Childrearing

Righteous Teen Girl Wins Suit Having Prayer Removed From School, Receives Death Threats

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Jessica AhlquistSixteen-year-old Jessica Ahlquist from Rhode Island reads like a smart and enterprising young lady. The atheist was raised in a religious home and was baptized in the Catholic Church. But after relinquishing her faith at the age of 10, young Jessica took issue with a prayer on display at her high school. After a parent filed a suit to have the prayer removed, Jessica spoke at all of the hearings and filed as a plaintiff– and won. And now her Roman Catholic community hates her.

The New York Times reports that an eight foot tall prayer, which has been hanging in the auditorium since 1963, has been covered with a tarp following a judge’s ruling that its presence was unconstitutional, specifically because of “the principle of government neutrality in religion.” Although the students’ were never made to recite the prayer, Jessica made the case that as an atheist, the gigantic prayer made her feel rather alienated from her learning environment. She told the Times:

“It seemed like it was saying, every time I saw it, ‘You don’t belong here.”

In addition to her participation in the hearings, Jessica created a Facebook page about her case which has reached nearly 5,000 members. The Times also reports that she began looking into the history of Rhode Island founder Roger Williams, who initially established the state as a respite from religion. But although her neighbors and peers are seeking an appeal to the decision, the teenager who has spoken up on behalf of her beliefs receives constant threats from inside her state and as well as a police escort to and from school.

Three separate florists have refused to deliver flowers to the girl which were sent from atheist groups for her actions. Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, has given Jessica over $13,000 in support from scholarships. But despite the teenager’s bravery, Annie says that she worries about this level of “ostracism” and “stigmatizing.”

Opinions on Jessica, as they often do on outspoken young women, vary as one alumni described her as “an idiot” while State Representative Peter G. Palumbo called her an “an evil little thing.” But one of the local florists, the same one who won’t deliver to her home for safety reasons, said that despite whatever differences in their beliefs, “I’ve got a daughter, and I hope my daughter is as strong as she is…”

On the Facebook page that Jessica created for her cause, some describe her as “an inspirational young woman” and commend her actions, even people of faith. Amy Rae DeMoss wrote on the page that Jessica reveals much about effective parenting, inviting those of religious backgrounds to recognize the impressiveness of her conviction:

Her parents should be proud that they raised a child who was strong enough to stand up for what she thought was right. Often we tell children to not ask questions, especially in religious matters. If what you believe cannot stand up to a few questions, maybe you should ask why you believe that to begin with. This is clearly a young woman who knows how to ask a question. To diminish that by saying that she will “realize” when she gets “older” is just an insult and a means to avoid the issue. Bravo to her for her strength and conviction. If only we were all lucky enough to have children like this.

In response to the death threats and hostility from her community, Jessica told the Times “I’m defending their Constitution, too.” A mature observation from a kid who perhaps hasn’t even had a formal lesson in United States history yet.

(photo: nytimes.com)