Do They Never Learn? Elmhurst, Meet Cranston.

We like to tell you “character counts”
In big displays, and small amounts,
With that in mind, I’m proud to announce
The speaker for this year
This speaker stood up for your rights
In one of many legal fights;
She’s one of freedom’s shining lights
Oh, yes—and she’s your peer.

A student, just like one of you
Who saw a task she had to do
And bravely, boldly, saw it through
Despite some daunting odds.
This student knew that what she saw—
That banner—was against the law.
The school board’s thinking had a flaw:
They thought their view was God’s

But Jessica’s an atheist—
A point the people haven’t missed—
And she was right; the laws insist
The town must heed the wall…
The wall the locals seem to hate
That separates the church and state
A bruised and battered wall, of late,
But one that serves us all

When church and state are intertwined
Best hope your faith’s the favored kind;
God help your faithful, should you find
You bet against the king.
But when your faith and his collides,
Or privileged status somehow slides,
Then thank your stars that on your side’s
An Evil Little Thing.

Elmhurst, Illinois’ York High School made an excellent choice for a guest speaker this year, for their Constitution Week. I can think of few better speakers for such an event; their chosen individual has battled, in court and out, to preserve and protect our constitutional rights, and has done so at no little personal danger.

But Jessica Ahlquist, while fighting for the constitution, fought against the wishes of the Christian (Catholic) majority in Cranston, RI. And it seems the majority in Elmhurst is… Oh, my, Christian (Catholic) again!

The speaker this year, 17-year-old Jessica Ahlquist, is an atheist from Rhode Island who filed a federal lawsuit to force her high school to remove a religious banner that had hung in the school’s gymnasium for 49 years.

Atheism is a polarizing subject, as Ahlquist found. She won her battle to have the prayer removed, but bullying and threats in her school and community forced her to withdraw from school.

And here in Elmhurst, a predominantly Christian/Catholic community, the polarization continues. The CAC refers to Ahlquist as a “defender of free speech” who stood up against tremendous adversity in the name of democracy. But some parents see the visit as a means to thrust liberal talking points on teenagers.

See, this is precisely why Jessica is the right choice. This is the audience that needs to hear her message, and this is the person whose message was formed by precisely such an audience as this.

Sadly (please read the article for details) but well within their rights, some of the individuals who would most benefit from Ms. Ahlquist’s talk will not be there to hear it. They have opted out; they would rather jam their fingers in their ears than hear how their privileged Christian status was successfully challenged in court, in a case that in the long run helped them more than hurt them.

(You want to get up to speed on Jessica’s Cranston case? Here’s a start–the Cranston Cliff-Notes. Hmmm… looks like this makes a minimum of 20 verses I have written on or related to the case. Seriously, take a look–there’s some good stuff there!)


  1. machintelligence says

    I had the pleasure of hearing Jessica speak and chatting with her afterwards at the American Atheist Alliance meeting in Denver this month. She said that when she approached the school board about the banner, their response was “go away and don’t bother us, until you finish law school”. Someone in the audience proposed starting another scholarship fund for her law school education, but she said she wasn’t interested in studying law. I thought this was an excellent reply, since we have too many lawyers as it is. Also it is saddening to see some new fledgling Environmental Law graduates who get hired by a major law firm, then get their first case defending some major polluter. Lawyers are really “hired guns.”
    I mentioned to her that I had actually heard of Cranston, RI before her case hit the news. TACO pumps, which I use in my business are manufactured there. Sadly, she is pretty unimpressed with her town and its residents. Although she is a poised and mature high school senior, it is unfortunate that she has had to deal with all of the hassles that taking her stand for the constitution caused.

  2. bassmanpete says

    Many of the Christian responses to atheists remind me very much of mansplainers’ responses to women; ie “We’ve had our way for so long that anything you say MUST be wrong!”

  3. mary126 says

    Nicely said. I live in Elmhurst – don’t make the mistake of thinking that a few parents speak for all of us. I applaud our school district for this choice, and for not caving in to censorship attempts. I’m thankful that my daughter could attend Jessica’s speech. Many of the students who attended felt inspired afterwards, and pointed out that they are quite capable of making their own decisions about what they believe.

  4. Cuttlefish says

    Bravo, Mary!

    It bears repeating–even in Cranston, it seems a majority of the town were quite reasonable, and understood the principles involved; it was a very vocal minority of individuals who ended up costing the town a pile of money. I’m glad your daughter was able to hear Jessica, as well; I have not heard her speak in person, and I understand she is quite inspiring.

  5. Kalkin says

    Ahhh, lovely DuPage County, Illinois. An extremely red county, so it’s no surprise they have their knickers in a twist over this.

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