PA Legislators Want to End Anonymity in Church/State Suits

Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Timothy Krieger has introduced a bill to prohibit plaintiffs from filing church/state lawsuits anonymously. The bill is HB 922 and he sent a memo to his fellow Republicans asking them to co-sponsor the bill, using irrelevant and provincial arguments.

In recent months, an out-of-state foundation has filed suit on behalf of anonymous plaintiffs against both the New Kensington-Arnold School District in Westmoreland County and the Connellsville Area School District in Fayette County over displays of the Ten Commandments posted outside schools in each district. In both cases, the monuments have been fixtures outside of the schools without any complaints or controversy for many years. In fact, the monument outside one of the schools was a gift from the Fraternal Order of the Eagles back in 1957. Yet when the monuments were brought to the attention of the foundation, the foundation not only filed federal lawsuits seeking to have the monuments removed, but did so without even revealing the names of the individuals bringing the lawsuits.

Note the reference to the FFRF as an “out-of-state foundation.” But why does that matter? The plaintiffs are local residents. They couldn’t sue if they weren’t. And it simply is not relevant how long the monument has been there, either to the legal outcome of the case or the question of whether the plaintiffs should be able to file anonymously. This is just irrelevant political boilerplate.

Religious expression in public places has been prevalent in the nation and in the Commonwealth for generations, from the founding of the Commonwealth by William Penn onward to modern times. Indeed, religious symbols are prominently displayed in public places such as in the chambers of both the Pennsylvania Senate and the House or Representatives, as well as through a mural of Moses receiving the Law adorning the chamber of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Also completely irrelevant to the bill he’s promoting.

But just as the First Amendment protects religious liberties, it also prevents the government from closing the courtroom doors in matters of important public interest, such as where the cherished tradition of religious expression in public life is contested by those who wish to erase religion from public property. Indeed, the public right of access to government proceedings, including court proceedings, is inherent in our democratic form of government. Allowing the public to access the courts and judicial records casts a bright light upon the judicial process and helps to prevent injustice, incompetence, perjury and fraud.

Uh, what? What does that have to do with whether plaintiffs should be allowed to file anonymously? No one is denying the public right to access court proceedings. Indeed, Krieger is the only one who wants to set a limit on court access by requiring that anyone who wants to file such a suit put themselves at great risk to do so.

I invite you to join me in sponsoring a bill that will guarantee that in any lawsuit to suppress, remove or otherwise inhibit the display or use of religious symbols in public locations, the party bringing the claim will not be allowed to proceed anonymously unless that party can show he or she would suffer serious physical harm otherwise.

Which is pretty much the same standard already applied in such cases, but they don’t have to show that they would suffer such harm, since no one can possibly tell the future. But they do have to show that there’s a genuine risk of mistreatment and the history of such cases clearly establishes such a risk for anyone who files such a suit. This is a pointless bill, of course, because such cases are typically filed in federal court and the state government does not control how federal courts must handle motions for anonymity. But Krieger is attempting to put people at risk and that is appalling.

24 comments on this post.
  1. rabbitscribe:

    Short version: “End the anonymity privilege because look, a dragonfly!” By the way, what if I can show I’ll only suffer moderate physical harm?

  2. ahcuah:

    It should also be pointed out that such lawsuits are almost always filed in Federal Court. A state law has exactly zero relevance to such federal proceedings.

  3. raven:

    But Krieger is attempting to put people at risk and that is appalling.

    A bill enabling xian terrorists and terrorism.

    The only reason for such a bill is the fond hope that xian terrorists will terrorize and harm anyone who files a suit. And they will.

  4. Modusoperandi:

    Look, Ed Brayton, if members of the Popular Majority, Real Americans™, don’t need to hide behind anonymity, there’s no reason for those who threaten their privilege to do so either. That’s just common sense.

  5. John Pieret:

    … they don’t have to show that they would suffer such harm, since no one can possibly tell the future. But they do have to show that there’s a genuine risk of mistreatment …

    It’s even worse. The showing of harm would have to meet the “clear and convincing evidence” standard instead of by the “preponderance of evidence” standard, which is much more difficult to do.

  6. raven:

    But Krieger is attempting to put people at risk and that is appalling.

    Which makes Krieger a supporter of terrorism. And a wannabe bully.

    I’ve never been able to tell the difference between fundie xians, fundie Moslems, and fundie Jews. They all come from the same source, ancient middle eastern tribal cultures.

  7. shouldbeworking:

    Of course, Real Americans (TM) are proud to vote and have no need to hide behind secret ballots in any election.

  8. abb3w:

    @0, Ed Brayton:

    This is a pointless bill, of course, because such cases are typically filed in federal court and the state government does not control how federal courts must handle motions for anonymity.

    Mostly true. The bill isn’t quite pointless, as the Pennsylvania constitution also has church-state separation clauses that might conceivably be grounds for a lawsuit; Section 3:

    All men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences; no man can of right be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship or to maintain any ministry against his consent; no human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience, and no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious establishments or modes of worship.

    I suppose there might also be some minimal influence of such a state law existing on a federal judge’s decision about granting anonymity… but not much, if any.

  9. macallan:

    Yet when the monuments were brought to the attention of the foundation, the foundation not only filed federal lawsuits seeking to have the monuments removed, but did so without even revealing the names of the individuals bringing the lawsuits.

    Exactly, to protect them from harassment by clowns like you.

  10. Pierce R. Butler:

    If I had a seat in the Pennsylvania legislature, I would offer an amendment to Krieger’s bill: everyone filing litigation against a church-state violation would have to wear a yellow star red target on their backs.

  11. Ouabache:

    Every time I hear someone complain about FFRF being an “out of state” organization I assume that they are just whining because they can’t bully them since they are too far away.

  12. Orakio:

    Time for me to send little timmy a letter asking him, as my representative, to sit down and shut up. Again. I wept when I moved into the district and read his resume.

  13. D. C. Sessions:

    The same arguments would apply (but more so) to cases of rape or those involving minors.

    Perhaps someone should amend the law to prevent anonymity in all circumstances — and then we can watch the tap-dancing over why this kind of case requires a special rule of its own.

  14. typecaster:

    This gets to a question I had about this bill – if it only eliminates anonymity for certain kinds of lawsuit, doesn’t it run into trouble on equal-protection grounds? If there’s reason to allow anonymous filing for some cases but not others, on what look like purely arbitrary grounds, wouldn’t this law get voided on the first challenge? IANAL, but that’s what I’d expect.

  15. dan4:

    @3: “The only reason for such a bill…”

    I didn’t know ravens had mind-reading abilities (*rolls eyes*).

  16. dan4:

    “…the fond hope that xtian terrorists will terrorize and harm anyone who who files a suit AND THEY WILL” (My emphasis).

    And fortune-telling abilities, as well!

  17. Nomad:

    dan4@15:

    I didn’t know ravens had mind-reading abilities (*rolls eyes*)

    Well let’s think about this, danno. We are speaking of a bill that specifically targets lawsuits regarding the entanglement of church and state, seeking to deny anonymity in only those cases. You may be aware that Ed Brayton is writing a book about the well established phenomenon of people filing such suits facing threats of violence. Heck, not just the plaintiffs, you might remember a certain judge in a certain landmark intelligent design trial requiring police protection after he ruled against intelligent design in the classroom and deemed it creationism. A conservative, Bush appointed judge, mind you, not some out of state hippie organization, but he still was not immune from the threats of the mob mentality.

    And now someone wants to single out such people and deny them the ability to remain anonymous. But apparently you don’t believe this was done to deny them protection from such threats, this bill has nothing to do with enabling such tactics in order to suppress legitimate legal actions. So the motivation behind this bill is… is… what?

    You don’t have to be a mind reader when someone’s actions indicate one clear motivation. If you see me dousing a house with gasoline and striking a match, I don’t get to sneer that you’re claiming to be a mind reader if you state that I’m intending to commit arson. This guy wants people filing such lawsuits to be vulnerable to death threats. Either that, or else he’s suffered some kind of debilitating neurological dysfunction that’s making him file randomly written bills with no purpose at all and this one just accidentally happened to target a very specific group of people with a very clear need for anonymity. But he’s not trying to subject them to what they’re trying to protect themselves from with that anonymity, no sir.

    What they can’t accomplish in the courts, they’ll accomplish with threats of mob violence. You don’t have to have fortune telling ability, all you have to do is look at the past, this is a well established sequence of events.

  18. raven:

    @3: “The only reason for such a bill…”

    I didn’t know ravens had mind-reading abilities (*rolls eyes*).

    I also can tell a troll when there is one. And a low IQ idiot.

    Low IQ idiot trolls resort to personal attacks, insults, and stalking. Because they have nothing worthwhile to say and no ability to think.

    dan4 = trolll dan4 = idiot.

    Probable fundie death cult xian. No surprise. Fundies score low in intelligence, education and high in social problems. The trolls are social problems afflicting the internet.

    But I do have to thank dan4 for announcing to the world that he has nothing worthwhile to contribute to anything and is a waste of time.

  19. raven:

    BTW and FWIW, dan4 and other xians like him are why this bill is a bad idea.

    Xian terrorism has been a problem in the USA for decades and they can and will killl. The death toll for MD’s is 8 with 200 MD’s and health care professionals woulded, some seriously. One MD was stabbed 17 times but survived anyway because she was right outside a medical facility.

    There have been two terrorist incidents near my house in recent years. The xians torched the local mosque. Another guy got into a shootout with the cops while on his way to bomb and shoot up an environmental group.

    dan4 is just trying starting to stalk me. No big deal. I’ve picked up 5 or so stalkers on Freethoughtblogs.

    I”ve also been getting death threats from xian terrorists for well over a decade now. This is how is always starts. They start stalking, they escalate, they try and get your real name and address, hate mail, death threats. And of course, I’m not the only one. I know a lot of other scientists who get hate mail and death threats. Fundie xianity is based on hate, it is easy to set them off.

    Hitchens rule. Religion poisons everything.

  20. raven:

    dan4:

    “…the fond hope that xtian terrorists will terrorize and harm anyone who who files a suit AND THEY WILL” (My emphasis).

    And fortune-telling abilities, as well!

    I realize you are extremely stupid and blinded by hate. It’s a xian thing. Who would jesus maim, torture, rape, and kill?

    But it has nothing to do with fortune telling. It has a lot to do with well over a decade of death threats from xian terrorists. I’ve long ago lost track of how many there have been. A lot of scientists and MD’s get them.
    I’ve also seen my colleagues murdered by them.

    Two of my wannabe murderers were picked up by the FBI and charged with felonies. Death threats are crimes, felonies.

    The laws, police, DA’s, courts, and prisons are on our side, not yours.

  21. cry4turtles:

    Another PA idiot. “I’m going to California with an aching in my heart.”

  22. democommie:

    “Xian terrorism has been a problem in the USA for decades and they can and will killl.”

    I never really had this next thought, until I read this.

    Lynchings–hanging and all the other methods. The “justification” in many incidents of racist murder (let’s just fucking call it what it is) was to protect white women from those randy black bucks. Only someone with a rather intense and perverted understanding of the bible and completely lacking any understanding of the precepts (allegedly) taught by JESUS could justify murder as a pre-emptive anti-rape measure.

    So, we can prolly lay the responsibility for lynchings at the feet of KKKristianity.

  23. dan4:

    @18: “Low IQ idiot trolls resort to personal insults, attacks, insults…”

    LOL! You’ll probably next tell someone to “stop using that fucking profanity!”

  24. Orakio:

    This guy wants people filing such lawsuits to be vulnerable to death threats. Either that, or else he’s suffered some kind of debilitating neurological dysfunction that’s making him file randomly written bills with no purpose at all and this one just accidentally happened to target a very specific group of people with a very clear need for anonymity.

    As a graduate of Liberty University, these are not exclusive options for Timmeh.

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