She is 16, the daughter of a firefighter and a nurse, a self-proclaimed nerd who loves Harry Potter and Facebook. But Jessica Ahlquist is also an outspoken atheist who has incensed this heavily Roman Catholic city with a successful lawsuit to get a prayer removed from the wall of her high school auditorium, where it has hung for 49 years.

A federal judge ruled this month that the prayer’s presence at Cranston High School West was unconstitutional, concluding that it violated the principle of government neutrality in religion. In the weeks since, residents have crowded school board meetings to demand an appeal, Jessica has received online threats and the police have escorted her at school, and Cranston, a dense city of 80,000 just south of Providence, has throbbed with raw emotion.

State Representative Peter G. Palumbo, a Democrat from Cranston, called Jessica “an evil little thing” on a popular talk radio show. Three separate florists refused to deliver her roses sent from a national atheist group. The group, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, has filed a complaint with the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights.

“I was amazed,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the foundation, which is based in Wisconsin and has given Jessica $13,000 from support and scholarship funds. “We haven’t seen a case like this in a long time, with this level of revilement and ostracism and stigmatizing…”

For Jessica, who was baptized in the Catholic Church but said she stopped believing in God at age 10, the prayer was an affront. “It seemed like it was saying, every time I saw it, ‘You don’t belong here…

Last March…the school board voted 4-3 to keep the prayer…The Rhode Island chapter of the A.C.L.U. then asked Jessica if she would serve as a plaintiff in a lawsuit; it was filed the next month…

Does she empathize in any way with members of her community who want the prayer to stay?

“I’ve never been asked this before,” she said. A pause, and then: “It’s almost like making a child get a shot even though they don’t want to. It’s for their own good. I feel like they might see it as a very negative thing right now, but I’m defending their Constitution, too.”

Though the Constitution and the Bill of Rights have been at the core of our national standards for centuries one may hope that Cranston, Rhode Island catches up sooner rather than later.



  1. NewFormatSux says:

    Bobbo, it’s not hospitals I’m talking about here, though that also happens. It is any Catholic institution, and the health insurance they provide for their employees. They are no longer allowed to buy insurance that covers things that go against their faith.

    Classical liberalism was concerned with the freedom to hold and practice beliefs at odds with a public consensus. Modern liberalism uses the power of the state to impose liberal values on institutions it regards as backward.

    • bobbo, the pragmatic existential evangelical anti-theist and social critic says:

      NFS–that is a subtle nuance. Under whatever guiding principle you wish, I think the argument can be made either way that “a religious organization” should or should not be able to provide services/benefits one way or the other. There are pros and cons to all we do and there is an ever evolving/entangling mix of “religion” with other aspects of life. In this case religion with employment. Two different things. While a religion might be given more leeway to exercise its discrimination as it is wont to do, that is balanced by the conflicting obligations of adding to this the employment obligations.

      You can serve god or mammon. Not often both.

  2. Corey says:

    Atheist Fundamentalism is still Fundamentalism

    All Fundamentalists are wrong

    • bobbo, the pragmatic existential evangelical anti-theist and social critic says:

      If there is no god, how is atheist fundamentalism wrong?

      If there is or isn’t a god, how are any fundamental religions right?

      Fuzzy/incorrect thinking.

    • Dr Spearmint Fur says:

      Corey, truer words were never said. Fundamentalism is a blight.

      • bobbo, words have meaning says:

        Corey didn’t say fundamentalism was a blight and I don’t think that is what he meant. He meant what he said: they are “wrong.” What is wrong about the truth, unknowable as it may be?

        And while everything is definitional, especially the distinction between/among words, some word venn diagrams have no overlap.

    • Johan says:

      Atheism lacks dogma, so fundamentalism is probably the wrong word. And this girl is right. The US constitution agrees with her.

  3. Corey says:

    Fundamentalists – as in acting on your beliefs to matter what is true, reasonable or sane – is wrong

    • Post #1- bobbo, the pragmatic existential evangelical anti-theist says:

      You already said that Corey. so now tell us how acting on atheist fundamental beliefs is wrong? You know, like I do every day as do many many religious types because you can’t tell the difference. Being an atheist is like that.

      What is bouncing around your empty little head?

      Give us a clue?

      Give a SPECIFIC EXAMPLE 0f how acting on atheist fundamental beliefs is wrong. I’ll bet you a bible to a pile of used beer bottles that what is “wrong” has nothing to do with atheism.

      Prove me wrong, or yourself a fool.

      Go>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

  4. NewFormatSux says:

    Bobbo, you’ve just established my point. The Obama admin is making churches either drop their services or violate their beliefs. Any church organization that the government deems is not religious enough, if they hire any employees, are covered under the new regulations. Note that the exemption for what the administration considers an actual wholly religious organization is up to the administration, and they could eliminate that exemption entirely. The current state is that they are going after whatever religious groups which they consider backwards.

    • Post #1- bobbo, the pragmatic existential evangelical anti-theist says:

      NFS–so what is the “real” problem? Let me guess: the worst case scenario==some church hires a woman with a healthy libido and she uses abortion as birth control? Whats the problem? Why should an employer be allowed to interfere in the healthcare services its employees received? ALL THEY HAVE A RIGHT TO is the quality of services delivered to the employer during the work relationship.

      If the woman is devout and chaste, whats wrong with having abortion services covered that she will never use?

      What is the issue here except some f*ckwads trying to coerce the FREEEEEEEEE choices of other people by LORDING the need of a paying job over them?

      Do you love FREEEEEEEEDOM or not?

      • NewFormatSux says:

        There you go again. You object to the church, so you want to force them to shut down their services unless they do what you want. That is the violation of religious freedom. People are willing to provide freedom of worship but not freedom of religion.

  5. NewFormatSux says:

    The church is the one buying the health insurance.

  6. bobbo, the pragmatic existential evangelical anti-theist says:

    Being Totally Correct that this NEW FORMAT SUCKS, its sad to see you evidencing the stupidity of those of equal faith operating far below your ken. Lets parse:

    There you go again. /// Yes, I’m boringly consistent.

    You object to the church, // I do, but haven’t here.

    so you want to force them to shut down their services /// No, that becomes their choice.

    unless they do what you want. /// I certainly hope you aren’t over generalizing a long long fully developed and followed line of Supreme Court Cases both liberal and conservative with “me.” That wouldn’t be honest.

    That is the violation of religious freedom. /// No its not.

    People are willing to provide freedom of worship but not freedom of religion. /// The distinction you highlight is not clear to me at all.

    The church is the one buying the health insurance. /// Correct and the Church is “free” to buy the whole pig or not pig at all. What is good for the church is good for the pigs. “The Church” however you might want to parse it is free to worship as it wishes. Excommunicate sinners, condemn abortionists to hell, pray for the sinner or for their immediate exit to hell==but back in the secular world, if they want to buy insurance, they get to buy insurance. Insurance: covering all the health services whether you like them or not.

    Whats the issue here? Any “religious” person will get the FREEEEEEDOM to follow their faith, or avail themselves of MODERN SCIENCE. Its a basic logical/emotional/catechism error to equate the prejudices of man with the dictates of God. Where in the bible does it command that one not have full health insurance? Stop being a stooge. You and the Church can WORSHIP all you want==but you only get to bully and coerce your sheeple just short of interfering in what healthcare they can finally choose for themselves. A pox on you. Go ask your minister if you can get the cure.

    Again: what do you have against FREEEEEEEDOM? Freedom: a continuing delicate balance of all the competing rights we have. Where are the lines to be drawn. What is a right vs a preference? Many general rights end where my specific nose starts.

    Ain’t FREEEEEDOM a bitch?

    Yea, verily.

  7. NewFormatSux says:

    So you are forcing them to buy insurance to which they object instead of the insurance they would like to buy. Yes, both are available now. But due to rules passed by Obama, only one will be allowed. That is where you are interfering with their religious freedom.

    • bobbo, the pragmatic existential evangelical anti-theist says:

      NFS==ok, for the LAST TIME: separate what is “religious” with what is secular in nature. What you are doing is using the claim of religion to slop over into what should be non-religious personal choices.

      Big distinction between forcing one to have insurance for abortions verses making you have the abortion. DO YOU SEE THAT DIFFERENCE?

      It goes to who/what level has the freedom? The church or each individual person? I do favor the individual person have as many choices as possible. You start with no abortions and rapidly move to no birth control, then no homos, then no certain races, then no services on days of worship and all the other silly nonsense anyone given the power to do so will exercise just because they can.

      Yes, there is a certain notion of “freedom” in not having to offer insurance, and in not having to offer insurance with whatever restrictions you like, but there is another kind of freedom in not allowing religions to force those limitations onto their devoted.

      And another kind of freedom that says if you don’t want restricted insurance then don’t be a member of that church and there we come full circle to: what is really religious and what is really just the exercise of power.

      Of course, you can continue to disagree. That is where the law and majority rule come into play. Churches are also free to move to Somalia if they don’t like the overly restrictive rules in the USA that allow them to think and advocate any silly assed thing they wish but can’t force restricted insurance on their EMPLOYEES at the same time.

      Silly to think anything but less regarding religion on such issues. Are you for god or mammon? Institutions or individuals? Overreaching power of a few exercised over the many, or the many?

      And so forth. My last post on the issue unless you raise a new point. Repetition is too religious to me–on a par with the mind control of mantras leading to dogma and people like you (on this issue) that can’t think of an issue except in one way.

  8. tcc3 says:

    This is yet another reason why tying health coverage to the employer is a poor model.

  9. MartinJJ says:

    After 49 years the youngsters finally start to become interested again into the Constitution. Well done girl! Let’s keep things separated. This is something all the bible shouters (or others) here should have done 49 years ago already. It’s the Constitution. Not some variation of your believes that applies here.


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