t count, or have less value than those of the Christian majority. I don’t feel that I or anyone else should have to feel that way at school. The prayer does not belong in a public school and that’s why I have come forward to challenge it.”

January 12, 2012.District Court Judge Ronald R. Lagueux orders a mandatory permanent injunction and calls for the removal of the banner.

January 19, 2012. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) files a formal complaint with the State of Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights alleging “illegal discrimination based on religion”. The foundation later attempts to send flowers to Jessica to congratulate her on the judge’s ruling. Two flower shops in Cranston refuse to deliver the flowers, forcing the FFRF to find a flower shop outside of the city that would make the delivery.

February 1, 2012. The ACLU files to recover costs and fees associated with the lawsuit from the City of Cranston in the amount of $173,000.00.

February 16, 2012. In a contentious meeting where many voiced support for filing an appeal, the City of Cranston votes 5-2 to not appeal the court’s decision. While this ends the legal battle surrounding the banner, the actual removal of the banner is still pending.

Jessica Ahlquist is a living inspiration to all of those who are working for a secular America. If a sixteen-year-old high school student can prevail, so can we! If you believe Jessica is an activist deserving of recognition, vote for her to receive a Shorty Award 

 
Georgia Chapter Leader
National Atheist Party

Photo-(top), courtesy of Gretchen Ertl for The New York Times in an article orginally authored by Abby Goodnough Published by the New York Times, January 26, 2012;Student Faces Town’s Wrath in Protest Against a Prayer
*Feature for USANAP.ORG graphics and image provided by Christopher Thomas


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