Sixteen-year-old Jessica Ahlquist, a self-described atheist from Rhode Island, is thrilled after U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Lagueux ruled this week in her favor, ordering her school to remove a prayer mural from its auditorium.
Like a young Madalyn Murray O'Hair, Ahlquist enlisted the help of the Rhode Island ACLU in making her case that the mural was offensive to non-Christians, causing her to feel like an outcast. Her attorneys argued that the banner was a violation of the Constitution, as well as the Supreme Court's 1962 decision banning state-mandated school prayer.
Judge Lagueux agreed, ordering the banner to be removed immediately, to the vexation of school-district attorneys arguing that the banner was more secular than sacred (The language is more aspirational and positive than overtly religious, though it does contain references to a "heavenly father" and concludes with an "amen"). Ahlquist, who had to leave school due to threats, and is contemplating returning, was ecstatic following the decision, gloating on Twitter, "*[jessica ahlquist] is dancing her brains out and annoying everyone in her family*"
David Bradley, who originally wrote the prayer as a seventh grader in 1963, did not share Lagueux's happiness. He said, "I am upset, disappointed, and not to say, outraged. It's a shame that some judge with an appointment out of a Cracker Jack box can make a ruling like that."
This whole case makes me think of the line Lincoln supposedly said to Harriet Beecher Stowe about being the little woman who caused that big war, in reference to Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Civil War. (Albeit on quite a different scale.) Some will see Ahlquist as an annoying brat, causing a fuss after a half-century of tranquility, while others will laud her courage in standing up for her principles. In the latter camp is Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, who said Ahlquist "fought for the rights of non-believers and religious minorities and is an example for everyone."