Monday, January 30, 2012

Jessica Ahlquist, Atheist, Receives Threats Over Prayer Banner Ruling; School Board May Appeal

This article describes the actions of Jessica Ahlquist that took a stand against school officials about a banner that was being displayed at her public high school. The reason that this banner has caused considerable problems to arise is because of the fact that the banner features a prayer, which was offensive to the Ahlquist who is an atheist. “On Jan. 11, federal judge Ronald R. Lagueux ruled it was unconstitutional for the banner to hang at the public school,” which is clear that the federal government saw that this banner was going against the Establishment clause of the first amendment.  
It is clear that the issue that are present in this article is the fact that this banner seem to some people as an entanglement of the public school with religion. Although a student wrote the prayer in 1963, the school was the one that made the decision to hang the banner for public view. The Establishment Clause has clear implications that the government was not to favor anyone one religion over another. The banner was seen to be in favor of the Christian belief with the prayer starting with “Our Heavenly Father” in which Ahlquist saw that the public school was favoring one religion over all the others by displaying the banner in the auditorium and refusing to take it down. The Establishment Clause has been challenged before about prayer in public school in the Engel v. Vitale case in which the mandatory prayer that was recited everyday that was written by the Board of Regents was ruled unconstitutional and struck down by the courts. It was seen that the government had no business in establishing or promoting a certain religion with the requirement of a certain prayer in schools. This can be seen in the case of the banner, even though it was not required to be recited, the clear acceptance and refusal to take it down by the School Board showed a clear preference and promotion of one religion.
The school tried to make it appear that he banner was hung and not taken down because it was part of the “historic and cultural” aspect of the school and that it has nothing to do with the promotion of a single religion. It cannot be seen as purely secular matter since the primary effect of the banner is to promote a particular religions prayer, and so it its in direct violation of the Establishment Clause. There is no clear secular point of the banner since it does not display any historical value, other than being produced by the student in 1963. One can also argue that the banner was in no way a form of mandatory prayer in public schools and that the banner was just hung there and that Ahlquist did not have to look at it if it offended her, in which they would not be seeing this as a religious cause but that of a free speech case. There seems to be a problem with that in which the court have ruled before that individuals have the right of free exercise of any religion of their choosing and to speak freely about it, but the first amendment does prohibit the government from interfering and accommodating one religion over another and causing entanglement of Church and State. 


Angela S. said...

The argument was not just that the banner was historic having been written by a student in the past, but that it promoted secular values that are valued in the community. In my opinion though, that does not change the fact that it is still a very Christian prayer. The first line tells you who it is addressed to and the last line confirms that. If those lines had been replaced with something secular then the actual message of the banner would not have been such an issue, but the message seems to have been lost based on the fact that police have to escort her to school.

Nicole S. said...

Angela's comment brings into light the distinction between favoritism for a specific denomination over another and appreciation for local history. As we have discovered in our recent readings, religion in general has played a significant role in shaping our nation, and for that reason can be utilized to honor our past.To me, the intention behind the hanging of the banner is what can determine the constitutionality. If the banner was hung in order to explicitly promote a specific denomination over another, then it is obviously unconstitutional. If the banner was hung in order to honor local history, perhaps it should stay. Will we next refuse to speak of all influences religion has had on our world for fear of choosing favorites?