Jessica Ahlquist

Jessica Ahlquist looks back — and ahead — 2 years after Ahlquist v. Cranston

Two years ago this week, Jessica Ahlquist’s life changed forever. On January 11, 2012, a federal judge ordered the removal of a “School Prayer” banner at Cranston High School West in Cranston, Rhode Island, saying that it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Ahlquist—then a 16-year-old student at Cranston High School West—was a plaintiff in Ahlquist v. Cranston and effectively became its public face, appearing on CNN and in the New York Times. Ahlquist’s involvement in the lawsuit made her the target of a massive backlash—local florists refused to deliver flowers to her, hate mail poured in and Ahlquist needed police escorts, and Rhode Island State Representative Peter G. Palumbo (from Cranston) called her “an evil little thing” in a radio interview. The outcry against Ahlquist would have been a lot for anyone to handle, let alone a high school student. But Ahlquist stood her ground and emerged as a prominent activist for the separation of church and state, and to this day she continues to have a large number of supporters.