CFI On Campus announces new Volunteer High School Coordinator, Jessica Ahlquist

July 26, 2011

Jessica Ahlquist croppedCFI On Campus is pleased to announce that Jessica Ahlquist, a junior at Cranston High School West in Rhode Island, will be volunteering as our high school outreach coordinator.

Jessica has distinguished herself as a young secular activist. In August 2010, she challenged the Christian “School Prayer” banner that hangs on the auditorium wall at her school. Because the administration refused several times to remove the sectarian banner, Jessica and the ACLU are pursuing the issue in court. Throughout the challenge, Jessica has proven to be an organized, knowledgeable, and capable secular spokesperson. She has received support from around the world and appeared in local and national media on the issue. A Facebook group supporting the banner’s removal now has over 1700 members.

Her activism has inspired other high school students to take a stand for church/state separation at their schools. Because of Jessica, South Carolina student Harrison Hopkins successfully challenged the school-endorsed prayer at his commencement ceremony, with assistance from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Jessica’s courage also inspired Damon Fowler to challenge the graduation prayer at his Louisiana high school. Although the school backed down, a student speaker still led the crowd in prayer at graduation. Damon’s actions led to a fierce backlash from other students, his parents, the community, and local media.

At the 2011 CFI Leadership Conference in June, CFI brought in these student activists along with high school science education advocate Zack Kopplin for a panel presentation on high school activism. Video from the presentation is now up on YouTube:

High School Activism Panel 2011Jessica Ahlquist, Harrison Hopkins, Damon Fowler, and Zack Kopplin

CFI’s campus outreach program has supported high school students and groups for over a decade. In 1996, the Campus Freethought Alliance was founded to provide a network for freethinkers, nonbelievers, and rationalists on university and college campuses around the world. Three years later, the Young Freethinkers Alliance (YFA) was created to provide support, resources, and community for high school freethinkers and nonbelievers worldwide.

Student activist Micah White helped launch the YFA in 1999 after garnering national attention for starting an atheist club at his high school in the face of opposition from the administration.

CFI also provided legal support to Matthew LaClair from Kearney, NJ, after he challenged his high school history teacher for telling students that they were going to burn in hell for rejecting Jesus, among other things. Matt served as a CFI On Campus spokesperson and volunteer student president from 2007-2010.

In 2004, the CFA and the YFA were united under the banner of CFI On Campus, which draws on the resources of the Council for Secular Humanism, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Center for Inquiry to promote its mission on college and high school campuses around the world.

Jessica Ahlquist can be reached at jahlquist@centerforinquiry.net.