Church/State Separation Lawsuits Should Be Allowed to Proceed with Anonymous Plaintiffs December 9, 2013

Church/State Separation Lawsuits Should Be Allowed to Proceed with Anonymous Plaintiffs

When Jessica Ahlquist filed a lawsuit against her high school, the backlash on Twitter was bad. The threats were worse. The same thing happened to Damon Fowler even though he never actually went to court.

When it comes to church/state separation lawsuits, we’ve seen some brave individuals step forward recently and identify themselves.

But what if they didn’t have to come out? Couldn’t the cases just proceed based on their arguments without requiring their names to go in the public record? In some states, that’s not allowed. Filing a lawsuit requires initials for minors and names for adults, making them susceptible to threats and revenge from their enemies.

In a new paper published in The Virginia Journal of Social Policy & the Law, Professor Benjamin P. Edwards makes the case for why pseudonymous lawsuits should be allowed to proceed and he uses Ahlquist and Fowler to make his case:

The anonymous local family that initially complained decided to remain anonymous, and Ahlquist agreed to serve as the plaintiff for a lawsuit. The court proceedings were straightforward and decided in Ahlquist’s favor. The threats, however, were graphic and continuous. One tweet presented in the introduction of this Article reads: “your home address posted online i [sic] cant wait to hear about you getting curb stomped you fucking worthless cunt.” At one point, Ahlquist required a police escort to and from school. And because her address was posted online, Ahlquist was forced to consider transferring schools.

His conclusion is clear: In cases where retaliation has been known to happen, let the plaintiffs remain anonymous:

Potentially unconstitutional practices continually recur because objections to these practices are not worth the trouble. Courts should therefore be presented with the full history of reprisals so that they can consider how past intimidation threatens current plaintiffs. In church-state cases, the history of violence is clear and unmistakable.

I couldn’t agree more. While I have a lot of respect for those students who have publicly challenged their school’s illegal promotion of religion, that should be a decision they come to on their own, not one they’re forced to make in order to move forward with the case.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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