By Brian Magee
A decision on a preliminary injunction is expected this week from the federal judge overseeing the case where a Rhode Island high school student sued to remove a nearly 50-year-old prayer banner in her school.
Jessica Ahlquist, a Cranston High School West junior, made the complaint last year with the help of the ACLU and others. The First Amendment case followed the controlling School Committee voting 4-3 to keep the 8-foot banner in place.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a conservative group with Catholic ties, is representing the school.
Starting with the title “School Prayer” and then “Our Heavenly Father,” the banner ends with “Amen” and was put in place in 1963.
Ahlquist attended the AHA’s annual convention in April and comments from her were included in a previous HNN article that can be found here.
When I first heard about the issue, I found it very black and white. I assumed everyone would agree that it was a violation.” However, Ahlquist continued, “When I realized that people wanted to keep the prayer and refused to acknowledge that it was unconstitutional, I decided I needed to speak. For me, this has always been something that needed to be done. It’s always strange when people call me a hero. All I’ve ever wanted to do is the right thing.
Since Ahlquist began this effort, she notes in her blog that she has become an active member of the Secular Student Alliance and has made friends and received support from a variety of places. But, she adds, “remembering my life and how I felt before the prayer issue worries me. It makes me consider the others out there who don’t believe in God, but aren’t lucky enough to have found the same community that I have. I think that there are probably many, many, many more secular students, but they are too afraid to speak out.”
Some of the treatment she’s received shows why speaking out is a major concern for many non-believers. According to a story this week in The Providence Journal, “students and adults have called her a ‘stupid atheist,’ an ACLU tool, a witch and a ‘media whore.’ They’ve also threatened her through e-mails or at school, she says. A former classmate told her that, if she knew what he really thought of her, she would kill herself, she says.”
A ruling on the injunction by U.S. District Judge Ronald R. Lagueux is expected today.
Brian Magee is the communications associate for the American Humanist Association.