Monday, January 30, 2012

EXTRA EDITION: Student Response To Prayer Banner Controversy

Dear Tazi:

I am writing in response to your letter from "Falcon Forever" about the Cranston High School West prayer banner. Although I can appreciate your desire to stay neutral, I think that the voice of the current students needs to be heard.

My friends and I are students at Cranston West. For the past several years, it has been drilled into our heads that bullying is wrong; that bullying takes many shapes, and to be on the look-out to make sure that what we consider fun and games does not cross the line into bullying. Due to zero tolerance policies, we are all careful to be considerate of others. So why is it that Jessica Ahlquist can bully the rest of us with her non-beliefs? Whatever happened to the idea of majority rule or even compromise or arbitration? Her all-or-nothing attitude is what has everyone so angry.

Last year, I made my Confirmation (I am Catholic) and as a part of the preparation I had to go on a weekend retreat. It was then that I had a spiritual awakening, and I realized the importance of my faith in God. Up until this point, it wasn't something I really though about; I only went to church on holidays and never said formal prayers. I still don't say formal prayers, and I don't believe that any one religion is better than another; but my belief in God is now a part of my daily life - something I never saw happening. How can Jessica Ahlquist - who is a year younger than me - be so certain that she will not change her mind in a few years? Even "Jane Roe" of Roe v. Wade fame is now a staunch pro-lifer.

At our school, we have people of many faiths - Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Wiccan, etc. and we all get along. Nobody made a big deal of the prayer banner because it wasn't a big deal until Jessica Ahlquist made it one. Now that the [feces] has hit the fan and is blowing back at her, she wants to play the victim. But what about the rest of us? Haven't we been victimized by her bullying?

Falcon Now And Forever

Dear Falcon Now And Forever:

I am printing your letter to give the a forum to the student voice, as you suggested. Quite honestly, when I printed the original letter as an EXTRA EDITION I did so because I thought the issue would be dead within a week. I had no idea that people felt so strongly about the banner; but the issue at hand does not appear to be just about a banner, does it? It appears to be about bullying and those who feel that the small minority is marginalizing the vast majority.

Although I stand by my original response - that I will not voice an opinion on the judge's decision and that I feel the reaction of the people mocks the very banner they seek to defend - I will add that I am very disappointed in Ms. Ahlquist's refusal to attend classes out of fear of bullying (death threats are another story; and Ms. Ahlquist has been afforded police protection ). True courage is not standing up for what you believe in, but in standing up to the face of adversity in order to defend your beliefs.

There is fault on both sides of the controversy, but now is not the time to assign blame. Rather, it is a time to work towards healing.


Ask Tazi! is ghostwritten by a human with a Bachelors of Arts in Communications. Tazi-Kat is not really a talking feline.


  1. Tazi, Jessica is back in school as of this morning.

    This country has always been about defending the rights of the minority. The people who founded this country did so with the express intent of protecting the rights of minorities, especially religious minorities. The purpose of the First Amendment is to make sure that the government cannot restrict the rights of religious minorities to practice as they see fit.

    I really want someone to explain to me how taking down a prayer bullies the majority. No sign is being put up that says, "There is no God." Is every bare wall, ever face of a building that does not contain a prayer, an affront to the religious?

    These students are not being told that they may not pray during their lunch time, their breaks, or silently during their study hall time. They are not being told to stop wearing religious tokens. They are not told to leave their Bibles at home. I do not know whether the school dress code permits message t-shirts, but if it does, no one stops them from wearing t-shirts proclaiming their faith. They can put messages of faith inside their lockers, and outside their lockers if any other messages can be posted on lockers.

    But it is not a violation of religious freedom to forbid students from praying aloud during class time. And it is not a violation of religious freedom to say that the school cannot endorse a religious sect or creed by posting messages of faith.

  2. Tazi,

    Never felt moved to comment, although I love your work on this blog, until I followed your coverage of the "Cranston prayer banner" story. I have my own thoughts on the subject, and unless you decide that you've devoted enough time to the topic and want to move on (which I've seen cats do quite easily, which is why I love them so much), you have my permission to post this as a separate letter as well.

    I've seen a lot of people commenting on the story suggest that Jessica could have just ignored the banner, but it doesn't change the fact that it is completely unconstitutional to have any prayer in a public school, regardless of what religion it promotes. I don't think it's about whether or not she thought that the Christian underground was out to convert her, or if she hated organized religion and all its manifestations. I believe she just thought it was illegal to have there. If alumni of an inner city school gifted a block of crack to their alma mater, it would be illegal for the school to have it, and no one would disagree. She thought that this was illegal for the school to possess/display as well. There seems to be this idea that she was out to destroy baby Jesus and succeeded, which is missing the point. She was pointing out a technicality, and the circuit judge agreed. Freedom of religion also means freedom from religion.

    One complainant mentioned on Facebook: "The prayer is never recited; no one even knows the damn thing, except that it's up on the [expletive deleted] wall; and no one ever sees the wall, 'cause no one is ever in the [expletive deleted] auditorium, and when they are there, the [expletive deleted] lights are off!" If that is the case, then why make a big deal about it being taken down? She made her case, and legally she won, and if no one has ever noticed the thing before, then they shouldn't have any problems with it not being there.

    Finally, a random thought from my past: When I was in the sixth grade, after the Pledge of Allegiance, we would recite what was called a "Class Code" every morning, and I still remember it by heart: "As sixth graders, we must be respectful of each other, always strive to do our very best work, cooperate as a class, treat everyone as we would like to be treated, and be an excellent example for the rest of the school." It's no Our Father, for sure, but it's a valid statement, perfectly complete and respectable with no religious inclusions whatsoever, unless you want to count the Golden Rule, which to be frank was repeated by many great minds before, during, and after the time of Christ. Without the appeal to a "Heavenly Father" and the "Amen" closing, I'm sure even Jessica herself wouldn't see a problem with a "class code" or "code of ethics" or whatever you want to call it based on the remaining words:

    "Grant us each day the desire to do our best,
    To grow mentally and morally as well as physically,
    To be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers,
    To be honest with ourselves as well as with others,
    Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win,
    Teach us the value of true friendship,
    Help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West."

    That's beautiful! And it doesn't offend anyone. I suspect the only reason Cranston West didn't make such a change when public prayer was no longer allowed in schools is because, based on the complainant's words, successive administrations have forgotten the prayer was ever there. And you know what they say about forgetting: "If you forget something, invariably it'll come back to bite you in the behind." That's what I think happened here.


  3. Your letter appears as an EXTRA EDITION in today's Ask Tazi!

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