Sunday, October 16, 2011

Religious or Historical Banner?


Jessica Ahlquist is a 16-year-old high school Junior, who strongly believes in her religion of Atheism. Ahlquist attends Cranston High School West, in Rhode Island, where a prayer banner is hung on the wall of the auditorium inside of the high school. Ahlquist has been an atheist since she was 10 and feels very strongly about the prayer banner being taken down and is suing the school because the banner is offensive to non-Christians and “it’s the right thing to do.” However, the school and the attorney that is defending the city of Cranston believes “the mural is a historical artifact from the school’s early days in the 1960’s and serves no religious purpose.” Although the banner is a sentimental, historical artifact to the town of Cranston, it is challenging to argue that something is secular when the words “Amen” and “Our Heavenly Father” are mentioned. The mural has been hung since 1963 and developed school traditions such as their mascot, creed and their school colors. In opposition to the mural, Ahlquist created a Facebook page to provoke support in removing the mural from the school. Ahlquist’s supporters were limited, given the school’s strong sense of patriotism for the prayer, however, her lawyer’s stand on the matter is airtight, "The prayer is not…anything like a Pledge of Allegiance. In contrast, this is a prayer, it's a religious communication and it's in a public school."

This issue is extremely important because it challenges the idea of whether a religious object can be secularized or not. In addition, this matter also challenges the acceptability of religion in a public institution. If I were to put myself in the position of a student at Cranston High, I would probably be very upset with Ahlquist for trying to take something from the school that has proved to mean to much to the school’s history, and has not provoked any issues for over forty years until now. Unfortunately, Ahlquist has a valid point, and something cannot be secular if it refers to religious terms, and especially if it refers to one specific religion. Hanging up a Christian banner in a public institution is not acceptable, because it is not fair to all the people who believe in other religions or no religion at all. In order to make Cranston High a non-religiously controversial school, the banner must be taken down, or a banner must be hung up of every other religion, therefore no religion is ostracized, however, this option is almost impossible.

The school says that they force no student to recite the prayer; it just simply hangs there for students and the community to see and be proud of. Therefore, I understand Ahlquist’s lack of support for the notion to sue the school. First of all, Cranston High is a public school, suing a public institution will only result in less money trickling down towards the education the students at the High school will receive. Also, I feel as though Ahlquist is aggrandizing the situation a bit more than necessary; she only has another year left in Cranston High, the ending of her high school career would be manageable in a school with one religious banner.


11 comments:

Harry R. said...

I feel that the banner in question is a violation of the establishment clause. The religious messages contained within it are inappropriate, but that does not mean the entire banner must be removed. Were the religious aspects omitted and the title changed to a school motto or a similar document, I feel that the meaning contained within the document would lose its establishment clause controversies.

Jean A said...

To me, it seems this banner is violating the establishment clause. Hanging such a banner in a public school, with a variety of religious studets is unconstitutional and imposes prayer on students. While the school may argue that the banner exemplifies school history and pride, the words within the banner are controversial and does not seem to have strong secular intent. I disagree with Liz when she argues that the student is a senior and should be able to make it through the school year tolerating the banner. Regardless of her class year, she makes a strong case against the hanging of this banner and is advocating for the removal for benefit of future students.

Grace R said...

This banner hanging up at the school clearly benefits one religion over another. However, I also understand Liz's argument that the girl is being pretty aggressive about having the banner taken down. However, it is for those students and those who aren't confident enough to speak up that I think the banner must be taken down. Just because other people haven't had an issue with it doesn't mean that it's right. I sympathize with the student and agree that the banner is religiously obtrusive and should be taken down.

Grant Z said...

I also believe the banner is a violation of the establishment clause. However, I sympathize with the historical significance of the banner to the school. I think Harry has a good point that perhaps the religious references could be removed from the banner. But it is certain that a display of a prayer has no place in a public school. While nobody is being coerced into reciting the prayer, it still blatantly favors religion over non-religion.

Sophie K said...

I believe that the banner is a violation of the establishment clause because it contains religious messages. This case is very similar to Stone vs Graham where Kentucky law mandated that public school classrooms post copies of the Ten Commandments. In both instances, no one was forced to read what was on the wall, and both arguably had historical significance. However, I think the words "our heavenly father" on the banner demonstrate that the banner does not have a purely secular purpose and it doesn't seem to serve any educational function.

Marissa V said...

Although at first I agreed with Liz I still feel the banner is violating the establishment clause. Even though there is a strong tradition associated with the banner, it still is inherently religious in nature. This is similar to the case we discussed in class, Stone v. Graham, where there was copies of ten commandments posted in public school classrooms. Even though there were "disclaimers" stating it had no religious intent, the court still ruled it as unconstitutional as the historical religious basis makes it irrefutably religious. This case is very similar to the one Liz discussed as it violates the establishment clause.

TNTbo said...

First off, I feel the student should not sue the school, it cheapens her position, she loses credibility, and she is weakening the institution. This banner seems like a clear violation of the establishment clause, so I can sympathize with the atheist student. However, this is similar to the Lynch v Donnelly case for its historical significance. I feel that the context of this banner may be more important than what it actually says; for example, if it was in a glass case with a collection of other school artifacts that clearly served a historical purpose, then to me it seems okay. The fact that the students are not required to recite the prayer or even to acknowledge the banner, it does not really seem to cause any harm. It is merely recognizing the school's antiquity.

kanderson said...

I know that the banner is an example of the school's history, but it does seem as if it is in violation with the establishment clause. but i wouldn't want the school to get rid of the banner entirely (like Harry R. said). So, what to do with it? Although I dont have the answer to think question. I completely see how this is a controversial issue and definitely feel that this banner holds weight because it has historical context.

Justin E said...

The banner is a violation of the establishment clause. It certainly fails the Lemon test. More importantly however, it is a public institution why they have a prayer hanging up in the first place is questionable. The banner includes the words "amen" and "our heavenly father". Clearly this is a religious symbol. They may try and plead that it serves as a historical artifact of the town and school, but history does not always take precedent over such issues.

BryceS said...

This issue is certainly controversial and may seem as though it is an obvious violation of the first amendment, but it is complex due to the nature of the defendants’ argument. Similar to Lynch v. Donnelly, this school board is arguing that the banner is celebrating a history rather than religion. That being said, there is legitimate reasoning for keeping the banner up. However, I feel as though this issue will provoke great scrutiny towards the historical argument since this is image is displayed in a public school rather than a park (as was the crèche in Lynch v. Donnelly). Personally, because this banner is displayed in a public school where children are subject to its message, I feel as though it should be removed.

Chris R. said...

I believe that everyone who has responded to this post saying that this banner is a violation of the establishment clause would be correct if the Lemon Test is the correct interpretation of the establishment clause. This, however, should not be taken at face value. The establishment clause merely states that congress shall make no law regarding an establishment of religion. Because I see no law that does this in this case, I cannot help but disagree with the above opinions.