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Atheist Student, 16, Wins $40,000 Scholarship After Campaign To Remove Prayer Banner In School

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Posted to WIDK by Jenn Flanagan

(Daily Mail) – A national association that says there’s no proof for the existence of God is managing a scholarship fund set up for a teenage atheist at the centre of a dispute over a prayer banner at a Rhode Island school.

Teenage atheist: Cranston High School West student Jessica Ahlquist, 16, left, arrives at U.S. District Court on October 13, 2011

The American Humanist Association says 16-year-old Jessica Ahlquist was targeted with online threats after she challenged the constitutionality of the display at Cranston High School West.

 It says she stood up against her critics ‘with class and style’.

On January 11, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Lagueux ordered the banner removed. 

Judge Laguex ruled that the presence of the 49-year-old banner violates the separation of church and state according to the Constitution’s First Amendment while displaying a passage written by a former student titled: school prayer.

The banner was covered by a tarp as the Cranston School Committee planned a hearing to decide whether or not to challenge the ruling. 

On Thursday, the committee decided not to appeal by a vote of 5-2.

Since Miss Ahlquist sued the school for the prayer banner’s removal, protesters have expressed their anger through online commentary, cruel messages, thwarted yet planned student walk outs, and even t-shirts supporting the banner’s display though also expected removal.

One woman posted her reaction to Miss Ahlquist’s efforts over Twitter writing: ‘I hope there’s lots of banners in Hell when you’re rotting in there you atheist f***.’

Another sent her a message saying: ‘How does it feel to be the most hated person in RI? You’re a puke and a disgrace to the human race.’

An investigation led by school officials working with local police over several harassing messages resulted in one student’s internal discipline, according to The Providence Journal.

Combating the ruling’s criticism, blogger Hemant Mehta started a campaign at the Friendly Atheist website to raise money for Ahlquist.

The Friendly Atheist says the fund has brought in more than $40,000 through tee-shirts reading ‘Evil Little Thing.’  

Those three words were used to describe her in a recent radio talk show by Democrat Cranston Representative Peter Palumbo, according to WPRO.

Pro-banner supporters have released their own t-shirt designs as well, selling for $5 for the banner’s possible removal and preservation which is described as being glued to the wall, similar to a fresco-style of artwork, according to t-shirt designer Bobby Bach of Bobby Bach Events who spoke with a contractor examining its removal.

Mr Bach told MailOnline they have already sold hundreds in the past two weeks chipping in toward an estimated cost of $15,000 for its safe removal, according to Mr Bach.

The fundraiser for Miss Ahlquist runs through the end of February.

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