One of the first questions asked by the media and residents in small-town religious disputes is, “Who is the offended complainer?” Some organizations, like the Freedom From Religion Foundation, file complaints on behalf of anonymous parties within towns or cities. For instance, they’ve filed complaints against the town of Whiteville, TN (now a lawsuit) for an illegal cross placed atop a water tower, and they’ve filed complaints against schools that violate the separation of church and state by leading students in prayer or otherwise endorsing religion.
As a member of a community not unlike those where anonymous complaints have been filed, I understand the need and want for anonymity. Many people become nasty when their traditions, even if illegal, are threatened or called out for being wrong. Most Christians who demand to know the names of individuals who complain about their own town traditions make veiled threats to said-person’s safety without knowing the identity. They often claim that no one would really try to harm that dissenting individual–that they would just like to know that it isn’t “outsiders” meddling with their affairs and that they’d like to work it out.
But is that all that these Christians who demand to know names and faces really want?
Fast-forward to the case of Cranston High School’s prayer banner. The plaintiff? High school student Jessica Ahlquist. Since her name was made public, anyone who is curious about how a 16-year-old girl would be treated if she challenged her school’s religious tradition now knows the truth: It’s not that these Christians care where the plaintiff lives; it’s that they want to make sure that the religious idea of karma or the Biblical notion “reap what you sew” is fully carried out by their violent counterparts.
A few people actually made posts demanding that Jessica Ahlquist be dealt the hand that was “coming to her.”
In case it wasn’t completely obvious that these individuals were far too old to be making online posts hoping that a child will “reap what she has sewn,” one admits that she is a parent of another student at the school and, quite more like an actual student herself, hopes to hear “the chatter” about this girl who dared to ask the school to remove an illegal item from the campus. She goes as far as to taunt the girl for not “facing the music.”
“But these aren’t necessarily threatening Jessica Ahlquist,” they’ll say. No, they’re not–not these, anyway (keep reading). They’re just parents who are going to let the chips fall where they may. As someone who has been in a school building, I understand that students are the ones who run the show in the school. Teachers cannot be everywhere. Teachers cannot see and hear everything. It’s also obvious that perceived parental approval of specific behaviors helps to make students confident in bullying situations. Whatever administrators may do to students who abuse, threaten, or harm other students, the parents should be the main implementers of consequence (unless the police are brought in).
That is why it is immensely disheartening and frightening to see that, along with parents accepting or even wishing that Jessica Ahlquist will return to Cranston High and face the other students, many students and others took to making physical threats against her online. JesusFetusFajitaFishsticks captured countless screenshots of Cranston students and others threatening to beat or rape the teenage girl, plotting to “jump” her, and throwing out disgusting names. What I’m posting is only a portion of the seemingly incessant number of hateful messages and threats aimed Jessica Ahlquist.
While some people may see this and think, “Dye or dead frogs?” This one in particular reminds me of an incident from Melba Pattillo Beals’ memoir where the hated desegregationist had acid (often available in science labs) thrown in her eyes by a random student. Here are some other captures some may find “shocking.”
The moral here is to never be fooled when a Christian “just wants to know” who the plaintiff is in any separation of church and state case. If that one person doesn’t want to be the one threatening or committing violence against another, the person would like to see their divine justice enacted by some other member of the community. When a plaintiff requests not to be named, he/she does so with good reason, whether it helps the case or not. Most people understand the kinds of people they will be dealing with.
If Christians in Rhode Island are able to make and defend threats and shameless bullying against a 16-year-old girl (and even her sister), it seems safe to say that there are Christians in every part of the country who would make the same (or worse) threats against a dissenter of any age, race, religion, or gender. It appears to be the rule, not the exception.
The good news in this story is that the police are looking into all of these threats and abuses against the victor Jessica Ahlquist, and, with any luck or common sense, something will be done to prevent any physical harm.