I want to start with a word.  It’s a simple word; it’s only four letters long and not at all difficult to pronounce.  It’s anatomical in origin, it’s almost 800 years old, and yet it still is considered by some people  to be “one of the few remaining words in the English language with a genuine power to shock.”

The word is “cunt.”

According to the Online Etymological Dictionary, the word has been avoided in public speech since the 14th century, and considered obscene since the 17th.  Any news anchor in the country would be fired immediately if they were to use it to describe someone, and yet recently that particular word has been leveled at an unassuming 16-year-old from Cranston, Rhode Island.  Here’s a taste:

Well that seems reasonable.

The person they’re talking to there is Jessica Ahlquist, who has been in the news a fair bit recently.

Here’s why:


Basically, there was a banner at Cranston West High School in Cranston, Rhode Island, that looked like this.

The issue there is that Cranston West is a public high school and thus, pursuant to separation of church and state (SOCAS) laws, is not allowed to use public funding to support one religion over another or the presence of religion over the lack thereof, and thus phrases like “our heavenly father” and “amen” are problematic.

Jessica went to the school administration and informed them that the banner was unconstitutional, and could they kindly take it down.  They ignored her.  She then went to the ACLU and told them about it, and the ACLU told the school that the banner was unconstitutional, and could they kindly take it down because the ACLU was willing to sue to have it removed.  The school administration decided, mainly because the district owed the city more than $6 million, that they would “research the issue further.”  The superintendent, Peter Nero—also a practicing Catholic—seemed open to the idea of taking the banner down.

“If people want to express themselves religiously, I would advise them to go to church,” said Nero. “I see a lot of empty pews next to me.”

But the banner stayed up by a school board vote of 4-3.  That was in December of 2010.  In April of 2011, the Rhode Island ACLU filed suit against the city of Cranston with Jessica as the lead plaintiff.  In the suit, she said:

The prayer’s presence in the school promotes and endorses the ideals of Christianity and the concept of a single “Heavenly Father”. I firmly believe that it should not be on display in a public school and is in direct violation of my and other students’ civil rights. As an atheist, I do not feel included in the message of the prayer; in fact, I feel excluded. And the public hearings that I have attended have added to that feeling — that my views and beliefs don’t count, or have less value than those of the Christian majority. I don’t feel that I or anyone else should have to feel that way at school. The prayer does not belong in a public school and that’s why I have come forward to challenge it.

She is, of course, absolutely right.  The law is the law, whether a majority of people decide that it should be broken or not.  Now, finally, the banner is down.  More specifically, it’s covered up.

So that’s that, right?  It’s over.

And then the insults started rolling in.

Over the past few days, Twitter and Facebook have lit up with horrific insults, responses to those insults, responses to the responses, etc.  The worst of them, not by its content but by its source, came from Rhode Island State Representative Peter Palumbo, who called Jessica Ahlquist “an evil little thing” and followed it with, “Poor thing. And it’s not her fault. She’s being trained to be like that…she’s being coerced by evil people.”  That’s an elected official at the state level saying, essentially, that atheists are evil.

But it gets worse.  I either took or compiled 56 screenshots of abuse directed toward her, and they seem to fall into a few categories.


I know what your first question is, and the answer’s no.  I do not know why none of these people is capable of taking a photo standing upright.  The point is that this is your typical angry outcry, ad hominem attack.  Not really any substance to it, and it’s the kind of insult that just rolls right off.  Not too far from what’s been leveled at me.  Anyway.


These are slightly more concerning, and I’m under the impression that disciplinary action is being taken.  These people aren’t exactly criminal masterminds—I’m counting eleven people’s real, full names—so I hope that was adequately addressed.  Threats of throwing shit, punching, beating up, stabbing, drowning, holocaust, cannibalism, crucifixion, and yes, ass-rape—those are serious.  That’s not ok.


These people aren’t really a threat, they’re just the entire reason this case came up in the first place.  Let’s see what we’ve got here.

Infinitysidewaysheartmusicalnotesquaresquarecheckmark has a point.  I mean after all, what’s the harm?  Why can’t atheists just ignore the fact that they’re being ostracized?  I mean, it’s not like the people at the school are openly hostile…toward…atheists…umm…

Cammie Giarusso (here’s her Facebook page) is falling into that usual trap of thinking that public opinion should decide whether the law is upheld.  Should we journey back to another historic court decision?  One that was almost universally disagreed with by the student body and state officials?  Let’s do that.

On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court ruled that schools could no longer be segregated by race.  In Little Rock, Arkansas, nine black students decided that they wanted to go to school with the white students.  Not only did several segregationist groups blockade the front of the school, not only did the governor support them, but he called for the Arkansas National Guard to blockade the front of the school.  One of the students recounted that day:

They moved closer and closer… Somebody started yelling… I tried to see a friendly face somewhere in the crowd—someone who maybe could help. I looked into the face of an old woman and it seemed a kind face, but when I looked at her again, she spat on me.

In the end, President Eisenhower not only federalized the entire 10,000-strong Arkansas National Guard, taking them out of the command of the governor, but he called in over a thousand paratroopers to break up the crowds and escort the students to class.  Sometimes the majority is wrong.

Well, this is pretty simple.  Being an atheist is not illegal, nor is being ugly (which she’s not).  Go through that last status and replace “atheists” with “Jews” and tell me how you think that would go over.

Again.  It’s illegal.  I know you poor Christians only have 80% of the country’s population, more than 95% of its government officials, every major holiday you want, billions in tax subsidies, and a mention of your God in the Pledge of Allegiance and on the money…it must be hard to be so oppressed.  I THOUGHT THIS WAS AMERICA.


Steve Jazz.  Steve has a question.

But that’s not all.  When Steve’s not being imbecilic, he also teaches history!

Sorry, that was still imbecilic.  My mistake.  But wait, Steve’s still got his most salient point left to go.

I THINK that what he’s trying to say here is that since the years of the calendar are based on the year of birth of Jesus, Jessica is secretly religious.  Or something.  So that’s Steve.


I don’t have any screenshots of this, because as far as I can tell, they don’t exist.  I went through the first ten pages of Google results and found atheists defending her, objective news reports, and bigots attacking her, but nothing from Christians saying, “You know what?  I love Jesus, and I love praying to him, but I respect that my religion is a private matter that should stay out of the public square, and that the Constitution mandates as such.”  Not once have I seen that said, about any case like this.  Just like you never see moderate Muslims saying that suicide bombers are extremists who’ve gotten it wrong.


A lot of the people who have reacted in Jessica’s defense to this have taken the tack of trying to tell the Christians, “What’s all this vitriol?  Shouldn’t followers of Jesus be nice to everyone?  Didn’t Jesus say ‘love they neighbor’ and all that awesome stuff?”

That’s the mistake here.

You see, by Christian standards, Jessica Ahlquist is doomed.  She’s blasphemed against the Holy Spirit, and there is no greater sin.  Not child abuse, not rape, not genocide (actually, the Bible seems to be ok with all that).  Nope, let’s turn to Mark 3:28-29:

Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.

See what that means?  That means that all those horrible things that everyone’s saying are not only justified, but totally forgivable.  God’ll be fine with them.  But when Jessica speaks against it, she can’t be forgiven.

And that’s not a unique verse.  Shall we see if the Bible addresses blasphemy elsewhere?

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying … he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him. – Leviticus 24:13-16

Well that’s not encouraging.  What about the New Testament?

All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men … whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come. – Matthew 12:31-32
And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power. – 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9
And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death.  And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved. – Matthew 10:21-22
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.  For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. – Matthew 10:34-35
 He that is not with me is against me – Matthew 12:30
The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. – Mark 16:16
He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. – John 3:18
He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. – John 3:36
Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me – John 14:6
If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned – John 15:6
But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. – First Corinthians 2:15
Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? – Second Corinthians 6:14

So I think that covers that.  All those people who are surprised at the way Christians are reacting need to get their heads out of the sand.  The New Testament and the teachings of Jesus are not books and sayings of love, nor do they preach tolerance.  They espouse hate and bigotry.  There are vile words spoken about homosexuals.  Parents are encouraged to beat their children.  Jews are blamed for the deaths of the prophets.  Jesus denies the right of a son to bury his father, and introduces the idea of thought crime—a man who even thinks about another woman in a sexual way has effectively already slept with her, and a man whose mind fills with anger is as guilty of violence as if he had raised a hand himself.  Women must be subservient to men, and silent in church.  Non-believers must be shunned.

And above all, a message of faith.  When I say “above all,” I don’t use that lightly, as some lazy conclusion.  I mean that the absolute most important thing in the entirety of the New Testament is that one hold the belief that Jesus is divine.  There is no sin that cannot be forgiven if one believes, and no good deed that can earn one any credit without faith.

Do you see the conclusion we’ve come to?  It’s ugly, to be sure, and might cast your naive ideas that Jesus was a great moral teacher into a slightly dubious light.  But it is the only conclusion to be drawn.

The fact is that this hatred toward non-believers isn’t out of character.  It isn’t un-Christian, and it isn’t forbidden by Jesus.

It’s required.

8 Thoughts

  1. I'm a Christian and I fully support the separation of Church and State…because it may not always be my particular religion that is in the majority. It's not my place to judge anyone and that is not what my particular religion teaches. Religion should not be used as a shield for hatred. Guess they forgot that whole judge not that ye shall be judged part.

  2. A few comments:

    I dislike the people who quickly play the No True Christian card almost as much as the scum threatening her.

    Palumbo's use of “thing” repeatedly seems like a deliberate attempt to dehumanize Ahlquist. That's more despicable than referring to her as “evil”, in my opinion.

    The casual way that people throw around rape threats is far, far worse than simple violence, and utterly baffling given how minor Ahlquist's “offense” should be, even for someone that disagreed with her. I can't imagine what would make someone wish to inflict that kind of physical, mental, and emotional trauma on someone over a political disagree, even if the person really was wrong (Ahlquist is not wrong).

    Thanks for the writeup and quick compendium of nasty Jesus quotes. I'm always befuddled when people claim that the Jesus message (or worse, the entirety of the Bible) is a good and moral message. Have the read the Bible? It's pretty obvious that it's not a good handbook for anyone who's not living in an Iron Age, tribe-based setting.

  3. “Just like you never see moderate Muslims saying that suicide bombers are extremists who've gotten it wrong.”

    Is that a joke?

  4. I as well wanted to comment on the “Just like you never see moderate Muslims saying that suicide bombers are extremists who've gotten it wrong.” statement.

    I would say you saw this in full force shortly after the 9/11 attacks. I personally heard and saw several interviews from moderate Muslims who were doing everything they could to separate themselves from the extreme light that Islam as a whole had been painted in.

    I am a huge fan of this blog. I have been consistently reading it since I found it. I am not religious, but I am not an Atheist. I am Agnostic as I tend to lean towards the perspective that there is not enough evidence one way or the other to make an intelligent, educated and concise decision on the presence of a God or Gods. I keep my mind open to both sides in hopes that some day we will have concrete information that will close the debate once and for all, no matter how unlikely it seems to be.

    At the very least it would be nice to see both Atheists (some of whom can be as crazy as the religious zealots) and the Religious Zealots (most of which are most definitely crazy) stop spewing venom at each other, because lets be honest, both sides of the argument are as equally at fault in that regard.

    As much as religion holds back the advancement of society in some ways the Atheist perspective does the same, simply because it perpetuates a lack of being able to co-exist. Whether we like it or not, people are simply too diverse, who come from different parts of the world, cultures, upbringings and belief systems to believe that everyone seeing life the exact same is realistic. The key is to stop forcing it on everyone else. Period.

  5. This is definitely 3 years later, but this blog is awesome, and I had to comment. It is not so much religion per se but a strict adherence to dogmatic belief in general that gets people in morally compromising positions. No modern Christian with a good education endorses the bigotry of the bible. Ever. Nor would an educated Christian be posting threats with their full name on twitter. It just so happens that most people on this planet are generally not that smart.

    It is an adherence to the belief that a particular thought system is unerring that leads people into reprehensible ways. Communist Russia was not evil because of Communism or Atheism, as is so often brought up in arguments over morality with the religious – Communist Russia did fall victim to a dogmatic belief in the infallible nature of a particular economic system. When you allow an institution, be it economic or religious, to rule you, you no longer have control; its a sort of appeal to authority. When reason and right thinking is no longer the forefront concern, people act in strange ways.

    I hate religion for that reason, and I hate all appeals to authority and to consensus for that very same reason.

  6. There is also no such as as an “atheist perspective”. There is no system of thought involved in the absence of a belief in a deity. There is no “perspective”. The only thing atheists tend to get is angry at irrationality, and also bandy about stupid opinions and create tension and lambast people personally. Its called being stupidly human. And yes, there are stupid, selfish atheists just as there are loving, logical Christians.

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