The President is running a poll

The White House is asking you to nominate candidates for the Presidential Citizens Medal, an honor awarded for ‘exemplary deeds of service’.

I can think of a few dozen people in the godless/scientific community I’d nominate, but looking at your contrary performance in that last poll I brought up, you’d probably just pick the one who looked most like a cat. Or owned the most cats. Or likes cats the most. So you’re just on your own here.

I guess that means Jerry Coyne is a shoo-in…

First recommendation: Jessica Ahlquist. She probably likes cats. But despite that, she’s an excellent choice to push.


  1. robro says

    That’s for giving us Jessica’s name because otherwise I was going to have to look it up. She was the first person that came to my mind…other that yourself, of course :–)

  2. alanwilliamson says

    She is an evil little thing. I saw her at the Reason Rally. Hard to believe she is only 16 years old. I hope Jessica gets the award.

  3. says

    Jessica Alquist would be my choice as well. I wonder if the people at the White House would be brave enough to give an atheist responsible for the removal of a prayer a medal, though.

  4. says


    I wonder if the people at the White House would be brave enough to give an atheist responsible for the removal of a prayer a medal, though.

    I don’t know, but I made sure to mention Palumbo’s Evil little thing in my nom.

  5. sambarge says

    If I were American, I would nominate Jessica Ahlquist (or Sandra Fluke as a distant second). She’s young and she stood up against powerful forces to protect the Constitution – how more exemplary can you get than that?

  6. megs226 says

    I just nominated Jessica. I admire her so much. I’m an atheist AND a Rhode Islander and she’s such a role model for me… and so young! I hope other young atheists around the country take note of what she did and follow her example. Ahem, Tennessee…

  7. hockeybob says

    Are there filters that prevent a nomination to be accepted? It’s rejected mine twice now… I’ll try using Internet Exploder next.


  8. hockeybob says

    Thanks, Caine – I had all that allowed, but it kept coming up as “Bad Request” or something. Surprisingly, it did work on IE, so we’re all good.

  9. Sean Boyd says

    Not that I think this president will make an award to an atheist, especially during an election year, but I just nominated Jessica Ahlquist as well.

  10. 'Tis Himself says

    I’ve loaded the ballot for Jessica. I don’t expect her to make it (Faux News would have fits) but it’s nice to remind the powers that be that atheists exist in the US&A.

  11. =8)-DX says

    I piously voted squid. Now I’m not even allowed to vote Jessica Ahlquist due to geographical and cultural happenstance?!
    (That being said, your Mr. President has studiously avoided popular-vote-pushed issues before (*cough*weed*cough*).. Maybe nominate someone from the LGBT community?)

  12. Pteryxx says

    Here’s a summary of the criteria for the Citizens Medal, from the White House site. The nomination’s made by writing two short statements: why your nominee deserves the medal, and what impact their actions had on other individuals and/or communities.

    The 2012 Citizens Medal will recognize U.S. citizens who have performed exemplary deeds of service outside of their regular jobs, including individuals:

    Who have a demonstrated commitment to service in their own community or in communities farther from home. Someone who has engaged in activities that have had an impact in their local community, on a community or communities elsewhere in the United States or on fellow citizens living or stationed around the world.

    Who have helped their country or their fellow citizens through one or more extraordinary acts. Individuals who have demonstrated notable skill and grace, selflessly placed themselves in harm’s way, taken unusual risks or steps to protect others, made extraordinary efforts to further a national goal, or otherwise conducted themselves admirably when faced with unusually challenging circumstances.

    Whose service relates to a long-term or persistent problem. Individuals who have made efforts to combat stubbornly persistent problems that impact entire communities, for example those who have taken innovative steps to address hunger, homelessness, the dropout crisis, lack of access to health care, and other issues that plague too many Americans.

    Whose service has had a sustained impact on others’ lives and provided inspiration for others to serve. The ideal nominee for a Citizens Medal is a person whose work has had a meaningful and lasting impact on the lives of others.

    I point this out because nominating Jessica Ahlquist isn’t just a fad for the secular community. She was committed to addressing the prayer banner and making a statement, endured harassment for it, and has flat-out stated that she’s trying to ensure the protection of the Constitution extends to everyone. She’s also been a speaker at Reason Rally and other conferences and is the (volunteer) high-school coordinator for CFI. Many folks have written to her or commented about how inspiring she’s been to them personally (even in this very thread!) She fits every point on the list.

  13. Rip Steakface says

    She’s inspiring to me in particular, as we’re about the same age (I might be a few months older). Thankfully, my community tends to have a lack of flagrantly unconstitutional banners and such in public spaces, so you won’t hear about any 17 year old guys from Washington taking down Nativity scenes at the school holiday set.

  14. frankb says

    I nominated Jessica too. For comments I should have said ditto for all the other great comments.

  15. mackenga says

    Oh – is this geographically restricted? I’m in the UK and just nominated Jessica Ahlquist anyway. The state drop-down included ‘Non-US state’ as an option so I decided to fire in a nomination and hope for the best – might be an option for other non-US citizens?

  16. says

    JA is not being nominated for being an atheist but for standing up for the Constitution despite a shitstorm of hatred and threats from the Good Christians of her home state. Her whole family has been through a very hard time and I think a Citizen Medal of Honor would just put the icing on the recognition she’s had from people who support secular government.

  17. malefue says

    Yeah, seems like non-USians can participate. Just nominated Jessica Ahlquist too. Her town is Cranston, Rhode Island, btw.

  18. Cuttlefish says

    Hmm… It is not inconceivable that, if Obama is trying to paint Romney as a religious extremist, Jessica’s story could be spun into something that actually stands a chance of being chosen. The “religious extremists” (I doubt many were Mormons) certainly provide enough evidence that they hold the constitution in disregard, and self-caricature as villains. If Romney chooses to side against Jessica, he has to side with people who have issued death threats against a 16-yr-old girl who has (as the judge noted) the constitution on her side.

    On the down side, of course, that stance will certainly work on a subset of his base.

  19. Usernames are stupid says

    Tally another vote for Ahlquist, with mention of “personally defending the constitution and bill of rights even in the face of death threats” and “standing up to tyranny by the majority,” etc.

    Go team!

  20. Usernames are stupid says

    He hugs them.
    —Markita Lynda—it’s Spring after the Winter that wasn’t #37

    Even the guys? Otherwise, that’s kinda creepy.

  21. Ichthyic says

    …and a hug from President Obama, too!

    in 2008 I would have been excited at the prospect.

    Now? Not so much.

    Obama has been a bigger letdown than Clinton.

    Progressivism in the US is truly, truly, dead.

    I hardly knew ’em.

    *hangs head*

  22. says

    Nominated! Great idea. (FYI, I’m a US citizen, but overseas – still, I had no trouble submitting the nomination.)

    There’s a post with the same recommendation at The Atheist Experience, too:

    One of the commenters there rounds up the required info, which I’ll take the liberty of copying here:
    Nominee’s name: Jessica Ahlquist
    Nominee’s city: Cranston
    Nominee’s state: Rhode Island (RI)
    Nominee’s approximate age: 16 or 17
    Was this nominee’s service performed outside of his or her regular job? Hmmm… Yes? No? Probably doesn’t matter.

    Folks, the deadline is April 24, so jump in and nominate Jessica! Or another atheist/humanist, of course, or anyone deserving – though it’d be awesome to see a massive, viral nomination for Jessica. It’s not just an atheist thing; her story also shows how one person – even young – can take part in the country’s system for addressing wrongs, and defend a vital freedom under the Constitution. How one person can stand up to bullies. How, in the end, the system can work to uphold what’s right.

    (And, yes, there’s the atheist part: how we’re not going to quietly bow before religious violations of law – and how the courts are on our side in this!)

    For the curious, I posted my nomination text on my blog; take a read if it might spark your writing. But I don’t doubt that everyone here can write an even more persuasive nomination. Please do so!

  23. Rococo Gecko says

    What about Bradley Manning? He did a really brave thing, and you can take this opportunity to remind the White House that he’s not forgotten.

  24. grahammartinroyle says

    If the Pres. has to announce this before the election then I doubt that J.A. will get a medal. He’s gotta get the votes in first before he can risk upsetting such a large body of voters. Pity that.

  25. says

    Let’s keep pushing this…
    If you get enough wranglers working together, you could even move a herd of cats!
    My nomination is in.

  26. phrankeaufyl says

    Why would you say Jessica Ahlquist “probably likes cats”? She seems rational to me.

  27. says

    I still don’t get why the prayer banner is considered such a big deal by the atheist community. I understand that the constitution forbids any endorsement of a religious point of view by a publicly funded institution. But I don’t see why it should be a legal issue for a school to do that. So what if the school endorses Christianity? What is the school actually *doing* that hinders the students or faculty? What rules or policies are the students expected to follow (or activities in which they are expected to participate) that are religious in nature? What rights are being infringed upon by the banner? What can students do without the banner that they couldn’t do with it? What harm does the banner cause by its mere presence on the wall?

  28. KG says


    You don’t think a public institution breaking the law is of any significance?

  29. Ze Madmax says

    anthonysavano @ #51:

    So what if the school endorses Christianity?

    Well, given that it’s a public school, that would be a breach of constitutional law. Which is kind of a big deal (and it would be as big of a deal if the school suddenly endorsed Islam or Judaism)

    What is the school actually *doing* that hinders the students or faculty?

    Besides wasting money defending a lost cause in court, you mean? How about breaking the law? I would argue that a public institution flaunting the law of the land sets a very bad precedent (which is demonstrated by the vitriolic reaction from the community towards Ms. Ahlquist).

    What rules or policies are the students expected to follow (or activities in which they are expected to participate) that are religious in nature?

    None. But then, the issues wasn’t about policies or activities, but rather about a public display of religious symbols.

    What rights are being infringed upon by the banner?

    Specifically? See United States Constitution, Amendment I: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”, which, in conjunction with the Incorporation Doctrine (which extends Constitutional protections beyond the actions of the Federal government to include state and local governments, including school boards) means that citizens have the right not to have their governmental institutions endorse one religion over others.

    What can students do without the banner that they couldn’t do with it?

    Nothing. So there is no reason for the banner, while there is a very good reason against it (i.e., it’s illegal!)

    What harm does the banner cause by its mere presence on the wall?

    It suggests that specific religious traditions are above the rule of law, and that is perfectly okay for Christians to have their way when it comes to issues of separation of church and state.
    Essentially, the Cranston school banner is one example of the kind of exceptional mentality that also led to an entire town attacking a high school student because she had the nerve to demand that the law be upheld.

    If you don’t think there is something seriously fucked up with that, you are an idiot.

  30. says

    Ze Madmax

    I agree that it’s a waste of resources to fight a lost cause in court. But I was asking what the school was doing before that, when they were keeping the banner up all those years before Jessica complained about it. What has the banner’s presence done to hinder the students or faculty during that time?

    You admit that the students are not expected to follow any rules/policies or participate in any activities that are religious in nature, and that this case is more about a visual display and symbols than anything with actual substance. You also admit that there is nothing students can do without the banner that they couldn’t do with it. I rest my case. Didn’t think it would be so easy.

    The rest of your post is filled with vague non-answers and appeals to authority. I was hoping not to get appeals to authority, references to the constitution, etc., by specifically stating that I disagree with the law. I was hoping to bypass legal arguments by getting people to examine the supposed wisdom of this one aspect of the law. “Because it’s the law” is never a good justification for any action.

  31. says

    What has the banner’s presence done to hinder the students or faculty during that time?

    If you’re with the Christian majority, nothing. If you’re not, marginalization and otherizing. You’re not one of us.
    And by asking “Our Heavenly Father” to grant the most basic morals, scruples and ethics, perpetuates the stupid and destructive notion that these things are only available to Christians.