This girl is a hero

But sadly her community is none too happy with her actions.

Jessica Ahlquist is a sixteen year old girl in Cranston, RI who would make Roger Williams proud.  She is an atheist, and served as the plaintiff with assistance from Freedom From Religion and the ACLU in a case that led to a federal judge ruling that a prayer posted in her school’s auditorium is unconstitutional.  WPRI Channel 12 in Providence reports that the prayer reads as follows:

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 to our classmates and teachers,
To be honest with ourselves as well as with others,
Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win,
Teach us the value of true friendship,
Help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West.
Amen

The prayer was written in 1963 by a seventh grade student, and has hung on the wall of the auditorium ever since.  Oh yeah, and it is a violation of the establishment clause in the First Amendment.  As a social studies teacher, it warms my heart to see a young person so engaged in their community and so interested in upholding the ideals of our Constitution. Sadly, many members of the Cranston community do not see her actions in the same light.

Student Faces Town’s Wrath in Protest Against a Prayer from the New York Times, Jan. 26, 2012

In the weeks since [the judge ruled the banner to be unconstitutional], 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.

My favorite quote from the story:

“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.

Kind of like the Tea Party Floridians whose love of small government doesn’t extend to NASA.

The thing that is so ironic (don’t you think) is that this is all happening in Rhode Island, which was founded by the Rev. Roger Williams after he had been cast out of Massachusetts for advocating the separation of religious and civil powers.  This would be kind of like Californians denouncing gold, or Utah denouncing Mormonism.  The Smithsonian Magazine recently had a great feature on Williams:

God, Government and Roger Williams’ Big Idea from the Smithsonian Magazine, Jan. 2012

The New York Times article ends with a great quote from our young constitutional hero:

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.”

“…I’m defending their Constitution, too.”  Brilliant.  Thank you, Jessica Ahlquist.

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