Jessica Ahlquist - Thomas Jefferson Youth Activist – 2012
Jessica Ahlquist, 16, was a plaintiff in a successful ACLU federal lawsuit to force removal of an 8-foot-tall prayer banner from her Rhode Island high school. After winning the lawsuit she received the Thomas Jefferson Youth Activist Award for the second time. This time FFRF awarded Ahlquist $2,000 doubling the $1,000 award she received in 2011.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation congratulates Jessica Ahlquist, for prevailing in a heated state-church lawsuit challenging a prayer banner at her high school in Cranston, R.I. 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.
In response to all of the backlash surrounding Jessica's win, especially the comments made by her state representative, FFRF created a special fund, “The Atheists in Foxholes Support Fund,” to provide scholarships and assistance to persons who exhibit bravery in furthering the cause and experience hardship because of that stand. Jessica is the first recipient of this special fund.