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Teen Atheist Behind Prayer Mural Ban Addresses Critics: 'I'm Defending Their Constitution, Too


"...people screaming under God at me during the pledge of allegiance."

Jessica Ahlquist (left) (AP)

Sometimes, activism comes with a price. This is a lesson that Jessica Ahlquist, the 16-year-old girl behind the ban on a prayer mural at Cranston High School West in Cranston, Rhode Island, is learning. According to WPRO, the young atheist has stopped attending school for the time being and is considering transferring.

These developments come after many in her hometown have responded ferociously to her successful attempts to remove the banner from public display at her school.

The situation continues to be difficult for Ahlquist, who claims that she has needed police protection at school and that her fellow students are constantly bullying her. As a result of the trauma, she says that her family has not yet made a decision regarding sending her to another school.

"We are trying to figure some things out. It’s not a good atmosphere for me to be in right now so we are just trying to wait for everything to relax a little bit," explains Ahlquist. "Even just in homeroom people screaming under God at me during the pledge of allegiance. It’s just a really hostile atmosphere...It is very difficult to concentrate on school in an atmosphere like that."

Despite these challenges, the activist doesn't seem to show any signs of slowing down or retreating. When a New York Times reporter asked her if she empathizes with members in her community who would like to see the prayer mural stay, she doubled-down on her stance.

"It’s almost like making a child get a shot even though they don’t want to," she said. "It’s for their own good. I feel like they might see it as a very negative thing right now, but I’m defending their Constitution, too."

While Ahlquist explains that the environment at her school is detrimental, Ray Vatto, the COO of Cranston Schools, says that no formal complaints have been filed regarding any threats made against the young girl.

The drama seems to have only intensified since a judge ruled in Ahlquist's favor earlier this month, demanding that the school remove the mural and pay the young girl's legal fees. Last week, Rhode Island State Representative Peter Palumbo, a Democrat, called her "an evil little thing" during a radio interview. And local florists have refused to deliver to Ahlquist. In response, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed a civil rights complaint on her behalf.

But despite these attacks and actions against her, members of the local religious community in Cranston are coming forward to denounce some of the bullying that has been waged against Ahlquist:

The banner has been covered with a tarp for the time being, as the school is mulling over a potential appeal. A decision regarding the matter will be decided next month. In the meantime, Ahlquist is certainly paying a social fine for her advocacy on the matter.


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