Sixteen year old atheist Jessica Ahlquist has received threats on line and has to have a police escort to get to school. A local florist refused to deliver flowers to her and Democratic State Rep. Peter G. Palumbo called Jessica “an evil little thing.”
Why? Because she protested an 8-foot tall prayer which is displayed on the wall of the auditorium at Cranston High School in Cranston, R.I. The prayer was written by a seventh grader in 1963 and presented as a gift to the school. Ironically, this was a year after the Supreme Court ruled against organized prayer in schools.
Here’s what the offending prayer says: “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…Amen.’’
So, what’s so bad about that?
Well, a federal judge ruled in January that it was unconstitutional and the prayer is now covered with a tarp. The school board, which voted 4-3 to keep the prayer, is considering an appeal.
In an interview with Abby Goodnough of the New York Times , Jessica, who became an atheist at age 10 when her mother was ill ,said that “it seemed like it (the prayer) was saying, every time I saw it, ‘you don’t belong here.’ ” Though baptized a Catholic, she said she stopped believing in God because, “I had always been told that if you pray, God will always be there when you need him. And it didn’t happen for me, and I doubted that it happened for anybody else. So yeah, I think that was just the last step, and after that I just really didn’t believe any of it.”
Prayer in schools has always been and still is a hot-button issue. But usually vocal prayers, such as benedictions at graduation ceremonies, cause the huge dust ups.
Exactly what do people mean when they espouse prayer in the schools? Doesn’t it usually mean prayer to THEIR God?
How long do you think that prayer would have remained on the wall if it had begun with, “Our heavenly Allah, or Yaweh, or Ganesh, or Buddha or Zeus or even Universe?”
The whole point of keeping prayer out of schools is to protect religion. All religions. And to protect minorities who believe in other religions or none at all. In America, it is almost always Christians who complain about lack of prayer in schools. How would they feel, though, if they were in the minority and another religion, say Islam, were in the majority?
This is why the ACLU involvement forced the Cranston board to hold hearings on the prayer on the wall, at which Jessica spoke. This is why the Freedom from Religion Foundation has filed a complaint with the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights.
According to the New York Times, Jessica has started a Facebook page about the removal of the prayer which now has 4,000 members.
When Goodnough asked Jessica if she empathizes with the protesters she said, “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.”
One Cranston High graduate, who said she was a constitutionalist but “strangely on the other side of this,” said, “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.”
So how about putting up a new banner which reads like this:
“Let us each day desire to do our best, to grow mentally and morally as well as physically, to be kind and to be helpful.”That espouses those values and nobody is offended. And if they believe in God, God will surely hear it.