Whenever a church/state separation lawsuit lists the plaintiffs, it’s not unusual to see initials in place of their real names, if not a pseudonym like “Jane Doe.” That’s for good reason: If their names ever became public, they could be stalked or bullied (or worse) in their communities, many of which are extremely religious (which is why there are church/state separation problems in the first place).
Judges understand this. They may require the plaintiffs to appear before them or use their real names in sealed documents, but they usually allow the people to remain anonymous in the public record if there’s a legitimate reason for it.
Billington recently filed a bill, HB 728, that would force adult plaintiffs to use their real names in any cases involving church/state separation… and only cases involving church/state separation. Apparently, if you sue over a Ten Commandments monument outside of a public school, everyone needs to know your real name.
Seriously, here’s the change he wants to make:
Except if the party in interest is a minor, in any action involving the separation of church and state, such action shall be prosecuted in the name of the real party in interest.
The only benefit to the public here is that Billington would be painting giant targets on the backs of atheists (and others!) who dare to challenge Christian supremacy in the government.
During a public hearing on the bill yesterday, Eric Wells, the Missouri Assistant State Director for American Atheists, made a plea for the House Judiciary Committee to reconsider this thoughtless piece of legislation:
The separation of religion and government is a foundational constitutional principle and the very basis of the freedom of religion that all Americans enjoy. However, this bill would undermine this essential freedom by making it more difficult for people whose religious liberty has been violated to bring lawsuits against the government. We strongly urge you to vote against this dangerous bill.
HB 728 would put plaintiffs who stand up for their freedom of religion at risk by preventing them from bringing cases anonymously. It would treat these plaintiffs differently than other litigants, who may bring cases under a pseudonym if the lawsuit would put them as risk. This bill is an attack on the constitutional rights of all Missourians. Everyone should be able to go to court to protect their religious freedom, and no one should be subject to public harassment and death threats for doing so.
He didn’t stop there. He gave a lengthy list of atheist plaintiffs who were threatened and faced harassment after bringing forth a lawsuit. In one famous case from 2000, for example, Wells noted that the “speculation about their identities was so intense that before the trial, the district court judge issued an unusual order specifically instructing the school district’s representatives not to reveal the families’ identities to anyone for any reason and threatening anyone who violated the order with contempt.”
It’s not just atheists at risk here. Billington would be targeting progressive Christians and members of minority faiths as well.
As illustrated by these cases, public harassment and death threats against those who assert their religious freedom are not limited to one religion — they affect everyone. However, this misguided legislation would effectively weaponize public harassment and embolden those threatening the lives and well-being of Missouri citizens in order to prevent people from standing up in defense of their constitutionally rights. Actively promoting this harassing behavior is not only shameful, it is unconstitutional, and it is un-American.
American Atheists is asking Missouri residents to take action by contacting their legislators and urging them to vote against this horrific bill. (They’ve made it especially easy to send an email to the right people.)
The committee hasn’t voted on the legislation yet, but the state is dominated by Republicans at every level of government. There’s a chance this could reach the governor’s desk. Those Republicans need to explain why plaintiffs fighting for church/state separation need to be named and shamed, while alleged victims of literally everything else are allowed to remain anonymous if the law and judge permit it for safety reasons.
If this bill passes, people could get killed. That’s not hyperbole. Christian threats are very, very real.
What’s odd is how that doesn’t seems to be a concern for the “pro-life” Republican insane enough to propose a bill like this.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Tom for the link)