While all agree that some traditions should be honored, others must be put to rest as our national values and notions of tolerance and diversity evolve. At any rate, no amount of history and tradition can cure a constitutional infraction.
Does this sound familiar? It’s from the January 11 ruling on Ahlquist v. City of Cranston, in which an explicitly sectarian prayer banner was ordered removed from the wall of a public high school. The Rhode Island school district argued that “the prayer, which dates back to the early 1960s, is an historical memento of the school’s founding days, with a predominantly secular purpose.” The plaintiff who took her school district to court is a 16 year old student, Jessica Ahlquist. Here is the full paragraph from the ruling (PDF):
To determine the present purpose of the Prayer Mural, it is necessary to examine the School Committee’s motivations and its March 2011 vote to defend the Mural. While the tenor of the School Committee’s open meeting at times resembled a religious revival, the reasons articulated by the four School Committee members who voted to keep the Prayer Mural up, even in the face of anticipated litigation, were nuanced and varied. Two Committee members were clearly motivated by their adherence to strong Catholic religious beliefs. Other reasons cited for keeping the Prayer Mural included the importance of conveying moral values to high school students; the importance of history and tradition to Cranston West; the importance of respecting each student’s contribution to the school; and the importance to these elected officials of responding to their constituency.The Court refrains from second-guessing the expressed motives of the Committee members, but nonetheless must point out that tradition is a murky and dangerous bog. While all agree that some traditions should be honored, others must be put to rest as our national values and notions of tolerance and diversity evolve. At any rate, no amount of history and tradition can cure a constitutional infraction. The Court concludes that Cranston’s purposes in installing and, more recently, voting to retain the Prayer Mural are not clearly secular. Other less ambiguous constitutional problems with the Prayer Mural reveal themselves through the analysis of Lemon’s other prongs.
The statement is compassionate and balanced. It also echoes the situation we face in Loudoun as our new Board of Supervisors seeks a solution to the courthouse holiday display impasse. The arguments that history and tradition should trump constitutional imperative will not stand, however sincere or well-intentioned they may be. To those who continue to assert their right to have a creche on the courthouse grounds: A different solution must be found, one way or another. The current one does not satisfy anyone, and some of us saw this coming a long time ago. And a cautionary tale:
Plaintiff is clearly an articulate and courageous young woman, who took a brave stand, particularly in light of the hostile response she has received from her community.
Yes. That. In the many screenshots (NSFW, trigger warning, contains extremely violent language and profanity) captured from the bullies’ reaction, they:
- Posted her home address online;
- Made death threats and other threats of extreme violence;
- Solicited the participation of others to physically assault her;
- Used extremely demeaning and dehumanizing sexual language
All of which is neatly summed up by one tweet which simply says “She’s not human.”
Police are investigating. May cooler heads prevail as the Special Rights crowd learns to accept that this nation belongs to all of us, not just them.