Jessica Ahlquist

Youth Activist


June 21, 1995 - Present

Birth Place:
Cranston, Rhode Island


Chief Accomplishment:
Challenged a prayer banner in her public Cranston high school for its violation of the Constitution. She remains an activist for humanism.

Other Notable Accomplishments:

Won a lawsuit against her high school, forcing them to remove a prayer banner. A previous court case in 1962 established it is unconstitutional for a public school to have an official prayer and encourage its recitation. The American Civil Liberties Union helped Ahlquist fight the legal battle for two years!

Despite receiving numerous death threats, Ahlquist continued to speak out for separation of church and state and atheist rights. She even needed a police escort to go to class.

Spoke at the first Reason Rally in Washington D.C. in 2012, as well as many other freethought events all over the country.

Finished her education through self-study so she could focus on speaking at freethought events and be rid of the bullying and hateful environment.

Has received awards from many major humanist/atheist organizations, including the American Humanist Association's Humanist Pioneer Award and the Freedom From Religion Foundation Thomas Jefferson Youth Activist Award.


Teacher Isn't Always Right. Ahlquist fought for separation of church and state at her high school. She lost friends and received death threats from all over the world but kept fighting for what was right.

Have Courage. Ahlquist decided she would overcome her shyness and become the center of a controversial legal battle to stand up for constitutional rights. Most of her town and many people around the world opposed her. She said "I think the courage [to continue with the lawsuit despite the death threats] came from my passion for the issue and the idea that I was doing this for more than just myself at my school, but rather [so that] everyone [could] benefit from it."

Family Matters. After her mother became sick when she was in elementary school, Ahlquist abandoned her religious upbringing and became an atheist. Her family has been supportive throughout the legal battles.

Interesting Facts:

Ahlquist once came to Camp Quest!

Atheist organizations sold t-shirts that said "Evil Little Thing," the words a Rhode Island State Representative used to describe Jessica. They raised over $62,000 for Jessica's college education.

A self proclaimed "nerd," Ahlquist loves Harry Potter

In order to fight for what was right, Ahlquist didn't go to her prom or graduation. "What i was able to do instead makes all of that seem pretty silly. I'm please with who I am today.

The Cranston high school ended up paying $150,000 for Ahltquist and the American Civil Liberties Union's legal fees.

To those considering fighting for secularism, Ahlquist says "My advice is to go through with it and to stay strong. I know firsthand how difficult it can be, and it is hard for me to encourage others to stand up considering how painful it was for me, but there is so much support out there that makes it so much easier."