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.