Moral Low Ground

Civil Liberties

Atheist Teen Jessica Ahlquist Bombarded with Death, Rape Threats over Cranston High School West Prayer Banner Lawsuit

The Rhode Island teen who successfully fought to have a Christian prayer banner removed from her high school has been bombarded with rape and death threats, called “evil” by her state representative and discriminated against by local businesses.

Ahlquist: Threatened with rape and death for defending constitutional principles.

Mail Online reports that 16-year-old Jessica Ahlquist, a student at Cranston High School West, plans to remain in school and graduate on schedule despite the furor over her lawsuit and the fact that she’s already missed school because of the tension.

“Let’s be clear: I intend to walk across the stage on my graduation day in 2013 with a Cranston West diploma in my hand,” she wrote on Twitter.

After unsuccessful attempts to persuade school officials to remove the banner, which features a prayer a student wrote in 1963, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit on behalf of Ahlquist on the grounds that the banner violates the First Amendment. Ahlquist explained:

“The Christian- Catholic prayer may bring comfort to the majority of students in my school but it sends a different message to the large population of students of other faiths, or in my case, none. The prayer’s presence in the school promotes and endorses the ideals of Christianity and the concept of the single heavenly father. As not all students feel that this is true, and I am one of those students, I firmly believe that it should not be on display in a public school and is in direct violation of my and other students’ civil rights… The prayer does not belong in a public school and that is why I have come forward to challenge it.”

Supporters of the banner argued that it is a historical artifact and an important part of school tradition.

On January 11, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Lagueux ruled that the banner indeed violates the principle of separation of church and state.

“No amount of debate can make the School Prayer anything other than a prayer, and a Christian one at that,” Judge Lagueux wrote in his ruling. Also:

 While all agree that some traditions should be honored, others must be put to rest as our national values and notions of tolerance and diversity evolve. At any rate, no amount of history and tradition can cure a constitutional infraction. The Court concludes that Cranston’s purposes in installing and, more recently, voting to retain the Prayer Mural are not clearly secular…

The retention of the Prayer Mural is no doubt a nod to Cranston West’s tradition and history, yet that nod reflects the nostalgia felt by some members of the community who remember fondly when the community was sufficiently homogeneous that the religion of its majority could be practiced in public schools with impunity.

“I’m so glad and proud that the right decision was made and that the constitution was upheld,” Ahlquist declared after Judge Lagueux’s ruling.

Ahlquist has been bombarded by angry online commentary, threats of rape and death, insults from her community and even her elected state representative and discriminated against by local businesses. AlterNet published a partial list of some of the threats against the teenager:

“Let’s all jump that girl who did the banner #fuckthatho”

“I want to punch the girl in the face that made west take down the school prayer… #Honestly”

“hail Mary full of grace @jessicaahlquist is gonna get punched in the face”

“Fuck Jessica alquist I’ll drop anchor on her face”

“lol I wanna stick that bitch lol”

“We can make so many jokes about this dumb bitch, but who cares #thatbitchisgointohell and Satan is gonna rape her.”

“Brb ima go drown that atheist in holy water”

“”But for real somebody should jump this girl” lmao let’s do it!”

“shes not human shes garbage”

“wen the atheist dies, they believe they will become a tree, so we shld chop her down, turn her into paper then PRINT THE BIBLE ON HER.”

“May that little, evil athiest teenage girl and that judge BURN IN HELL!”

“definetly laying it down on this athiest tommorow anyone else?”

“yeah, well i want the immediate removal of all atheists from the school, how about that?”

“If this banner comes down, hell i hope the school burns down with it!”

“U little brainless idiot, hope u will be punished, you have not win sh..t! Stupid little brainless skunk!”

“Nothing bad better happen tomorrow #justsaying #fridaythe13th”

“How does it feel to be the most hated person in RI right now? Your a puke and a disgrace to the human race.”

“I think everyone should just fight this girl”

“I hope there’s lots of banners in hell when your rotting in there you atheist fuck #TeamJesus”

“literally that bitch is insane. and the best part is she already transferred schools because shes knows someone will jump her #ahaha”

“Hmm jess is in my bio class, she’s gonna get some shit thrown at her”

“gods going to fuck your ass with that banner you scumbag”

“I found it, what a little bitch lol I wanna snuff her”

“if I wasn’t 18 and wouldn’t go to jail I’d beat the shit out of her idk how she got away with not getting beat up yet”

“nail her to a cross”

“When I take over the world I’m going to do a holocaust to all the atheists”

Even her state representative, Democrat Peter Palumbo, called her an “evil little thing,” words used on T-shirts sold to support a college fund for Ahlquist. So far, more than $30,000 has been raised.

Local businesses have also shunned the teen. Four separate florists have refused to deliver flowers to her, leading to a formal complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF).

The banner has been covered with a tarp. But the fight is far from over; the Huffington Post reports that a meeting is scheduled for February 16 at which school officials will hear public comments regarding the banner battle. The school board will then decide whether or not to challenge the judge’s ruling.

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  1. Bob JoeJanuary 28, 2012 at 11:42 pmReply

    I agree that no one, on any grounds, deserves such treatment as Jessica has received. Nonetheless, I cannot help but ponder the following: Why should an atheist care about the display of prayer? Why can’t he/she simply ignore it?

    A logically-grounded person, as many atheists claim to be, has no argument against simple religious emblems in public places. If there is no God, what is right? Who has ‘civil rights’? What are they? Who defines them?

    I assert that religious proclamations bother atheists precisely because God is real. Likewise, the Great Deceiver, God’s devoted enemy, is real, and he causes those ensnared in his trap to anger against that which is good. Indeed, I fully expect angry responses to this comment for that very reason.

    God is real. Jesus Christ is His Son. Anyone who sincerely wants to know that truth need only offer heartfelt prayer.

    • Brett WilkinsJanuary 29, 2012 at 12:38 amReplyAuthor

      You cannot say that god is real or Jesus is his son, only that you believe these things to be true. To answer your question about why an atheist would care, the issue transcends a simple prayer. This is about defending the principles of the constitution. I would be fighting with equal fervor if, say, the government tried to outlaw your religion or force you to look at a banner that mocked your god and your Jesus.

    • Mark CJanuary 30, 2012 at 5:37 pmReply

      Dear Bob: Why can’t you just ignore abortion? (You see how I’ve already figured you out?) Or homosexuality? Gay marriage? But there’s a difference, you see? Those things you want to ban are personal behaviors by private citizens. This case involves actions by a government entity, which wants to promote a particular religious belief over all others. You defend that only because it coincides with YOUR religious belief. Do this little thought experiment, and then tell me if you would still support keeping the banner: What if the school your kids attend put up a Muslim prayer? Would you still tell them to just “ignore it?” Yeah, that’s what I thought.

      • Brett WilkinsJanuary 30, 2012 at 6:43 pmReplyAuthor


    • StephenJanuary 31, 2012 at 9:25 amReply

      a true christian does not threaten the girl in question .he/she has faith and prays for her on her non belief of god.

      • RS909aFebruary 1, 2012 at 7:40 pmReply

        Then where are they?

    • StephenJanuary 31, 2012 at 9:44 amReply

      i believe in god,and jesus christ is my lord and savior and i bow to his will .i love you jesus save us from damnation amen

      • RS909aFebruary 1, 2012 at 7:43 pmReply

        Does that include Matthew 6:5-8? The bit about keeping your private religious beliefs to yourself? Apparently not.

    • DonJindraJanuary 31, 2012 at 10:25 amReply

      You ask: “If there is no God, what is right? Who has ‘civil rights’? What are they? Who defines them?”

      That’s like claiming the law of gravity is defined by us if there is no God. Gravity requires no divine support and neither does spider behavior nor human behavior. Humans are social creatures. We have an innate sense of fair play which translates into morality.

    • TabithaFebruary 5, 2012 at 8:19 pmReply

      Why can’t they just ignore it? For the same reason you can’t ignore it not being there, and the same reason christians can’t ignore the billboards that the American Atheists have been trying to put up for *years* that simply read: “Don’t believe in god? You’re not alone.”

      My problem isn’t “leaving it up” as much as the fact that taxpayer dollars are used to put things like that up, it enfuriates me to see my money go to shrines to the tooth fairy, while people are starving and dying from lack of healthcare.

    • JennaFebruary 6, 2012 at 1:33 amReply

      To address your assertion that atheists frown upon religious dogma for the express reason that God is real- have you no clue what an atheist is? We do not believe in the existence of any supernatural being. Our distaste for religious dogma stems from how much this worldview affects our lives. Issues such as abortion and gay marriage are clouded by the overtones of our religious society, and this backwards thinking has our progression as a species screeching to a halt. Trust not in the bronze-aged tales which have been altered by the scribes who copied them and translated these texts, but with your own innate human curiosity. I assure you- there are much more beautiful, poetic explanations for our origins and existence than lie in your unverified book. I offer to you a challenge, and if your faith is as strong as you proclaim, I see no reason for you to object- Question your faith. Do actual research into the atheistic worldview, and the evidences science has to offer for our existence in this present state. I would suggest you begin with ( )- This is an interactive timeline of our human evolution.

    • Franco for Governor of RIFebruary 8, 2012 at 1:57 amReply

      “A logically- Grounded person, as many athiests claim to be, has no argument against simple religious emblems in public places.”

      Really that’s the argument you’re going to go with? Look buddy here’s the thing it’s not about atheism. It’s about a person simply pointing out the obvious logic and winning one over on religion. And wouldn’t you know it religious folk are upset because they’re not getting their way and spending more time arguing debating and testifying in court. When if your God did exist why don’t you just simply pray for him to make the world see things your way? Oh that’s right because obviously those who would rather get all in a huff and go to court clearly don’t have enough faith in god to do his own work. Now you see whether you like it or not this young lady is actually fighting for something that EVERY american has the right to do. She’s fighting for your rights too you know. You would be just as upset if there was a giant 400 pound buddha statue at yours or your child’s public school.

      You have no proof of God or his son existing only that it is your belief. So really it is you who have no argument. Religion has too much power over our country. This country was founded for religious freedom. The irony is that now the ones with control are those of “faith” And there’s not enough logic or reasoning in the world to make it fair for the rest of the country. You say you expect angry responses. This is not an angry response. This is a response of pity. I sincerely feel sorry for you. You spread hate with out even realizing what you’re doing. If there is a God, I’m sure he’d be disappointed in you for not having compassion and love in your heart. If you had faith in your heart, you would be praying instead of on here making comments perpetuating this ridiculous propoganda.

    • gollum1118February 11, 2012 at 7:10 amReply

      see $30,000 in scholarships…this is all its about..making a name for yourself over something as pointless and mundane as a banner..this is about peoples’ unyielding need to follow a new creed …” IT’S ALL ABOUT ME!!!!!”

      • Brett WilkinsFebruary 11, 2012 at 7:59 amReplyAuthor

        As if Ms. Ahlquist realized that people would come to her aid with donations… come on, man!

      • ShelbyFebruary 21, 2012 at 8:03 amReply

        Yes, because she knew that standing up for her basic rights would result in so much nonsense (and money). Atheists are psychic, you didn’t know that?

    • Doug SApril 15, 2012 at 12:21 amReply

      Why is ‘God’ a man? Is it human? Doesn’t it seem natural to treat others appropriately and how you would expect to be treated? Why do you need someone to tell you how to be a good person? I find comfort in believing that I am a good person and only want good things for my fellows. What has religion brought humanity? War, distrust, senseless arguments, and this.

      I’m sorry but I don’t see the logic. In addition, I don’t think ‘God’ would be very pleased with what is happening.

      Don’t assume that I don’t believe in ‘God’. I just don’t believe in it the same way you do and I don’t label myself as one who has all the answers. Let’s all just get along and cut the crap.

    • Andrea PassanteOctober 31, 2012 at 7:17 amReply

      They bother us because it indicates a bias towards one portion of the population, as if christians are first class citizens and all others have no importance.

      “God is real. Jesus Christ is His Son.”
      Prove it. If you state it as a fact you must prove what you say, otherwise it is only your opinion and it is no better or worse than any other unproven opinion.

  2. Devyn TawJanuary 30, 2012 at 4:43 pmReply


    • Mark CJanuary 31, 2012 at 9:16 amReply

      No, ignoramus, she felt it was hurting the Constitution, the Law of the Land, the rights of all people to be protected from religious interference by the government. You got a problem with that?

      • Devyn TawFebruary 8, 2012 at 4:22 pmReply

        Obviously, cretin,if you could properly analyze a comment, you would see that I am for Alquist in this case so why don’t YOU LAY OFF

  3. Mark CJanuary 30, 2012 at 5:49 pmReply

    While I’m at it, Bob, let me answer your other questions. What is “right” is defined by a simple idea: Do not harm other people and allow all people equal rights and opportunities without bias due to their skin color, religion, sexual orientation. Do you agree with this principle? If so, show me where in the Bible it says that. If you can’t, then ask yourself, “How did we figure that out all on our own, without God telling us?” If we followed the Bible’s morality, we would be imposing the death sentence on adulters, gays and disobedient children and would own slaves. Do you agree with that? If not, then please tell me exactly how we derive our morality from God and try to convince me that we wouldn’t know “Thou Shalt Not Kill” without the Ten Commandments. Finally, a little advice. When you make nonsensical assertions, such as “religious proclamations bother athiests precisely because God is real,” you’ve already lost the argument, because it shows you have nothing to say. You can’t win a debate by saying, “I’m right because you’re wrong.” Believe me, if God were real and it could be proven, athiests would believe in him. Now the ball’s in your court. What’d you got?

  4. StephenJanuary 31, 2012 at 9:33 amReply

    take away our heavenly father and amen and this prayer could be easily concieved as a motto for the school and not have any christian influence at all in the wording

    • RS909aFebruary 1, 2012 at 7:47 pmReply

      Absolutely true. They should have done so when they were offered the chance.

  5. StephenJanuary 31, 2012 at 9:38 amReply

    i agree with bob joe an athiest by definition is a neutral or balanced position .not caring of christianity or satanism.her attack on the prayer would suggest that shes not even an athiest but a follower of satanism,or just plain ignorant of what a faith or belief is in the 1st place and just stirred up a ruckus for attention for her own gain

    • Brett WilkinsJanuary 31, 2012 at 10:50 amReplyAuthor

      An atheist is NOT a neutral position; just look at the etymology– “a” meaning against, “theist” meaning that which pertains to god.

      • StephenJanuary 31, 2012 at 2:14 pmReply


        • Brett WilkinsJanuary 31, 2012 at 4:02 pmReplyAuthor

          To believe in satan acknowledges the existence of god, and the Zeus, the Easter Bunny and the Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man.

        • RS909aFebruary 1, 2012 at 7:50 pmReply

          …which is why athiests don’t.

          What Jessica’s actions ‘suggest’ to you is clearly based on your ‘monstrous ignorance of any of the relevant information’.

          Seriously, look it up. Google it. Do what you like – educate yourself instead of blindly asserting nonsense and waiting for someone to correct you on it.

      • Mark CFebruary 6, 2012 at 12:10 pmReply

        Actually, no, Brett, the prefix “a” means “without” or “absent,” as in “amoral” or “asexual”, not “against.” An atheist, then is a “non-theist,” someone without God, not someone who is against God. You can’t be against something if you don’t believe it exists.

        • Brett WilkinsFebruary 6, 2012 at 12:24 pmReplyAuthor

          Thanks for the correct correction.

      • NancyFebruary 26, 2012 at 4:04 pmReply

        Actually the prefix “a” means “without” not “against”. Did you honestly not know that, or did you just make that up, to make atheist appear to be AGAINST religion instead of without religion ?

        • Brett WilkinsFebruary 27, 2012 at 10:14 amReplyAuthor

          My bad. I have been writing for more than 30 years but haven’t had a lesson in prefixes since grade school.

    • Mark CFebruary 8, 2012 at 3:22 pmReply

      Stephen, just one more example of you guys (i.e., Christians, Republicans, conservatives, e.g.) either not getting it or intentionally distorting the issue to create a straw man. Jessica’s was not an “anti-religion” stance, it was a stance against government endorsement and promotion of religion. Athiests may believe that religious belief is wrong-headed and socially counterproductive, but I challenge you to find one that believes the government should eliminate religion or that religious belief should be unlawful. As we have said countless times (but I guess you weren’t listening), you are free to believe what you want, but just don’t try to impose it on the rest of us. That’s when you get into hot water. If you were really secure in your own beliefs, you would be content with that, but it seems you need strength in numbers and the backing of the government to prop them up. That’s the real problem.

  6. JR MackFebruary 1, 2012 at 9:20 amReply

    Just look at this one tiny issue and notice the huge division of opinion and depth of emotion on both sides.

    There is NO WAY the left and right in this country will ever come together and the gulf continues to widen every day.

    I do not wish for this, but I cannot help but believe that this will lead to terrible violence in the USA and possibly worldwide…it seems, at this point, to be inevitable.

    I don’t know what will be the ignition point, but I believe in my heart that if the left in this country continue to strive to destroy religion and the ability to express ones religion in public, that at some point Christians will have to fight back, just to maintain their basic rights – and that is only ONE of the many possible disagreements that will probably “tear it” – there WILL be something that will start it – and I think it is soon.

    Are you ready?

    • Brett WilkinsFebruary 1, 2012 at 10:02 amReplyAuthor

      You sound like an Islamic fundamentalist.

    • Jim MaughanFebruary 1, 2012 at 2:18 pmReply


    • Mike HaubrichFebruary 1, 2012 at 7:30 pmReply

      You still have your rights to pray and choo se your religion. Where has this been taken away? Unless your right to be religious includes the right to impose your religion through the government. Is that it?

    • Mark CFebruary 16, 2012 at 12:32 pmReply

      You’ve been kinda quiet about Mike’s point, there, JR, but that’s typical for you guys when you get confronted with a little bit of reason. If there’s a war, it will be waged by Christians, who resent the fact that they’re not allowed to control every aspect of public (and private) life in this country. I will repeat Mike’s question: Where has your right to worship and believe what you want been taken away? If you can’t answer that question (and we all know you can’t), then please just shut up, that’s all we ask.

    • NancyFebruary 21, 2012 at 6:27 amReply

      JR, this sounds like a veiled threat, ie: if we Christians don’t get our way, we will turn violent. This type of rhetoric, from folks like you, give Christianity a bad name. No one has taken away any or your religious rights. All this court case does is say that GOVERNMENT can not sponsor religion. And this prayer, although written by a student, was done so at the direction of a gov’t employee. It is now, and always has been a gov’t sponsored endorsement of Christianity.

  7. AudreyFebruary 24, 2012 at 3:09 pmReply

    I totally support her!! Christianity isn’t the only religion out there!! Even a handful of my best, most dear and closest friends who are LDS (Mormon) would stand up for her! I would’ve fought my school tooth and nail too because it isn’t right to assume that everyone who walked into that school was Christian or believed in Jesus. It’s not right to assume everyone would be okay with it just because it’s been there since ’63. I totally and completely support this girl!!

  8. Australian-inputApril 15, 2012 at 2:46 amReply

    If atheists shouldn’t be bothered by a prayer being posted on
    a school wall, then why is everyone else bothered by it?
    I thought prayer is something that is sacred between “God” and an individual. Jessica isn’t stopping anyone else from praying, I don’t see the problem. For all you sick minded Christians out there threatening her with disgusting acts of rape and violence… Aren’t you going against your own beliefs?? Think before you act!!

  9. IrrevenoidJuly 2, 2012 at 1:37 amReply

    To the person who said “If there is no God, what is right?” – human beings have a thing called empathy. Personally, it horrifies me that some people might not grasp that “thou shalt not murder” is a bad thing without their deity telling them so.

    Jessica wanted a banner taken down. Numerous Christians threatened her with violence, rape and even mass-murder.

    Your argument that Christians are more moral is on kinda shaky ground.

  10. Ethical JOhnMay 20, 2014 at 9:11 amReply

    H.L.Mancken (1880-1956) wrote: Morality is doing right, no matter what you are told. Religion is doing what you are told, no matter what is right”.
    The action by Ms. Ahlquist and what happened to her afterwards was just that. The reaction of the violent believers is understandable because they are told that atheists are bad and they are told this because if clergy becomes tolerant of atheism, they will lose adherents and income.

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