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Friday, January 13, 2012


Girl at the Center of the Cranston “Prayer Banner” Case targeted by Cyber-Bullies

Upfront let me say that I am proud to be an uncle to the amazing Jessica Ahlquist, the student who two days ago won her case against the City of Cranston over an unconstitutional “prayer banner” on display at her school. It was not only a victory for Jessica, but a victory for everyone in this country who values the Constitution, freedom of conscience, and our secular society. Founder Roger Williams based the government of Rhode Island on these principles, establishing the first secular government in history and the freest land in the world at the time.

From time to time, of course, we need reminding of our history and of the importance of our Constitutional rights, and Jessica did so with a grace and poise not often found in people well older than her.

That’s why it’s so difficult to talk about the threats and cyber-bullying that she has been exposed to since the verdict came down. One website provided a long list of screenshots of these, and they are truly deplorable.

“shes not human shes garbage”
“I think everyone should just fight this girl”
“I’ll drop anchor on her face”
“Let’s all jump that girl who did the banner”
“When I take over the world I’m going to do a holacaust to all the atheists”
“i cant wait to hear about you getting curb stomped”
“everyone is going to beat you up prob”
“what a little bitch lol I wanna snuff her”

This from people defending a Christian Prayer on the wall of a public school. A prayer that says, in part:
“Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win,”

That’s irony.

To the credit of the Cranston School Committee, when I contacted them with my concerns, they were quick to assure me that the Cranston Police have been investigating these threats since last night, and that they are taking this issue very seriously.

Cranston School Committee Chairperson Andrea Iannazzi admits being troubled by what she has seen but “will not break confidentiality by discussing students behavior or discipline…” Which is fine, because most of this bullying behavior and threats come from minors, and as long as appropriate action is taking place, all should be well. Also responding were Steve Bloom, Frank Lombardi, and committee member McFarland. Cranston Superintendent of Schools Nero is aware of the situation, as is Assistant Superintendent Judy Lundsten.

As a parent, an uncle, and a citizen of Rhode Island, I am glad that the situation is being addressed in a forthright and professional manner. Title 16-21, concerning the Health and Safety of Students, defines bullying as “the use by one or more students of a written, verbal or electronic expression or a physical act or gesture or any combination thereof directed at a student that… places the student in reasonable fear of harm to himself/herself…” or “creates an intimidating, threatening, hostile, or abusive educational environment for the student…”

As an atheist Jessica is part of a minority that is currently under attack at her school. If she were black, Jewish or gay there would be a huge outcry against her being treated in this manner. Given that our society is, at its best, concerned with the health and safety of all our children, I am pleased by the prompt action Cranston city officials seem to be taking.