I just finished a piece for AlterNet about the recent court decision in favor of Jessica Ahlquist, the one ruling that Cranston High School West could not have a freaking prayer banner posted in their auditorium. (I’ll post a link as soon as it goes up.) I’ve been reading the actual court decision — something most of the people vehemently decrying this decision and calling for Jessica’s blood have conspicuously failed to do. And I wanted to pull out what I thought were some of the best, most pertinent, most beautiful, most damning, and most flat-out inspiring pieces of the ruling. Kudos to U.S. District Court Judge Ronald R. Lagueux.
BTW, a link to a PDF with the entire ruling can be found on the Friendly Atheist blog. (I’d link to it myself, but I have some odd holes in my tech knowledge, and “how to post/ link to a PDF” is one of them.)
And for those who don’t already know about this: There’s a college scholarship fund being raised for Ahlquist, also on the Friendly Atheist blog. Ahlquist is an incredibly tough and brave young woman, who has been fighting firmly and powerfully for separation of church and state in the face of unbelievably ugly and hateful vilification, ostracism, and threats of violence and death. If you want to show your support for her, please consider contributing. Donations of all sizes are welcomed through February 29.
And now — Ahlquist v. City of Cranston, the greatest hits!
No amount of debate can make the School Prayer anything other than a prayer, and a Christian one at that. Its opening, calling upon the “Heavenly Father,” is an exclusively Christian formulation of a monotheistic deity, leaving out, inter alia, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and atheists alike. The Prayer concludes with the indisputably religious closing: “Amen;” a Hebrew word used by Jews, Christians and Muslims to conclude prayers. In between, the Prayer espouses values of honesty, kindness, friendship and sportsmanship. While these goals are commendable, the reliance on God’s intervention as the way to achieve those goals is not consistent with a secular purpose.
The Court refrains from second-guessing the expressed motives of the committee members, but nonetheless must point out that tradition is a murky and dangerous bog. 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 Prayer Mural espouses important moral values, yet it does so in the context of religious supplication. 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.
When focused on the Prayer Mural, the activities and agenda of the Cranston School Committee became excessively entangled with religion, exposing the Committee to a situation where a loud and passionate majority encouraged it to vote to override the constitutional rights of a minority.
…the School Committee endorsed the position of those who believe that it is acceptable to use Christian prayer to instill values in public schoolchildren; a decision that clearly placed the ‘nonadherents’ outside of the political community.
And finally: This, this, a hundred times this:
Plaintiff is clearly an articulate and courageous young woman, who took a brave stand, particularly in light of the hostile response she has received from her community.
Hell to the yes. Ahlquist is indeed an articulate and courageous young woman, who took a brave stand. The atheist community — and anyone who cares about the principle that government should stay out of people’s private religious convictions — owes her an enormous debt of gratitude.