The loving veneer comes off
Cranston High School vs US Law and a courageous student
At Cranston West high school in Rhode Island, an atheist student named Jessica Ahlquist requested that her school administration remove a prayer banner that had hung in the gym for some thirty years. While the banner had a positive message, she said, it was couched in religious terms that excluded people of non-Christian religion, and also atheists. By no small amount of case law, that is illegal.
Her request was refused, and was followed by school board and town meetings that, in the words of the case judge, “resembled revival meetings”. This did not help their claim that the banner was, in fact, somehow secular. The judge ruled as expected in favor of Ms. Ahlquist and the ACLU. That’s the pro-forma part.
Then the really interesting part began.
Jessica had to leave Cranston High* under a storm of threats and invective. I’m talking actual death threats, rape threats, and death-plus-eternal-rape threats. No, I’m not making this up; I wish I were. On Facebook, Twitter, in blogs and discussion groups, and even letters to the editor, it was painfully obvious this young woman simply wouldn’t be safe at Cranston High. Police finally began investigating some of the threats but there are too many to follow up on.
Rhode Island congressman Peter Palumbo, pandering to the majority, called her “an evil little thing“.
When the FFRF tried to send flowers to Jessica, two florists in town simply refused.
At a school committee meeting, one of her 16-year-old friends stood up to give an explanation and was booed by the “adults” present.
Would this be a good time to look at the content of the prayer? Why yes, it would.
They seem to be having a little problem “smiling when they lose”. Or showing any of the positive attributes advocated in the banner.
My point here isn’t that “All Christians are big fat poopyheads”, because there’s plenty of counterexamples to that. No, I’m trying to show that tribalism is an easy trap for anyone to fall into, and most people do. And almost every atrocity ever committed in the history of humanity was a manifestation of tribalism, whatever label it was given at the time. And that our secular constitution was an attempt to light a path beyond tribalism, which is also known as “exceptionalism”.
Someone asked me what I want Christians to do in these all-too-common cases. I want to see Christian leaders get up in front of cameras and microphones, and look into the camera with steely determination and ask their fellow Christians: “What the hell is wrong with you? Do you think we need the Government to protect our religion? Do we even want the government involved in our religion? Do you think it serves the Prince Of Peace to threaten a high school student?”
It doesn’t do much good for me to say these things – I’m just a filthy atheist. But a popular Christian minister could straighten out this travesty real quick if he or she wanted to. Can you guess what conclusion I draw from the fact that they don’t?
Here’s the short version of US law:
It pretty much amounts to this: Religious expression is allowed in schools, but not by schools. Or by any government agency: religion is a private-citizen thing. Schools can teach citizenship, ethics, morals, even manners, but not religion. Students are free to be as religious as they like, but teachers, when acting as representatives of the school, must be secular. You can read the judge’s excellent opinion here.
I’m still trying to figure out what’s so damn complicated about that, or why Christians get so upset when they can’t get an unconstitutional government endorsement of their religion.
NOTES and updates
- Author of the Cranston High school prayer outraged - be sure to scroll down and listen to the interview with Jessica. Keep reminding yourself she is only 17 years old, because she speaks with more clarity and maturity than her critics.
- Early reports that Jessica was leaving Cranston high were not correct: she is staying. She has said she intends to graduate from there. Read the threats against her linked above and then imagine going to classes every day, the lunch room… that is courage.
- Author of Cranston High banner lashes out at Jessica Ahlquist – in a new editorial he… well you just have to go read it. He’s really something, that fellow.
If the picture is not showing up, here’s the text of the prayer banner:
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 withourselves 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
Only slight edits would be required to make it constitutionally acceptable.