Cranston West: The school where Christianity went to die

Jessica Ahlquist
16-year old Cranston West student Jessica Ahlquist

To quote a favorite young lady of mine, “People suck.”

At Rhode Island’s Cranston High School West, student Jessica Ahlquist took issue with the banner hanging in the school labeled “School Prayer.”  She successfully sued her state-funded public school to have a it removed.  This was a classic textbook case of separation of church and state, and U.S. District Court Judge Ronald R. Lagueux even praised her for her courage in his written decision.

This was hardly judicial activism. Any high school civics student should have recognized that this was the inescapable outcome were this issue heard in any court in the land.  Some might argue the law is wrong, but it’s hard to imagine anyone being surprised that it’s the law.

Cranston BannerIt might even be argued that had the school had the good sense to label the banner “School Pledge” and drop the Heavenly Father reference and the Amen that it would have been a completely legal banner.  But they didn’t, and so it isn’t.

Yet it isn’t the loss of this banner that diminishes Christianity. It is the violent threats of retaliation against Ahlquist from other students. In what appears to be a woefully misguided sense of defending their religion, classmates are not only verbally insulting the young activist, but physically threatening her with assault and rape, both in this life and the next. Just a few of the things posted to Facebook and Twitter are listed below.

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

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

“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!”

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

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

“Nothing bad better happen tomorrow #justsaying #fridaythe13th”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“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”

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

I know kids can be stupid and cruel, but I can’t fathom that somehow this level of malevolence is being wielded in the defense of Christianity.  Even assuming that somehow this was well intentioned, in so trying to save their religion they have made it considerably less.  Ironically, atheists are often accused of unfairly conflating religion and violence.  Yet these allegedly Christian students make a compelling case all on their own.

Young Jessica Ahlquist returns to school today for the first time since the ruling on the banner.  Her morning Tweet suggests a high degree of optimism, or maybe hope. “time for school. Woot. #bestdayever,”  I hope she’s right.

WWJD, indeed.

Zero tolerance makes zero sense

Zero Tolerance
When we lose our ability to make qualitative decisions, we lose much of what it means to be alive.

Have we lost all ability to make reasonable judgements?  Is the fear of being unfair so great that we are willing to subject ourselves to draconian rules to avoid making subjective decisions?  Apparently so.

In Easton, MD two high school lacrosse players have been arrested for possession of weapons on school grounds. The weapons were found in the boys’ equipment bags during a search of the team bus prior to a game.  One kid had a Leatherman tool.  The other a Bic lighter, which was classified as an explosive device.  Both are tools reasonably used to repair lacrosse sticks.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident.  In Portland, ME a freshman girl was expelled for asking a friend for some Tylenol. In New York, a 17-year-old Eagle Scout was suspended from school for a month for bringing an antique two-inch penknife to school. The knife was found after school officials searched his car in the school parking lot and found the knife in a survival kit the honor student kept in the locked trunk of his car.

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said of pornography, “I know it when I see it.”  Why can’t a similar test be used with regard to weapons and drugs in schools?  There is an understandable desire to keep weapons and drugs out of schools.  But what constitutes a weapon or a drug has a large gray area.

You can get drunk on mouthwash, yet a small travel bottle or spritzer for getting the lunchtime pizza off your breath before locking lips with your boyfriend after class is probably not an indication of someone with a budding drinking problem.  Yet, finding quarts of Scope stashed in your locker might be such an indication.

Similarly, pocket knives are incredibly useful tools for all manner of small tasks.  Could you kill someone with one?  Sure.  You could also kill them with a rock, your hands, or gravity. And we haven’t seen a move to outlaw gravity. (Although given the way evolution is treated in most schools, gravity shouldn’t get too cocky.)

We talk about truth, justice, and the American way, but there can be no justice so long as laws are absolute.  Even life itself is an exercise in exceptions.  When has justice ever been as simple as a rulebook?  And what are we teaching our children by raising them in this environment?  That laws are capricious, unyielding, and without mercy?  That common sense has no place in society?  That being good means following the rules to the letter of the law and never stepping outside the lines?

These are not lessons I want my children to learn.  I make my living designing machines capable of only black and white reasoning. Yet, the world is mostly shades of gray. I do not want my children programmed.  When we lose our ability to make qualitative decisions, we lose much of what it means to be alive.