When high school student Jessica Ahlquist requested that her school remove a giant mural in the cafeteria with a Christian prayer on it, telling the administration that it made her uncomfortable and that it violated the constitution, she likely didn’t expect it to result in a long, drawn out court battle. But school officials at Cranston West refused her, and next the American Civil Liberties Union, making numerous public scenes in support of leaving the mural as it was.
Yet it was the school board’s public proselytizing that actually did them in, as it was used as evidence proving that the mural was in fact intended to be a Christian display, a no-no in a taxpayer funded public school. According to the judge’s ruling:
“The Cranston School Committee and its subcommittee held four open meetings to consider the fate of the Mural. At those meetings a significantly lopsided majority of the speakers spoke passionately, and in religious terms, in favor of retaining the Prayer Mural. Various speakers read from the bible, spoke about their personal religious convictions, threatened Plaintiff with damnation on Judgment Day and suggested that she will go to hell. The atmosphere was such that the Superintendent of Schools felt compelled to discuss his own religious beliefs at length when he made his recommendation to the Committee that they vote to retain the Prayer Mural.
“Similarly, five of the seven School Committee members expressed avowals of their own religious beliefs at the meeting, including two of those who voted against retaining the Mural,” Lagueux continued. “This is precisely the sort of ‘civic divisiveness’ that the Supreme Court’s Establishment Clause cases repeatedly warn against. When focused on the Prayer Mural, the activities and agenda of the Cranston School Committee became excessively entangled with religion, exposing the Committee to a situation where a loud and passionate majority encouraged it to vote to override the constitutional rights of a minority.”
The school board is still deciding whether to appeal the ruling. But of a bigger concern is the attacks on the student, which have grown beyond cyberbullying and now include outright threats of violence requiring police intervention.
Yesterday, one Twitter user said “this girl honestly needs to be punched in the face.”
Another user bragged “your home address posted online i cant wait to hear about you getting curb stomped you ****ing worthless c***.”
And some users using their real names identified themselves as classmates of Jessica Ahlquist, the plaintiff, one saying “definelty laying it down on this athiest tomorrow anyone else?”
In a post on the blog RIFuture.org today, Steve Ahlquist, Ahlquist’s uncle and founder of the Humanists of Rhode Island, said “To the credit of the Cranston School Committee, when I contacted them with my concerns, they were quick to assure me that the Cranston Police have been investigating these threats since last night, and that they are taking this issue very seriously.”
Ironically, the now banned mural at one point implores “Our Heavenly Father” to “Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win.” If only the mural’s supporters could follow such sage advice.
Photo credit: wikimedia commons