Thursday, January 12, 2012

EXTRA EDITION: Prayer Banner In School A Hot Topic!

Dear Tazi-Kat:

I am aware of the fact that you are a Rhode Island based writer - er, cat - so I am certain that you are aware of the whole prayer banner debacle in the city of Cranston. I think it is utterly ridiculous that the time and money of our court systems is being wasted on such foolishness!

The banner - which is actually a painting, not a physical banner - has stood as a piece of artwork for decades with no complaint from anybody. Now some 15-year-old girl who claims to have "known" that she was an atheist since the age of 10 is having her will upheld over the majority. What 10 year old is certain of their religious convictions? Heck, what teenager is certain of their dogmatic convictions? Years from now, this little snot will have moved on with her life, but the ramifications of what she leaves behind will still be felt.

Am I - and the vast majority of those who speak out on this matter - in the wrong? Or are we right to believe that our collective voice is stronger than the shenanigans of this kid?

Falcon Forever

Dear Falcon Forever:

Your letter was one of three that I received on this subject just today; and it was the only one with language I could print.

You are correct that I am a Rhode Island based cat, and that I have heard of the debacle over the prayer banner in the auditorium of one of the local high schools. [Ed. Note: The mascot of the school in question is a falcon]. I am printing your letter because it is socially relevant, not because it is something on which I wish to give an opinion.

The question of separation of church and state is one that is settled in the U.S. Constitution, which states "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

How this amendment is interpreted has been the stuff of legal wrangling for decades. There are those who believe that Thomas Jefferson's figurative "wall of separation" between church and state is the standard by which we all should live; and there are those who believe that tolerance for the majority rule is more in keeping with our American system of democracy.

Although I will choose not to weigh in with an opinion on this matter, I will comment on the tone of your letter: it is disrespectful. I realize that you are angry and that you feel your civil rights have been violated; but the very wording of the prayer asks for " be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win" as well as spiritual guidance to "always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West". You mock the very prayer you seek to defend. A civil discourse should remain thus. I welcome comments from my readers - across Rhode Island, across the United States, and across the world.

-- Tazi

This letter was received on 1/12/12 and printed as an extra edition due to its time-sensitive relevancy. --TK


  1. TaziKat,

    I wish I understood why people have such a huge problem with this. In this country we have freedom of religion. In school, for example, you can read a religious book such as the Bible or Koran, but during a free period, not during math class. You can pray silently to yourself at all time, and aloud in places where talk unrelated to school work is permitted, such as the lunch room or quad. Students can even form clubs to discuss their religious beliefs so long as all such philosophical clubs are permitted. For example, if a Hindu club is permitted, then a Jewish one and and a Muslim one and an atheist one must also be permitted.

    But a school principal cannot require a faculty- or student-led prayer during the day or beginning school events, because there is no such thing as a totally sectarian prayer, and the public school, as an extension of the government, cannot promote any religion over any other.

    Students are talking about having the prayer printed on t-shirts and wearing them to school, and so long as that is OK within the dress code, it's fine. It's the school hanging that banner on the wall as an official sentiment that is a violation of the First Amendment.

    Our nation is great because we have always striven to protect the rights of the minority. In some cases, it has taken a long time to realize that the minority had these rights. The abolition of slavery and women's suffrage and repeal of Jim Crow laws and ending school segregation come to mind. We are now in a period where we must recognize that people of other faiths and especially people of no faith have rights, too. For far too long we have been willing to sit by and say that it doesn't matter that a Hindu or Buddhist or Taoist or atheist would feel marginalized by these statements, because after all, most of us are Judeo-Christians here, aren't we? And the Hindus and Buddhists don't complain do they? (Small wonder, given the vitriol now being spewed toward Jessica Ahlquist.) Which doesn't change that it's wrong.

    If people want the benefits of freedom, they have to take on the responsibilities of freedom as well. If you want to live in a democracy, you have to vote. If you want to live in a nation where you are free to practice your religion any way that you want, then you have to grant that same right to people who worship differently from you, or people who choose not to worship at all. Otherwise, you're practicing the Christian version of sha'aria law.

    And that is not what this nation was supposed to look like.

  2. Thank you for your well thought out comments! The banner is actually a painting) on the wall of the little used school auditorium) which has people arguing that it is art, and a rarely seen piece of art at that. It will be interesting to see where this situation leads. A follow-up question on bullying will appear in my column this Tuesday (1/17/12). --Tazi

  3. Read the judgement in full. The law is clear, and the ruling correct.

    The judgement also discusses in detail the reason that this sort of abuse can not be allowed to stand. The bullying and threats now levelled at Jessica are the very reason that religion must not be allowed in public schools.

    The "banner" is not art, and it is not in some dusty corner unseen by most. It is in a prominant position in a well used auditorium, and is called the School PRAYER. It is also, as the judgement determined based on non Christan comments including ones by a rabbi, very obviously a Christian prayer.

    What a parlous state the US is in when it takes the brave actions of young kids to defend the Constitution, and when they do it results in them being bullied, threatened and ostracised by so called good Christians.

    Does it need an atheist like me to point out what Jesus said:

    "Judge not lest ye be judged thyself."


    These christo-fascist bullies are the very reason secularists like me and those US kids fight so hard to limit their influence on society, and shame on the god damned lot of them.

  4. the reason America is a great nation is its Constitution, providing freedom of religion amongst other things, so that no one is disadvantaged or discriminated against. One may not always like the results but the principle is great and must be upheld. Bravo to Jessica for standing up for the Constitution.

  5. "Am I - and the vast majority of those who speak out on this matter - in the wrong?"


  6. The fact of the matter is, we have a separation of church and state for a reason. We didn't want to be like England having a state religion. We didn't want a theocracy, a religious body or leader that was also head of state. We inherit this notion through The Enlightenment, that being that man's laws supersede any laws though a religious subtext. For example, we can rationally say that murdering a person is wrong, we didn't need religious dogma to tell us. When the founding fathers formed our republic, they wanted to do it scientifically and rationally. Now it is not to say that religious people aren't rational, they can be. In fact, there has been many religious people who can contributed to science and philosophy, so I don't want it to sound like I am counting them out. Jesus's Sermon on the Mound is read and taught in many literature classes and philosophy of ethics class, so let's not get it twisted. Mainly the question is the relationship of religion and the state being separate, however, you are also protected to practice whatever belief system you want, and if you don't want to believe, that is ok as well. As far as having a prayer banner up there, it's a simple matter of your tax dollars paying for a prayer banner being up there. I don't pay my tax dollars to have any prayer banner up there, no matter the religion.

  7. Jessica got USED. she said herself she never even saw the banner in all the times she had been in the Auditorium until her friend pointed it out and even then she was not insulted, offended or even bothered by it. It was only after the ACLU emailed her to be a part of the lawsuit did she claim to have a problem with it. She became a sucker for the ACLU and now more than half the country wishes her bad wishes. Nobody made her pray, nobody made her listen to prayers, nobody kept any of her rights from her. SHE decided to take the rights from everyone who wanted the historic gift from the first class left on the wall where it had been for 49+ years. It bothered no one until the ACLU claimed it did. , "The concept of the separation of church and state refers to the distance in the relationship between organized religion and the nation state." The State had no part in this banner being put in the auditorium, it was a gift (historic) from the First graduating Class of 1963. If the State made her recite a prayer or did anything to keep any of her Rights from her, it would be illegal, but not a banner on the wall that she never noticed. She is a puppet of the ACLU, ( says herself that before the ACLU e-mailed her about joining the lawsuit that she was not popular and was alone without many friends and "now she gets a lot of attention"...what a terrible bunch of adults at the ACLU for taking advantage of a 15 yr. old child. (I know she claims to be aware of the ramifications here but she is like ANY other teenager on the planet...easily manipulated and pushed into situations just by the need to be accepted) She is 15 (16 now) "Bullying" is having the ACLU to threaten to bankrupt the entire school department if you don't do what they say. After 49 years of being displayed without ONE person being "injured" by it, it should stay where it is. And for the record, No, I am not Religious at all, I just think the kid got used and the banner IS artwork and historic artwork at that. And for those that want to lean on "the Court ruled on it"...the court also ruled that "Corporations are people" and now companies can buy votes to cancel the ONE vote you get to make out.

  8. If it didn't bother anybody when it was there, it shouldn't bother anybody when it's gone.