Action Alert

Reason prevails in Rhode Island prayer banner controversy

Congratulations, Jessica!

The Freedom From Religion Foundation congratulates Jessica Ahlquist, 16, for prevailing in a heated state/church lawsuit challenging a prayer banner at her high school in Cranston, R.I. Yesterday, the school board there took the right, rational and fiscally responsible action, by voting not to appeal the Jan. 11 ruling by U.S. District Judge Ronald Lagueux. The judge had ordered the removal of a large prayer inscribed on a banner in the auditorium of Cranston High School West, beginning, "Our Heavenly Father" and ending "Amen."

"Jessica, with sweet determination, stood up for the First Amendment and its precious principle of separation between church and state, she persevered under acutely difficult circumstances, and she has prevailed," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president.

Ahlquist, 5 feet tall and only 16 years old, was targeted by many in her state and community, including by her state representative, who publicly labeled her "an evil little thing." She had become such a persona non grata in the overwhelmingly Catholic community that four local florists refused to deliver flowers FFRF had ordered after her January federal court victory. FFRF is pursuing claims against two floral shops with the State of Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights

FFRF awarded Jessica its Thomas Jefferson Student Activist Award, a $1,000 scholarship endowed by a West Coast FFRF couple, last fall. Her compelling speech at last fall's annual conference in Hartford, given without notes, which recounted her commitment to the Constitution as well the school and community's shockingly hostile responses, wow'ed her audience. (Read or listen to her speech.)

Jessica will be a headline speaker at the upcoming Reason Rally on the National Mall in Washington D.C., on Saturday, March 24. (Read more here.)

"Jessica is part of a long line of freethinkers who have stood up for rights of conscience, and made legal history in defending the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. She epitomizes the significant role that freethinkers continue to play in moving society forward," said Dan Barker, FFRF co-president.

FFRF thanks all its members who contacted the Cranston school board, urging it to not appeal. Please send a quick thank you to the Superintendent (who opposed appealing although he had no vote) and the five members of the School Committee (only those who voted against the appeal are listed below). 


Cranston School Committee

Peter Nero - Superintendent
Phone: 401-270-8000

Andrea M. Iannazzi - Chairperson
Home Tel: 401-935-2411

Steven Bloom
Home Tel: 401-447-3976

Stephanie Culhane
Home Tel: 401-781-2119

Paula McFarland
Home Tel: 401-944-5802

Janice Ruggieri
Home Tel: 401-944-4832


"Thank you for not appealing the banner ruling. You have the support of Americans around the nation."


Because a backlash is expected, please send a letter to the editor to the Providence Journal in support of the school board vote. Send submissions via email to: . Or by regular mail to: Letters to the Editor, The Providence Journal, 75 Fountain St., Providence, RI 02902. 


Hooray for Jessica!

Rhode Island florists refuse to deliver FFRF’s flowers to Jessica Ahlquist

FFRF announces “Atheists in Foxholes Support Fund”

Florist shops violate Rhode Island public accommodation statute

Thank you for your help! 

For maximum effectiveness, write as an individual and not as someone responding to this action alert. We are pleased to receive “blind” copies by email at .

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

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