A bill that will paint a giant target on atheists’ backs for any Christian vigilante who wants to attack them has just passed the Missouri State House.
A little background here: 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 filed a bill earlier this year, HB 728, that would force adult plaintiffs to use their real names in any cases involving church/state separation… and only in 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. Not so in other kinds of lawsuits.
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.
There is no benefit to the public here. All Billington is doing is creating a new obstacle to deter atheists from coming forward about potentially illegal issues. Those who still go through with it will have to deal with the inevitable Christian backlash.
Why are we treating these plaintiffs different from other ones? Why is church/state separation the one issue in which anonymity is not an option?
When Eric Wells, the Missouri Assistant State Director for American Atheists, spoke in front of the House Judiciary Committee, urging them to reconsider this thoughtless piece of legislation, he offered a long 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.”)
Lawyers from the Freedom From Religion Foundation also testified against the bill, saying that it “arms bullies with a weapon they can turn against Victims” and that it would “replace judicial deference with an inflexible rule that puts real people in danger.”
It’s not just atheists at risk here. Billington would be targeting progressive Christians and members of minority faiths as well.
And yet, on Monday, the Missouri House voted in favor of the bill 101-44. It now moves to the Republican-dominated Senate.
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. Large portions of this article were published earlier)