Freethought Today · Vol. 28 No. 8 October 2011

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Giles County contests protective order

Showing the vindictive nature of its battle against constitutional liberties, the School Board of Giles County, Va., represented by the Liberty Counsel, is taking the nearly unprecedented step of contesting the request by the ACLU of Virginia and FFRF to protect the identity of its student plaintiff in Doe v. Giles County.

Rebecca Glenberg, ACLU of Virginia attorney, noted in the reply memorandum, that “The strong community reactions provoked by Establishment Clause cases — including, historically, harassment and violence — combined with the vulnerable age of the student plaintiff,” should ensure confidentiality is protected. She added, “The defendant has not pointed to a single case in which anonymity was denied in an Establishment Clause case involving schoolchildren.”

The ACLU and FFRF have submitted evidence of “an atmosphere of hostility toward those who brought this lawsuit.” Comments at online news sites and in emails sent to the two organizations have included suggestions that the plaintiffs and their attorneys should “take a ride” to “you know where,” that there is “a special place in Hell” for them, that “non-Christians ought to move out of Giles County before things get ugly over there,” that plaintiffs and their lawyers are “allowing Satin [sic] to rule them” and “other hateful sentiments.”

Giles County complained to the court that the letters were directed to the ACLU and FFRF, rather than to the Does themselves. Glenberg’s memo noted, “This is only natural, given that the ACLU and FFRF have been publicly identified with this case, while the Does’ identity is unknown to the public. There is no reason to assume that the Does would not receive similar mail if people knew where to send it. Indeed, the public comments, as opposed to the letters, submitted in evidence disparage the Does at least as much as they disparage the ACLU and FFRF.”

Some example of these public comments, online and in print:

• “Maybe we should ship these ‘families’ overseas to play in the sand with al-Quaida for a little while.”

• “we won’t let an anonymous coward tell us how to run our business.”

• “Maybe ‘DOE 1’ and ‘DOE 2’ need to move to Iran where their beliefs would be mainstream.”

• Doe 2 is “a cowardly parent hiding behind a child supposedly offended by the public display of the Ten Commandments.”

• “These people that don’t want anything in our buildings about our Lord Jesus Christ, find you another country to live in.”

Glenberg noted, “These comments represent more than, as defendant would have it, a mere expression of disagreement with plaintiffs’ point of view. Rather, they express personal animosity and contempt for those who oppose the posting of the Ten Commandments in a public school.”

Dan Barker, FFRF co-president, observed, “Such expressions become nearly inevitable when the government confers its endorsement, based on religion, upon one group over another. Giles County has sent a message to nonadherents that they are outsiders, and an accompanying impermissible message to believers that they are insiders, a favored class. As Thomas Paine noted, persecution is ‘always the strongly marked feature of all religions established by law.’ ”

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