Why Jessica Ahlquist Is My Hero

There have been three major Atheist-related news items this week, which I would like to discuss and extrapolate further. Let’s get the ugliest story out of the way first.

Jessica Ahlquist

A high school student named Jessica Ahlquist took her public school to court, requesting that the prayer banner prominently displayed in the school hall be taken down, as public schools are legally forbidden to favour one religion over another, or over non-belief. Her court case was uncontroversial and the school lawyers really should have known better; she won and the banner was removed. Read this article by Greta Christina to get the full gist of exactly how violent her fellow students and community got. This sixteen year old girl has been threatened with rape, stabbing and death for simply asking that her rights as a minority are acknowledged.

Like any homogeneous group whose privilege is threatened, the christian majority is particularly vicious in its attitude to anyone who dares challenge their point of view. This girl did not burn crucifixes in the quad, or pistolwhip nuns; she simply asked for an illegal banner to be removed. The vitriolic response speaks far more to the insecurity of her community than it does to any other part of this story. Surely christians can pray without a banner? Or do they need to be reminded of the words to the Daily Prayer? And is it really necessary to wish that Jessica be raped by god? Even I find that a bit tasteless. In any case, the Friendly Atheist blog is raising funds for her education; I hope many of us atheists can help her and show our support for her bravery. She deserves so much better than this terrible, unfair and unwarranted vitriole.
The second story takes us to the UK, where one Michael Grove is struggling to find private sponsorship for his Bible

distribution program. His approach, it seems, is to approach the government for funding, an ill-informed move considering the volatile situation schooling is in at the moment in England. As it is, the new Margret Thatcher movie won’t deal with how Maggie wanted to deny schoolchildren milk; now some twat expects taxpayers to fund Bible distribution when the teachers’ pay is being cut and fees are being inordinately increased. I would like to use this as an
Michael Grove. Credit to Rex Features
 example of how the State really should be secular and not have to pay for such unnecessary programs. It is also interesting that no one with that kind of money to throw around wants to give it to him. As I’ve discussed here, millions of children in the UK don’t even own a picture book, hence the Michael Morpurgo/MacDonald’s deal. Now Grove wants to waste 400,000 pounds sterling on distributing Bibles. That’s R4,8 million wasted on celebrating the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. How necessary is this, really? Shouldn’t that money be going to buying textbooks? Preferably ones about evolution?

Lastly, and unusually, South African Atheists enjoyed a victory in the realm of advertising. The full case study is listed here, and the brief is: an advert by Rivers Church advocated that atheists are empty-headed and nihilistic. (I wish I could find an image to match this ad.) Now I find most church ads as amusing as they are poorly made, but this stepped across a line. Nearly all of my friends are Atheists, and not one of them (I’m sorry to disappoint) is a bad person. They wouldn’t be my friends otherwise. We are passionate about life and the magic of science; we give a shit when terrible things happen. We attend protest marches, we help our our communities. You know, the kind of things that only religious people apparently do. My atheist boyfriend has tutored underprivileged kids for free on his time and without support, despite the fact that his company now charges thousands of rands for his time. Other friends also tutor or do animal welfare work. We are not bad, and we don’t believe in nothing. Most of all, we are not stupid. We are nearly all university graduates, many of us with academic acclaim and all the shiny titles. I may just be speaking for my circle, but we are not fairly represented by that ridiculous advert. That advert is as offensive as it is misguided, and I’m glad that it only took one complaint to get the stupid thing pulled down.

So, that wraps up some Atheist news, and its good to see that we are making some headway in the world. I honestly and truly believe that one day people will stop equating us with rapists, idiots and murders, but that won’t happen until we set the best and kindest example we can. And we must stop being afraid just because those who hate us have access to Twitter. We are not alone, and we must continue reaching out to each other, and especially in supporting brave students like Jessica. I don’t think I could have done what she did and survive the fallout. I admire her, and hope that one day she becomes president. That would be fantastic.

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