Written by Don Byrd
Legislation submitted by a Missouri lawmaker could have a stifling effect on lawsuits claiming a violation of religious liberty. House Bill 728 would prohibit adult plaintiffs from maintaining a public pseudonym (think “John Doe”) when bringing a case based on the Establishment Clause. Under current law, plaintiffs can request that judges keep their identity hidden if they can demonstrate a sufficient reason. Often the threats of violence and intimidation faced by adherents of a religious minority justify such protections. But bill sponsor Rep. Hardy Billington wants to bring an end to that practice.
The Missouri Times has more:
“Cases involving the separation of church and state are significant and have the potential to set legal precedents for generations to come,” said Billington. “Those who use our taxpayer-funded court system should be accountable for their actions. Just like anyone else who seeks to seek changes in public policy, such as political donors, these plaintiffs should be identified.”
The measure was perfected in a voice vote by the Missouri House on Wednesday. It was during a lengthy debate, with significant pushback from Democrats that resulted in some tense moments.
[Rep. Gina Mitten] pointed out that individuals can only file anonymously if they can prove a compelling interest to a judge and the bill takes that away for one specific type of lawsuit.
“Should I have to file a lawsuit in my name if my life has been threatened?” asked Mitten.
Where appropriate, and considered by a judge aware of all relevant facts and circumstances, protecting the identity of plaintiffs from public scrutiny in church-state litigation serves the public interest. Those whose religious liberty has been violated by an act of government should be able to come forward without fear of being harassed or intimidated when sufficient reason exists to believe that is likely.
By frightening potential plaintiffs, this bill would only make less likely that the government will be held accountable for improperly using state resources to promote religious views. Everyone’s religious liberty suffers when the state is allowed to run afoul of the Establishment Clause with impunity.