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Atheist teen forces school to remove prayer from wall after 49 years


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#1 shannon leto's lezbean

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Posted 27 January 2012 - 06:43 AM

i know not all of us believe in the same religion (or even have the same morals/beliefs if some of us do share the same religion) but i had to share this:

http://www.msnbc.msn...new_york_times/

State Representative calls girl, who has been escorted by police to school, 'an evil little thing'

CRANSTON, R.I. — 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.

T-shirts displaying the Cranston High School West's school prayer in Cranston, R.I., Jan. 23. “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.”

The prayer, eight feet tall, is papered onto the wall in the Cranston West auditorium, near the stage. It has hung there since 1963, when a seventh grader wrote it as a sort of moral guide and that year’s graduating class presented it as a gift. It was a year after a landmark Supreme Court ruling barring organized prayer in public schools.

“Our Heavenly Father,” the prayer begins, “grant us each day the desire to do our best, to grow mentally and morally as well as physically, to be kind and helpful.” It goes on for a few more lines before concluding with “Amen.”

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,’ ” she said the other night during an interview at a Starbucks here.

Since the ruling, the prayer has been covered with a tarp. The school board has indicated it will announce a decision on an appeal next month.

A friend brought the prayer to Jessica’s attention in 2010, when she was a high school freshman. She said nothing at first, but before long someone else — a parent who remained anonymous — filed a complaint with the American Civil Liberties Union.

That led the Cranston school board to hold hearings on whether to remove the prayer, and Jessica spoke at all of them. She also started a Facebook page calling for the prayer’s removal (it now has almost 4,000 members) and began researching Roger Williams, who founded Rhode Island as a haven for religious freedom.

Religious revival
Last March, at a rancorous meeting that Judge Ronald R. Lagueux of United States District Court in Providence described in his ruling as resembling “a religious revival,” the school board voted 4-3 to keep the prayer. Some members said it was an important piece of the school’s history; others said it reflected secular values they held dear.

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.

New England is not the sort of place where battles over the division of church and state tend to crop up. It is the least religious region of the country, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. But Rhode Island is an exception: it is the nation’s most Catholic state, and dust-ups over religion are not infrequent.

Just last month, several hundred people protested at the Statehouse after Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an independent, lighted what he called a “holiday tree.”

In Cranston, the police said they would investigate some of the threatening comments posted on Twitter against Jessica, some of which came from students at the high school. Pat McAssey, a senior who is president of the student council, said the threats were “completely inexcusable” but added that Jessica had upset some of her classmates by mocking religion online.

“Their frustration kind of came from that,” he said.

Many alumni this week said they did not remember the prayer from their high school days but felt an attachment to it nonetheless.

“I am more of a constitutionalist but find myself strangely on the other side of this,” said Donald Fox, a 1985 graduate of Cranston West. “The prayer banner espouses nothing more than those values which we all hope for our children, no matter what school they attend or which religious background they hail from.”

Strong
Brittany Lanni, who graduated from Cranston West in 2009, said that no one had ever been forced to recite the prayer and called Jessica “an idiot.”

“If you don’t believe in that,” she said, “take all the money out of your pocket, because every dollar bill says, ‘In God We Trust.’”

Raymond Santilli, whose family owns one of the flower shops that refused to deliver to Jessica, said he declined for safety reasons, knowing the controversy around the case. People from around the world have called to support or attack his decision, which he said he stood by. But of Jessica, he said, “I’ve got a daughter, and I hope my daughter is as strong as she is, O.K.?”

Jessica said she had stopped believing in God when she was in elementary school and her mother fell ill for a time.

“I had always been told that if you pray, God will always be there when you need him,” she said. “And it didn’t happen for me, and I doubted it had happened for anybody else. So yeah, I think that was just like the last step, and after that I just really didn’t believe any of it.”

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.”

#2 Prehensile

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Posted 28 January 2012 - 11:55 PM

Although I don't like the fact that its a prayer, I do like the things it asks for in the bit that was quoted. I'm more inclined to think that this is more about the various subtle pressures religious people can employ in everyday settings. I don't like telling people what to believe or not, but sometimes enough is enough and then its ASS MODE. I wish I defended my non-belief as resolutely when I was 16... I could use the scholarship right about now.

“If you don’t believe in that,” she said, “take all the money out of your pocket, because every dollar bill says, ‘In God We Trust.’”


Ms. Ahlquist would sooner start a campaign to print new money without the phrase.

#3 Aneczka

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Posted 29 January 2012 - 07:21 AM

I don't exactly understand why so much fight about it. I mean the text is really nice, if it wasn't a christian prayer but a nonreligious motto like "let's have each day the desire to do our best, to grow mentaly and morally as well as physically..." would she mind it hanging on the wall? I don't think so. Mabye they should rewrite it that way and put again on the wall.
Religious symbolls in public life is a complex and delicate issue. These days I think everyone agrees on neutrality. But problem occures when religious symbol is to be removed. There always are people who'd defend it. There is a cross in polish parlament and a constant fight among politicians weather it should stay or be removed. And it is sad cause christian religion is not meant to support fight or anger.
I think that first of all we should decide waather a religious symbol at a particular place is harmful for anyone. If it is and it's inapropriate it should be removed. But if it helps  certain people make them feel better (like in hospitals) and at the same time it does not offend others why should it be removed. If you are an atheist a cross/david star etc. is neutral for you, so why would you fight so hard for it to be removed... or mabye i'm wrong but that's my opinion

#4 I.R.A

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Posted 29 January 2012 - 10:36 AM

I hate religious debates but seriously she needs to get a life. A small prayer shouldn't bother her... but more power to God anyway. I'm out. And if anyone cares, i do believe in a supreme being :)

#5 shannon leto's lezbean

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Posted 30 January 2012 - 07:27 AM

The parts that really irk me:

1 - the prayer wasn't paid for by anyone so i'm not sure why a bunch of folks in the comments were talking about it being okay as long as there wasn't taxpayer money going into it (it was a "gift" painted on the wall by a student and then presented to the school at their graduation)

2 - it offended someone so much that she advocated for its removal/covering even though that same energy could've been used to make an alternative offer of a painting somewhere else in the school (or a garden, or an awareness campaign for something she does believe in and supports)

3 - an organization is using a minor to further their importance/relevance instead of just issuing their support (if you want a spokesmodel i'm sure there are plenty of celebs that would do the trick a lot more efficiently than a high schooler who will be "cool" for a while)

4 - a 16 year-old believes that she knows what's best for all of her fellow classmates regardless of personal preference or beliefs ("getting a shot for your own good" is hardly a good basis for comparison)

5 - a grown-ass politician allowed himself to be aired/recorded/quoted as calling this girl an "evil little thing" (seriously??)

6 - all this is happening in a heavily roman-catholic religion-based community that has largely responded with anything other than what should be a tolerant, patient attitude (why did it have to come to a lawsuit for action to take place? why weren't other solutions offered/discussed?)


overall, i believe this was blown way out of proportion and sensationalized by the media when there really wasn't a need for anything to be on this big a scale. this is a free country -- which means this girl can protest this gift all she wants to...but it also means that someone can paint the message on the wall in the first place. it's a two-sided coin that both sides believe they should have the upper hand on. no one is telling this girl that she has to believe in that prayer on the wall, but apparently no one has offered an alternative to this prayer (neither the school nor anyone who believes any differently than religions that would acknowledge God). it's piss poor on both sides. and where is this girl's father to, oh i don't know, maybe talk to his daughter and move her out of the school or home-school or private tutor her while she's receiving death threats?? how about preventing something like this before it got this big?

i have more to say/rant about but i can't accurately or eloquently put it into cohesive sentences, lol

#6 GiaMarie

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Posted 31 January 2012 - 04:03 PM

It's a bit ridiculous. I'm an atheist and I don't care as long as they don't try to force me to pray.

#7 shannon leto's lezbean

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Posted 01 February 2012 - 06:16 AM

View PostGiaMarie, on 31 January 2012 - 04:03 PM, said:

It's a bit ridiculous. I'm an atheist and I don't care as long as they don't try to force me to pray.

i'm just being curious...if you were in this situation where you went to a school that had a (gifted) giant prayer on the wall, what would you have done? i mean yeah it's a nice sentiment, but you don't always have to take everything as strictly only one religion (as aneczka mentioned, the general message is still nice and conducive to a good school environment/attitude)...idk, i have friends of different religions and we've all pretty much just agreed that you treat people nice and go about your business doing things, and agree to disagree on the semantics that divide us into our different religions. just be cool, man  B) lol

#8 laurahya

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Posted 16 February 2012 - 02:47 PM

View Postshannon leto, on 01 February 2012 - 06:16 AM, said:

i'm just being curious...if you were in this situation where you went to a school that had a (gifted) giant prayer on the wall, what would you have done? i mean yeah it's a nice sentiment, but you don't always have to take everything as strictly only one religion (as aneczka mentioned, the general message is still nice and conducive to a good school environment/attitude)...idk, i have friends of different religions and we've all pretty much just agreed that you treat people nice and go about your business doing things, and agree to disagree on the semantics that divide us into our different religions. just be cool, man  B) lol
At school we didn't have prayers on the wall, but we did have assembly every other day where "we" sang a hymn or two and said a prayer. I was once reprimanded by a teacher for not looking appropriately serious during the prayer. I mean, I don't care really. I had friends whose parents opted them out of these events because of their religion. But I guess for me, I can sit there and let people enjoy what they believe in and what makes them feel good even if I don't share it, as long as no one's forcing me to do the same or making me feel bad because I don't. It's like I'm respectful of and sensitive to my friends who observe Ramadan, but I'm still going to eat when I want to, because they're respectful of me too. I guess it's the point at which you feel your freedom to exercise your beliefs is not just the minority but actually threatened. Personally, I don't think I've reached that point in the UK yet, at least not in terms of religion.

#9 terisaraioer

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#18 maitoBomadots

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Posted 03 June 2012 - 08:40 PM

Cool, thanks !




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