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Jan 19 2012

Why Is an Atheist High School Student Getting Vicious Death Threats?

Her state representative has called the student “evil” and she has been threatened with violence, rape and death. What gives?

If you take away just two things from the story about atheist high school student Jessica Ahlquist, and the court case she won last week to have a prayer banner taken out of her public school, let it be these:

1: The ruling in this case was entirely unsurprising. It is 100 percent in line with unambiguous legal precedent, established and re-established over many decades, exemplifying a basic principle of constitutional law.

2: As a result of this lawsuit, Jessica Ahlquist is now being bullied, ostracized and threatened with violence in her community. She has been called “evil” in public by her state representative, and is being targeted with multiple threats of violence, rape and death.

Which leads one to wonder: What the hell is going on here?

*

Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, Why Is an Atheist High School Student Getting Vicious Death Threats? To read more — both about why the ruling in this case was so entirely unsurprising, and why the response to it has been so vicious — read the rest of the piece.

Oh, and by the way: The college scholarship fund for Jessica Ahlquist is, as of this writing, already over $24,000. Let’s get it to top $30,000!

32 comments

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  1. 1
    unbound

    I assume this is the fine Christian love I keep hearing about…

  2. 2
    jamessweet

    Two things:

    1) Where in our constitution do you think it specifies that you could not have a law requiring everyone to dye their hair brown? If brunettes were exempt on the grounds that they already had brown hair, then you could probably make a 14th Amendment case against it; but if everyone had to use the dye, I’m not sure on what grounds one would assert the unconstitutionality of such legislation.

    I raise this point not to be a smart ass (well, partially that, but not just to be a smart ass) but also because it indirectly reinforces your point: Surely if there were a millenia-long history of despotic hair-dyers forcing entire populations into a single hair color, the authors of the Bill of Rights would have seen fit to add an amendment specifying that Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of a state hair color. There are probably many other things we can imagine where legislation that violates basic human rights would not be explicitly prohibited by the Constitution, but it’s no big deal because nobody actually wants to violate those rights.

    That the founding fathers targeted religion (and the suppression of free speech) as the very first thing that was vulnerable to improper wielding of majority rule, well, that says something.

    2) This:

    “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.”

    Wut?!?!? This isn’t so much offensive as it is confusing.

  3. 3
    jenniferphillips

    @James Sweet–
    it’s a leaf from the “Everything I know about Atheists I learned from Dane Cook’s Stand-Up Routine” book.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=utf2E-8B3TE
    (If you care enough to sit through 9 minutes of not-funny)

  4. 4
    jamessweet

    There’s no way I would sit through that, but I found a transcript. Thanks for enlightening me… I think. I might have been happier just thinking it was some confused person on the internet.

    Sigh. Greta, you need to update your “Why Atheists Are Angry” article. Really, just delete the whole thing, and just link to a picture of Dane Cook.

  5. 5
    Lorraine O'Connor

    Whew, I knowI am awake because I can’t stop my foot from tapping on the floor and slow down my breathing OR even stop squirming in my chair…..just read about the girl who has been unbelievably maligned at her school because she is *GASP* an Atheist !!

    But first. *koff koff* — I have read your blogs and admire your talent for “telling it like it is” (There is only one !$%#@%&$@ “creator” of this weenie planet and it is the natural world, or better yet — Mother Nature. Then we lucked out with our Founding Fathers who put together the best damn *Constitution* and its Articles & all that yummy stuff. Unfortunately, as you well know, something went terribly wrong since, when?…2000? Most of America’s inhabitants AKA citizens morphed into willfull idiots. (Only when it applies to their unrelenting belief in supreme beings who haven’t done one doggone good thing for human beings for several thousand years, I believe?)

    I just turned 81 years old, been messing around with my blogpage since 2002 but kind of losing interest lately. Too depressed with the downfall of the middle-class citizens, the backbone of America, and what this formerly great, hard-working populace has achieved and best of all, political “leaders” with no signs of total insanity, just plain old common sense. No such simplicity today, for sure.

    I am not alone in my feelings of fear, depression about the rotten state of our union and especially….the unmitigated stupidity, raw and dangerous maniacal RAGE the current Rethuglican party is waging in its “War Against Women” idiocy right now. Why are so few women citizens such sissies today, I was one of the lucky females….I marched and shouted my—
    ummmmm—distaste at the prudes who thought Roe v Wade was the end of the civilized world. Then we came pretty close to getting on with the ERA, until some backward Southern states wouldn’t ratify the Act. Yuck. Gloria Steinem, Betty Freidan, Bella Abzug, et al, now THEY were fighters, dammit! But now it’s just getting worse.

    I tell every young healthy woman I know…..For crying out loud, whatever you do, DO NOT VOTE FOR ANY REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE OR ANYONE [who smells like a rightwingnutso] WHO HAS BEEN A PART OF TODAY’S “Party of NO” (No ideas, no morals, no brains)

    Yikes. As usual I blathered on way too long. This was supposed to be a “comment” and a way for me to tell you, Greta, how much I admire your writings (you don’t think it might have something to do with my appreciation for humans with functioning brain cells, do you?) LOL

    Oh yeah, I am a *shudder* Atheist. And damn proud of having the intellect to know I’m right. My family thinks I am non compos mentis. Ask me if I care?

  6. 6
    Randomfactor

    Donated early to the fund. I keep mentioning it on the Providence Journal blogs every time some idiot there thinks it’s persuasive that Jessica uses money with “in god wet rust” or something like that on the back.

    Hope there are SOME sane residents of Rhode Island who’ll chip in just out of embarrassment.

  7. 7
    Kay

    The last paragraph reminded me of when I was still a believer, who also believed in religious freedom, and I didn’t speak out. At church, on the Fourth of July, my pastor asserted from the pulpit, that if anyone in the congregation believed in separation of church and state, then that person should move to China where that is actually in their constitution (That was his assertion. I have no idea if that is true. I tried to research it at the time, but came up with a dead end.). He basically called me a communist, which I knew he thought was a scandalous insult. And I said nothing. And I kept going to that church for a while, feeling insulted and confused, and disappointed in my pastor. I wish I had just stood up and proudly walked out, shaking my head. Perhaps I could have exclaimed, “You have got to be kidding me!”

  8. 8
    Ben

    Just read your post over at AlterNet… that’s some pretty brutal threats the kids are saying. I hope nothing happens to the girl, we need more youth like her.

    I love the fact that she’s getting a fund for college out of this though! It’s good to see people getting rewarded for speaking up about these things.

  9. 9
    sqlrob

    Where in our constitution do you think it specifies that you could not have a law requiring everyone to dye their hair brown?

    First Amendment. You think a hairstyle wouldn’t count as speech in a court case?

  10. 10
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    First Amendment. You think a hairstyle wouldn’t count as speech in a court case?

    Well, sure, if it were a corporation wearing it.

  11. 11
    'Tis Himself

    Religious privilege got disrespected (again) and some goddists are whining about it. Actually it’s the other goddists, the ones who complain about atheists stereotyping all goddists as fundamentalists, sitting quietly and letting Jessica be slandered and threatened, who I’m angry at.

    Okay, moderate Christians, show us that you aren’t in sympathy with the fundamentalists by denouncing the people slamming Ms. Alquist.

    <crickets>

  12. 12
    evilDoug

    It would be interesting to determine how many of the creeps who have said hateful things to and about Jessica could recite the prayer on the banner, and get it at least half right. I wonder how many could even state the main ideas of the prayer.

  13. 13
    evilDoug

    Forgot my other wonder: I wonder how many of the adults raising the stink are right-wing supporters of “law and order”. Do they not understand that the banner always has been illegal?

  14. 14
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Okay, moderate Christians, show us that you aren’t in sympathy with the fundamentalists by denouncing the people slamming Ms. Alquist.

    And not one or two here and there, piecemeal – put your ministries’ influence behind it!

  15. 15
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    Very well said Greta Christina – as always. You summed this up perfectly.

    2: As a result of this lawsuit, Jessica Ahlquist is now being bullied, ostracized and threatened with violence in her community. She has been called “evil” in public by her state representative, and is being targeted with multiple threats of violence, rape and death.

    Small point : Jessica Ahlquist wasn’t just called “evil” by her state rep she was called “.. an evil *thing* – Palumbo wouldn’t use her name, wouldn’t even define her as a human being at all. For me, that’s a significantly scary escalation in nasty rhetoric which might have been worth mentioning.

  16. 16
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    If you see that the sky is blue, and someone else says that it’s orange, you don’t feel a particularly passionate need to defend your position… because it’s freaking obvious that you’re right.

    Sorry but as a pedantic astronomer I just cannot help noting that actually it depends.

    Assuming you are located on Earth during the day under normal conditions the sky is indeed blue.

    However, Earth’s night sky – & Earth’s sky above a certain point very high in our atmosphere – is black – to normal human vision. Twilight skies on Earth are multicoloured spectacles those colours including red, orange, green etc .. in various beautiful shades

    The Martian daytime sky is salmon orangish whilst blue skies on Mars occur around sun set and sunrises, the sky of Venus is a sort of cornflower yellow and that of many airless worlds (eg. Moon, Mercury, probably Pluto) is black.

    Plus who knows what colours other atmospheres of alien worlds may have!

    Sorry, can’t resist the temptation to post this – if its anyconsolation I’m alosuy typer and am sure I’ve probably got some things wrong in the usual internetty irony.

  17. 17
    Steve Jeffers

    Have any Christians supported her publicly?

    Because this would seem to be an obvious case where the nice, normal, moderate Christians we hear so much about shouldn’t even need to think: they shouldn’t be on the same side as violence and illegality.

    But, no … the tribalism comes into play, once again. A Christian threatens an atheist and … well, the atheist was probably being ‘strident’.

    And they don’t *support* the threats, but they don’t speak up about them. Worse: they continue to allow the violent to speak for them.

    Worse of all: this all feeds into the persecution complex, the idea that death and rape threats to a sixteen year old girl represent *them* being the victims.

    Let’s play completely fair, here. Let’s scour the internet for Christians who are on the side of decency and law, here. Not the ones who are ‘appalled, but’. The ones who are simply appalled. I can’t find one. Can anyone?

  18. 18
    Konradius

    Again such a great article… Wow…

    Concerning what’s happening to Jessica. To me these are clear examples of hate crimes. These acts of intimidation are not just targeted at Jessica. It’s targeted at anyone who in any way supports her, for example by bringing her flowers. I mean, really?
    Whatever the actual laws are where she lives, this is theocracy. A community with strict arbitrary rules enforced by threat of violence. As an individual you can subject yourself or be ostracized or worse.

  19. 19
    Dunc

    Have any Christians supported her publicly? [...] Let’s scour the internet for Christians who are on the side of decency and law, here. Not the ones who are ‘appalled, but’. The ones who are simply appalled. I can’t find one. Can anyone?

    There were actually a few in the big thread over on Jen’s blog: http://freethoughtblogs.com/blaghag/2012/01/that-christian-compassion/

  20. 20
    rork

    It has become common, that when one is checkmated in chess, to call the other person a stupid idiot, without intending to be funny.

  21. 21
    Eclectic

    Excuse me, but she did her part over the last 2 years, and particularly several months ago when the lawsuit was filed. Arguments ended October 13. Objections to her actions should have been raised then.

    The recent action is by the judge, who agreed with her.

    If people want to express disapproval of the judge’s decision, dhouldn’t these death threats be addressed to the judge?

  22. 22
    Jim Shea

    We all owe Jessica an enormous debt of gratitude and our admiration for standing up for our rights.

    Jim Shea

  23. 23
    Sqrat

    Kay (#7):

    For the record, here is the provision in the Chinese constitution about freedom of religion:

    Article 36. Religious freedom

    Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief.

    No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion.

    The state protects normal religious activities. No one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the state.

    Religious bodies and religious affairs are not subject to any foreign domination.

  24. 24
    Stonyground

    Not sure where I read it now but Jessica is now being called a hypocrite for using money with ‘In God we trust’ written on it. I have trouble following what passes for logic in these people’s minds but in any case, isn’t endorsing religion on money illegal under the US constitution as well?

  25. 25
    Sqrat

    Isn’t endorsing religion on money illegal under the US constitution as well?

    You’d think, but U.S. constitutional law seems to be a mighty peculiar thing.

    The court in the Ahlquist case mandated the removal of the banner as a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The Establishment Clause says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion….” However, the banner was not hanging in the school pursuant to an act of Congress. On the other hand, “In God We Trust” does appear on the currency pursuant to an act of Congress.

    So the courts uphold a straightforward violation of the Establishment Clause, while invoking the clause in a case that has nothing to do with it. Of course the argument is that the Establishment Clause was “incorporated” against the states (and agencies operating under the authority of states, such as public schools) by way of the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment, as determined in Everson v. Board of Education, 1947. In that opinion, Justice Black, writing for the court majority, famously declared, “The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church.” Which is just plain not true. The Establishment Clause surely means that the federal government may not set up a church, but provides no such prohibition on the action of the states.

    As the saying goes, “Go figure.”

  26. 26
    FootFace

    And not only all THAT (the ignorance of the law, the violent threats, the pettiness), but it’s clear Jessica’s detractors haven’t even READ the stupid banner!

    “Grant us each day the desire… to be kind and helpful…. Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose….”

  27. 27
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Let’s play completely fair, here. Let’s scour the internet for Christians who are on the side of decency and law, here. Not the ones who are ‘appalled, but’. The ones who are simply appalled. I can’t find one. Can anyone?

    I’ve seen a few individual blog comments from Christians unreservedly condemning the harassment of Jessica and her family…but the silence from public figures and organizations is deafening. Hence my “not just one or two piecemeal” above.

  28. 28
    Leon

    So if “God is love”, why doesn’t he rub off on his followers?

  29. 29
    Kay

    #23 Sqrat
    Thanks. That use of the word “compel” in theirs makes it even less strong to me, as opposed to ours using the word “respecting.” I think it wold be harder to make the argument that a banner in a school compels anyone, bet it does seem to respect a particular religion. It is as if it is saying, “This school is guided by and respects the Judeo-Christian faith.”
    BTW, that pastor specifically said that the words “separation of church and state” are only in the Chinese constitution. According to your info, he would be wrong about that. I am not sure how problems of translation come into play in this. Also, according to my previos experience in church, it seems that there is persecution of Christians in China. But who knows how muddled our news out of that country gets. And how they interpret “disrupt public order.”

  30. 30
    Sqrat

    Also, according to my previos experience in church, it seems that there is persecution of Christians in China.

    Undemocratic regimes often have very democratic constitutions which they blithely ignore.

  31. 31
    Nancy

    While the point of the article of not discriminating against those with various religions, gender, ethnicity, etc., was pointed out, it is disturbing that this author was very divisive in the way she spoke of Islam and used a sad comparison to her readers. There is no difference in Judaism, Christianity, or Islam with regard to “God” except all three use different languages to say the same word. The part below was cut and pasted from her article. So, let’s be real clear here ~ if “Muslims” posted a prayer to “Allah” it would be the Arabic word for “GOD”. And, if either did post, it would be in violation of our separation of church and state just as it would if Jews did the same.

    The author posted “As someone in a discussion about this case so eloquently pointed out to Christians screaming ‘Majority rules!’: If you lived in a small town, and dozens of Muslim families quickly moved in and became the majority, should they have the right to post a prayer to Allah in the public school?”

    The author continued “So yeah. To anyone with even the most basic understanding of civics and the Constitution, the court decision in favor of Jessica Ahlquist, ruling that her public high school could not have a banner in the school auditorium offering a prayer to the Christian god,” Again, this author is talking about the “Christian god”, when in reality, the Jews, Christians, and Muslims all use the “Old Testament” or “Torah”. As a close friend who happens to be Jewish told me, the rabbis of her temple all over the US invited the imams from the mosques to spend time together for a week a couple of years ago. What she learned and told me was how very similar Judaism and Islam were and that she also learned that Islam was a peaceful religion.

    So, when writing, please share commonality instead of being divisive. It lost me on the good points you were trying to make.

  32. 32
    Roel

    So some US citizens think their laws are evil. Makes you wonder, what are they going to do about it, other than bullying a school girl? In a way she’s just the messenger.

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