Rhode Island Teen Gets $42K Scholarship From Atheist Organization After Religious Backlash
Rights of Passage
After suing her high school — and winning — for displaying a religious mural in the auditorium, saying that it was a direct violation of the separation of church and state, 16-year-old Jessica Ahlquist of Rhode Island was attacked in the local media and vilified by her community. Basically, for not being religious enough. While she doesn’t identify herself as an atheist, Ahlquist had grown increasingly uncomfortable with the religious displays in her public school as well as the invented “Holiday Tree” controversy happening in her state. And now, because she refused to back down despite being called an “evi little thing” by a state representative, an atheist organization has stood up for her in the most productive and generous way they could think — they gave her a $42,000 scholarship.
Ahlquist is a very opinionated young woman who keeps a blog and cites her own state history as her defense against public religious displays. When the debate arose concerning the state’s governor Lincoln Chafee calling the tree displayed at the state capitol a “Holiday Tree,” the usual suspects pounced, saying that the imagined “War on Christmas” was happening in their state. Ahlquist had this to write:
Roger Williams founded Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in 1636 as a state of religious freedom. He had been banished from Massachusetts due to his religious beliefs and he wanted to establish a place where everyone was equal, regardless of their faith (or lack thereof).
And with Williams in mind, a teenage girl had begun her quest to seek freedom from religion for those who simply were not believers. So when she took note of how overtly religious a prayer mural in her auditorium was, stating right off the bat “Our Heavenly Father,” she sued the school to have it taken down, saying it was violating the separation of church and state. The mural, which had been displayed in the school since 1963, made Ahlquist (and, most likely, many others) feel “ostracized and out of place.” The school, Cranston High School West, said the mural was “historical” and “artistic.”
Last month, Ahlquist won her suit against the school. And then adults attacked the teenage girl, including the aforementioned state representative Peter Palumbo — an elected person in charge of making laws. Local florists also refused to deliver the girl flowers. You know — the adults who worked there refused to deliver this girl flowers. Because she is not religious. Classy.
However, there is a light at the end of this tunnel in the form of a pretty big reward. A high school teacher, blogger, and atheist named Hemant Mehta started following Ahlquist’s case and contacted the American Humanists Association, seeing if there was a way to raise money to support her in some way. And support they did — individuals, atheists and believers alike, donated their money, resulting in the huge $42,000 figure for a scholarship for Jessica Ahlquist.
Take that, Mean Florist People. And congratulations, Jessica!