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Atheist Teen's Court Victory a Sign of Growing Secular Student Influence


Atheist Teen's Court Victory a Sign of Growing Secular Student Influence
National Secular Student Organization Hails Victory, Growth, as Signs of Trend

A court case victory over a high school prayer banner is being hailed as a sign of the growing influence of atheist students.  On January 11th, a federal judge ruled in favor of 16-year-old atheist Jessica Ahlquist, mandating that her Rhode Island high school must immediately remove the religious prayer banner it had been displaying.  The Secular Student Alliance, the largest national organization for nonreligious students, pointed to the victory as one piece of a trend.

"Jessica’s victory today is a wakeup call to the nation that secular students will not be ignored or mistreated," said Jesse Galef, spokesman for the Secular Student Alliance.  "More and more young Americans are identifying as secular, and we're starting to stand up for our rights.  Jessica's example is inspiring others speak out."

Other secular high school students have cited Ahlquist as the reason they became activists.  In recognition of her influence and importance, the SSA awarded her the Best Individual High School Activist prize in 2011.  The award was created last year as part of a new program to offer support to the growing number of secular high school students.

Surveys including the American Religious Identification Survey have found that younger Americans are less likely to be religious, a trend feeding the Secular Student Alliance's growth.

Since the special high-school-focused program was created in early 2011, the number of high school Secular Student Alliance affiliate groups more than doubled, jumping from 12 to 30.  Over 70 other secular high school students are in the process of starting groups on their campus.

The unconstitutional banner, which hung in the school auditorium, began with "Almighty Father" and closed with "Amen."  In his decision, the judge found that it was unquestionably a religious prayer.  Ahlquist has faced bullying and threats of violence since filing the suit.

"It took courage for Jessica to stand up for the rights of nonreligious Americans in the face of opposition," said Galef.  "But as she inspires more secular students to stand up, the stigma will wash away.  We're witnessing another domino falling as our demographic gains prominence."

The national Secular Student Alliance has seen rapid growth recently, going from 195 groups in fall of 2009 to the 312 it has today.

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