Thursday, January 12, 2012

On Jessica Ahlquist and Roger Williams

I know what you are thinking. 

How on earth do you tie these two people into one post? 

Stick with me here, OK?

The decision came down yesterday.  The prayer banner at Cranston West must be taken down, according to the judges ruling.  Jessica Ahlquist got her way. 

The press conference this morning?  Was a joke.

I have blogged my feelings on this before.  Which I would *love* to attach but Blogger is having yet another funky issue and I can't view or attach it at the moment.  It should be under Schools failing?  Lets build a new one!

At any rate...I am personally saddened and unhappy with the decision.  Not only did we waste a lot of time, but we have wasted money (that's right... the Cranston School Department is now responsible for plaintiff court costs and fees) on something written on a banner hung 50 years ago.

When this first started making the news I was more than irate.  How could she, I thought.  It isn't anything anyone recites - its just hanging on a wall.  Does she not use money too?  I mean she's suing for damages so the money she's handed is going to say God on it... no problem with that though, right?  Is she taking another lawsuit to the Federal Reserve?  What awesome parents she has, allowing her to take even more money from our ailing school system over something like this - when so many programs are being taken from the kids now.

For instance, did I mention parents of Cranston school elementary students are now being invited to pay money to enroll their children in music programs that used to be automatically offered to children in the school system for free?

All those thoughts, and so many more.

Since the decision came down yesterday though, I haven't been able to stop thinking about something else?  What would Roger Williams have said...

Something you may not know about me.  I only learned it fairly recently myself.  I am a direct descendant of Roger Williams.  No break in the Line, he is my 10th or 11th Great Grandfather.  It's all been traced... and it was amazing to me.  It changed the way I saw myself a little.  Al has joked with me that I am like Rhode Island royalty ... funny thing is I kind of felt like it upon hearing the news.

Maybe its been on my mind more since there was an article on Roger Williams in the Providence Journal this past Sunday - the front page of The Rhode Islander section (which I can not link because I do not subscribe to the Journal online). 

He stood for the separation of church and state.  The freedom to practice your own religion.  We should tolerate those who disagree.  All that I understand. 

But I can't help wonder if hundreds of years later what he envisioned would even include something like this.  Lawsuits over the words 'Our Heavenly Father' and 'Amen' on something that I personally view as more historical than anything else.  Back when Roger Williams was fighting for the separation of church and state, people were being jailed and sometimes executed over their faith.  He founded Providence so people could be free to practice their own religion, have their own thoughts... and not be punished for it.

And here we are all these years later.  And you can practice any religion you want... even if that means not having a religion at all, like Jessica.  You are free to challenge things, to say what you want when you want.  Believe what you want to believe.  I wonder if my Great Great Great( get the picture) Grandfather would have been happy about her 'fight' and her 'win'. 

I am struggling with that thought though.  No matter how hard I try, I just can't wrap my head around it.  Did he really intend to push it so far that we take money from a school system meant to educate our children that has next to nothing right now... just so some people don't have to look at a banner anymore that says Our Heavenly Father and Amen?  Because really, that's all it is in the end.  And if you don't believe in God, what difference does it make to you anyway.  If he doesn't exist, why is it so offensive to you.

How does that teach tolerance when one person (in over 50 years) lodges a complaint and it has to be removed... when there are so many others... seemingly many more... who fought for it to stay.  Jessica no longer even attends Cranston West.  My children are being taught tolerance - not only by me, but also in school.  Their teachers so far have done a wonderful job year after year asking what holidays everyone celebrates and teaching about so no one is left out.  The boys have learned about Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, Kwanzaa and more.

It saddens me that things have come to this.  And that she will have no problem taking the money from our already cash strapped school system that my children are trying to make due with. 


  1. Absolutely love this and agree 100% with you, Liza! Well-said. I feel like she was more about "making a statement" than about what that sign really meant. And I think we are a society that gets offended if someone looks at us the wrong way now. It's almost like our freedom to think and feel what we choose to is only backfiring on us as we grow older. It's sad, really. I don't relate to someone who can't just makes a stir over something for nothing. Like you said, she doesn't believe in God, so why would this offend her? Just don't look at it. And what a good comment about the money she gets having God on it. Aren't we supposed to teach our children to be tolerant and accepting to ALL? this teaches just the opposite. it teaches, "if you don't like the same think I like, you can sue them to take it down." I find it mind-boggling and frustrating. These are people who have too much time on their hands, when their time and efforts could be better spent on so many other needy causes--ones that actually harmfully affect people.

    PS- cool fact about your blood line!

    Nice post. :)

    1. ha ha i got in with firefox! not sure why i keep getting kicked out. thanks for your comment jen. i totally agree that it ends up teaching people to sue when they don't like something. i am frustrated too.

  2. I'm going to try and keep my comment short...and without sounding like a lunatic because this issue really upsets me.

    I'll "put it all out there" I am a Lutheran. I have been my whole life. There was a brief period as a teenager where I didn't believe in God (a common teen phase) But Came back to the Church in college.

    First of all Jessica has things all wrong. The separation of Church and State wasn't to protect the STATE from the was to protect the CHURCH from the state. It protected our freedom of religion. The government couldnt give money or promote one religion over another. They couldn't "shut down" a church, or force a religion on a group of people. THAT was the purpose. Not to eliminate ALL religion from any public place. A Christian banner could hang beside a Muslim banner and a Jewish banner... Jessica's rights were not being infringed upon. Nobody's rights were.

    I also think she did this as a way to get attention. Granted she says she didn't, that she "needed" to fight for her rights. But truly in the end, all she has done is hurt a community, what used to be her community, one that she has now removed herself from. She claims she is going to give back all the money she "won" to the school. But That must be after court costs and legal fees. The damage has been done. Financially and emotionally.

    What bothers me most about Jessica is her intolerance. I have read her blog. She makes fun of and attacks Christians. All while saying how intolerant Christians are. Someone is suffering from "Pot calling the kettle black" syndrome.

    This is already much longer than I'd intended, so I leave it with this: WOW! How cool that you and Roger Williams are "family" He'd be super angry about this whole mess!

    1. sarah you did not sound like a lunatic. i love your point about not meaning to eliminate all religions but to incorporate them all basically. and i do feel she hurt the community in the end, it became more than proving a point. (also? not a fan of that blog either.)

  3. WOW -
    so cool that you are a descendant of Roger Williams. That is an amazing connection. JEALOUS a bit!!!

    In response to the banner decision, I totally agree with you that I wish no one would benefit monetarily from this decision and that it saddens me that the school system is loosing important funds because someone wanted it taken down and wants money for being offended by its presence...Come on, just take it down and let the money stay in the school system.
    But...and I say but with some trepidation cause I don't want to stir the pot too much, but I do feel like church and state need to be clearly and definitively separate. And having that banner up was not a separation of religion and state and was bothersome to people who do not believe in that type of prayer process. I know it seems insignificant but in the end, to me, it comes down to the words "God" and "Amen" and the need for prayer and religious practices to be separate from the school setting so that all children can learn comfortably and without discrimination and without feeling like the system they are in supports any one set of beliefs (the banner does send the message that that school beleives in certain religious ideas since the words on it do have christian based-language on it). If the banner is there, I believe it can stir up unnecessary issues, and if it is not there, the issue is not as much there (well as much as religious issues in our country are not there but that is a whole other blog post).
    We ARE lucky here in RI that we can practice our religions as we choose and without prosecution but when you look at the global impact religion has on us and everyone else in the world, it becomes clearer to me, that religion MUST be a separate topic and issue from our school setting topics as Roger Williams and our past leaders hoped it would be. They came from persecution and saw first hand how difficult religious discrimination could be. And we see in the news every night how when religion becomes a part of the ruling power somewhere in the world (Iraq, Iran, Africa, Afgahnistan, Pakistan...) and it takes over all the national systems like schooling, economics, politics, health system..., we see just how destructive, discriminating and dangerous it can be. I feel like this banner decision is a smaller statement and message being sent to support a larger global need for the decision to be support to separate all religion from all things in the school system.
    I hope this makes sense in how I expressed it and it is certainly just my perspective. I hope I did not piss you off cause I totally respect your opinion and appreciate what I took away from your post. I just worry so much that it is a bigger issue in the long run both in RI, in history and Globally. Okay I am gonna push Publish now ...dont hate me forever LOL

    1. catherine i could never hate you sweetie. :) i see your side, i really do. and we don't all have to have the same opinions. your response was very well thought out and i like it. :) i just really wish we could *all* get along... why we have to fight over religion, or anything else to begin with... its crazy to me. and now i'm just upset that the schools will suffer more as a result.

  4. totally get your disappointment with the school systems financial lose. It sucks for the kids and the teachers for sure esp. in a system that is already hurting so much...but I think the legal decision was legally correct and I just wish the school system had recognized that before the fight began cause I think from the very beginning, this was not a winnable battle in the eyes of the law and they could have saved Cranston a lot of money. Frustrating indeed