Jessica Ahlquist has always been a sensitive person. She cried in class when learning about slavery in the antebellum South. She cried in class when she learned about how the Third Reich massacred Jews. One might think that with what she’s experienced in the past two years, a river of tears would now stretch from Cranston to Providence. But that’s not the case; she says she feels more confident than ever.
An atheist since age 10, she is currently a student at the public secondary school Cranston High School West in Cranston, Rhode Island. She came across a prayer banner in the auditorium of her school her freshman year. She learned that the prayer, addressed to a God in heaven, was already an issue: the ACLU had been contacted by a parent within the school system, and a subcommittee had been formed to decide what to do about it. At its final meeting, the subcommittee, which included the school’s superintendent, voted 4-3 to keep the prayer.
Despite threats and harassment, Jessica partnered with the ACLU and filed a lawsuit against the school. She found support online during her activism. According to her, her involvement in the secular movement showed that “there are so many people who care -- and that’s the best part of all of it.”