Mormons sponsor most Boy Scout troops
According to the Feb. 4 Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Boy Scouts’ decision whether to accept gays would affect many churches. About 70% of Scout troops are sponsored by churches. The three largest religious sponsors are the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (37,000 units), the Methodist Church (11,000 units) and the Catholic Church (8,000 units). The most outspoken criticism of the proposed change has come from Baptist churches (4,000 units).
Own attorney causes church fetal pain
Catholic Health Initiatives and St. Thomas More Hospital in Cañon City, Colo., said Feb. 4 it was morally wrong for their attorneys to defend a malpractice case in the death of unborn twins by arguing Colorado law doesn’t consider fetuses to be persons, the Denver Post reported. CHI operates 170 health facilities in 17 states.
The state’s three Catholic bishops called for a review of litigation over the death of Lori Stodghill. She died while seven months pregnant with twin sons on Jan. 1, 2006. Stodghill’s husband, Jeremy, filed a wrongful death lawsuit, alleging the on-call obstetrician didn’t answer a page and didn’t tell the emergency room staff to perform a caesarean section, the Colorado Independent reported Jan. 23
Lori Stodghill, 31, died less than an hour after arriving at the hospital when a pulmonary artery became blocked, causing a heart attack. The twins died in her womb.
Attorney Jason Langley argued in a defense brief that the court “should not overturn the longstanding rule in Colorado that the term ‘person,’ as is used in the Wrongful Death Act, encompasses only individuals born alive. Colorado state courts define ‘person’ under the Act to include only those born alive. Therefore Plaintiffs cannot maintain wrongful death claims based on two unborn fetuses.”
Governor eyes dropping parish exemption
On Jan. 30, the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation published an analysis of Gov. Deval Patrick’s FY 2014 tax proposal, reported Religion Clause. “Among the 44 personal exemptions and deductions the governor proposes eliminating from the state income tax is the exemption for the rental value of parsonages provided to members of the clergy. It is estimated that the elimination of the parsonage allowance will increase state revenues by $2 million to $2.5 million.”
FFRF filed a suit in federal court in 2011 to challenge the parish exemption, which gives preferential tax benefits to “ministers of the gospel.” U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled last Aug. 29 that FFRF had standing to challenge the 1954 law.
in stopping prayer
Ricky Smith, Danville, Ky., stated publicly he’s the person who met privately with Boyle County Judge-Executive Harold McKinney about Judeo-Christian prayers at public meetings. As a result, county magistrates voted to change the invocation to a “moment of silence.”
Smith, 46, was profiled in the Jan. 27 Central Kentucky News. He’s lived in the county all his life.
“Being expected to pray just to be a part of local government is not going to work for me, nor would it work for Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, pagans or Wiccans,” Smith said.
He’s also tried unsuccessfully several times to meet with Danville’s mayor about prayers at city commission meetings. Although he worked behind the scenes, Smith was “outed” online. He’s had a few harassing phone calls. “They’re getting downright mean,” Smith said.
“I’ve become a better person since I realized I was an atheist,” Smith told the paper. “I am much more tolerant now.”
Iceland boosts secular groups’ status
Iceland’s parliament, the Althing passed a law Jan. 30 giving secular groups the right to apply for equal legal status with religions.
“For the first time in Icelandic history, the government recognizes and guarantees equality between secular and religious life stances,” said Hope Knutsson, president of Sidmennt, the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association. The law also provides that newborn babies will no longer automatically be registered into the religion of the mother, but rather according to the religious or life stance registration of both parents, and only if the registrations match.
Sidmennt members said it’s a human rights violation for government to be involved at all in registering people’s religious affiliations. The Evangelical Lutheran State Church enjoys special legal and financial status in Iceland.
war on yoga
The National Center for Law & Policy, a law firm focusing “on the protection and promotion of religious freedom, the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, parental rights and other civil liberties,” is suing the Encinitas [Calif.] Union School District for its Ashtanga yoga program. NCLP President Dean Broyles, is representing plaintiffs who have children in the district.
“This is frankly the clearest case of the state trampling on the religious freedom rights of citizens that I have personally witnessed in my 18 years of practice as a constitutional attorney,” Broyles said.
The lawsuit alleges that the yoga program, which includes two 30-minute classes per week, is pervasively religious, with roots in Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist and metaphysical beliefs and practices.
“We’re not teaching religion,” said Superintendent Timothy Baird. “We teach a very mainstream physical fitness program that happens to incorporate yoga into it. It’s part of our overall wellness program. The vast majority of students and parents support it.”
bill appears dead
Sen. Bill Stanley “reluctantly” sent his resolution ensconcing prayer rights in the Virginia Constitution back to committee Feb. 5, where it likely will die, reported the Richmond Virginian-Pilot.
Stanley claims a constitutional amendment is necessary to preserve Virginians’ “right to free exercise of their religion as they see fit in public and private places.”
The newspaper said the amendment would ensure the right to pray on government property and allow clergy to pray before public boards. It specifies public school students are free to express religious beliefs in prayer as well as assignments and would exempt them from doing assignments which violate their beliefs.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia said the amendment is unconstitutional.
Appeals court denies girl’s prayer claim
The U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals on Jan. 30 denied a 2010 free speech claim by a New York eighth-grader who was barred from including a religious blessing during her school’s Moving-Up ceremony. According to Religion Clause, “the court concluded that the ceremony was a school-sponsored expressive activity and that the student’s speech would be perceived as being endorsed by the school.”
In a deposition, the girl said some of her classmates weren’t religious.
“[I]t’s my job to talk about God and see if they like it. In God’s word, it says that I should — well, I was put on this Earth for a purpose and my purpose was to talk about God and try to get as many people to follow him.”
Two cities tie for
The American Bible Society, partnering with the Barna Group, has identified America’s most “bible-minded” cities, based on “highest combined levels of regular bible reading and belief in the bible’s accuracy.”
Most bible-minded was Knoxville, Tenn. Tied for “least bible-minded” were Providence, R.I., and New Bedford, Mass.
Others in the top 10 “most” category (in descending order): Charleston, W.Va.; Huntsville, Ala.; Roanoke/Lynchburg, Va.; Charlotte, N.C.; Springfield, Mo.; Jackson, Miss.; Birmingham, Ala.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; and Shreveport, La.
Others in the top 10 “least” category (in descending order): Buffalo, N.Y.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Phoenix, Ariz.; San Francisco; Boston; Hartford/New Haven, Conn.; Portland, Maine; Burlington, Vt.; and Albany, N.Y.
FFRF’s home base of Madison, Wis., was No. 56 in the “least” category. [We wuz robbed!]
This crank mail, printed as received, is dedicated to the ones they love to hate:
Separation of synagouge from State: You are a Christ-murderer or the tool thereof- Deicidists: Jews guilty of Christ-denial! — Matt Wykoff, Austin, Texas
religion: if you and your people hate religion then maybe you people should move to russia,also i dont hear any of you cowards say anything about the islam faith,why is that,i have put up a manger every and cross everyyear and will continue to and you people can complain as much as you want.
— conservative ln Buffalo
Hate Crimes: So you are all a bunch of atheists, ey? Well, that does not bode well for your afterlife. Why must you continue to perpetrate hate crimes against America and people of faith? Shame, shame shame. Just think, after you’ve toiled your whole life attempting to kill faith and religion, thinking that you will simply close your eyes and slip off into nothing, only to open your eyes in eternal damnation and judgement. — Noneya Bidness, “1600 Pennsylannia Ave.”
X-Rated Book: I saw on the news today that the FFRF was going to distribute an article called “An X-Rated Book: Sex & Obscenity in the Bible”. I am a follower of Jesus Christ and want to air my objection to this. I respect your freedom of choice. I simply want to stand and say this is WRONG! Please do NOT release this to children. — Thanks, Kacy.
Shut up! I watched you on oreilly and you sound like a complete pompous ass regurgitating info you learned from an idiot liberal professor in college. Watching you made me want to hit you over the head with the same bible you want to do away with. You obviously hate what America is based on just like our president. I wish people like you would leave this country you incredible jerk.
— Cory Rosenberg
freedom: Hello,I saw your sagment on the news about the bible at the inaguration. I dont have a strong religious belief but cant believe what you are trying to do is serious,if you really wanted free of religion you would be going after the practice of the kosher lable on food that we all pay for includeing you everytime you or anyone else buys food or other things with the kosher lable on them. — bob d
Atheist: It is partly because of people like you, that such things as Columbine, Sandy Hook, etc. happen. When you or one of your parents,wife,children, or friends,come down with a terrible disease such as incurable cancer, I hope you have enough sense or remorse to ask, for Gods forgiveness, and mislead thinking, such as what you just exhibited on Bill O’Reilly! — D.Whiteley, Chief of Police, Poplar Bluff, Mo.
Suck: Removing the bible from the inauguration, Andrew? Thanks! I am waiting for you down here! — Satan (signed by Bill Covault)
IN MY OPINION: IT IS PEOPLE LIKE ANDREW SEIDEL, WHO PURPORTS TO BE AN ATTORNEY REPRESENTING YOU...WHO ACTUALLY REPRESENTS YOUR EGOCENTRIC, ARROGANT, IGNORANCE. YOUR ORGANIZATION IS “THE ASSHOLE OF AMERICA!” — Stan Knowles
What do you stand for? I just saw your “spokesperson” on The O’Reily Factor. As a REAL American, all of us know what you clearly stand for. Pure evil. I pray for everyone involved in your organization. Poor slobs. — David Farmer
Your foundation: GO TO HELL YOU BASTARDS! FUCK YOU, ANDREW SEIDEL, YOU PIECE OF SHIT! FUCK EVERY ONE OF YOU EVIL BASTARDS AND CITIZENS OF HELL!
— Thomas Greene
YOU: Youi folks are a disgrace to Americans!!! I understand you’re in Wisconsin.. Please.. STAY YOUR ASS THERE.. NO ONE IN AMERICA wants you ..cept maybe for that fool of a man that has the silly GOP show on TV. You’re sorry ass people.... and do not deserve to live in ourcountry! — Bruce Oliver, South Carolina
Lawsuits against God: You people are the ones ruining this country. Before you had God taken out of schools, you never heard of shootings in schools. Now the devil is running wild in schools. I guess we all know where your going when you die. — Marion Tierney
You all are the biggest pieces of shit on the earth. You are violating the peoples constitutional right by denying them inspirational figures. I would not be suprised if your group was pushing for a new world order to usher in your own agenda with one of your satan worshipers at the head. — Joe Mullins
God can not be mocked! Remember, you are just a speck of dirt standing on a speck of dirt spinning in vastness of the Almighty’s creation! Be careful, be very, very careful! — Roger Kobleske, Wisconsin
Hey: GET A FUCKING LIFE YA DUMSHITS!
— Kram Ufflernot-REAL “free thinker”.
You: You are in violation of God’s Word. Repent so you don’t burn in hell forever. Your Idiots! People should have the right to pray and if the majority of the people want to pray before a meeting then it should be the majority that decides! Not you and your Attorneys! Stay out of South Dakota cause we do not want ya! — Brice Molitor
Quincy CA.: Piss Off Don’t Mess with Quincy, Ca. — Rick Drudge, California
Stay Away: How about you mind your own business and stay out of Rapid City business. I invite you to knock on my door and we can talk about my views and your views. People like you make me sick. Idiots.
You people make me sick-it is because of organizations like yourselves that people have become cattle. — Terry Cook
Bible Belt: Why cant you all just leave us all alone in the south we are nothing but good god fearing hard working people and some jack asses like ya’ll have to come down here and mess with us. First you target Soddy Daisy, Then Ridgeland, Then the university of chattanooga,and now lakeview middle you all nee to get off the power trip.
— Joseph Brown, Chickamauga, Georgia
Portrait Of Jesus in Ohio School: Please put down your crack pipes. A portrait of a person hanging on a wall is in no way advertising a religion or anything else. It’s just a picture of someone admired by many. Get over yourselves and find a worthwhile cause like banning Gays or something! — John Dick
other: I am a college student in Dalton, GA and I feel as if this subject of the teacher singing religious songs to her students hits very close to home for me. I was raised in a very christian home, and I had a teacher that was teaching evolution, i refused to study it, and i recieved the grade of “F”. Why is it that those who are afraid if the truth of the Everlasting, Almighty God can get away with pushing thier incoreect beliefs on the public, but when a CHRISTIAN, yes, I said it, CHRISTIAN, even brings up religion and faith, we are shushed?
— Erin Hooks, Dalton, Georgia
Drop Lawsuit To Remove Jesus Portrait: I thought I was in the Twilight Zone when I saw that you had filed a lawsuit on behalf of 1 ‘unidentified’ student that the Jesus portrait unconstitutionally promotes religion, even though it’s been on those walls since around 1947. Why don’t you quit doing Satan’s work? — Mark Peterson, Grand Forks, N.D.
Idiots: There’s a great book out that scientifically proves creation and disproves, scientifically, evolution. It’s titled “Evolution, A Fairytale for Grownups.” You jerks should read it. — Charles U. Farley, California
opinions: When I was 9 I onfessed Jesus the Christ as Lord. When I was 14 God gave me a vision of the Lord Jesus the Christ seated on his throne with a gold sceptor, veiled in a cloud, yet the shape was without any doubt that of our King Jesus the Christ. The Lord Jesus the Christ is my very best friend. I am 64 now & all that God has revealed to me is as fresh in my mind as though it happened last week. — Sherry Burdette, Evansville, Indiana
Please Stop Harrassing Public Schools: As a Veteran of the US Navy, I have served my country which is founded on the strong belief in GOD. I hereby request that you stop forcing me Home state of Ohio to bow down you and stop honoring Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. I find it very hard to support a group who use the freedoms I have guaranteed them to oppress your fellow man. — Respectfully, Glenn Gerber DCFN USN, Cape Coral, Florida
I’m Sorry: This is the saddest site I have ever seen - you have every reason to be sad though. No hope. — J Raleigh, Oregon
Portriat: I think you athiest should move to hell, and leave the Jesus picture where it is. If you dislike it so much Take your ass somewhere else. — —J.C., Anytown, Montana
Lawsuit in Jackson Ohio: Am I overly religious no. But I believe and my life is not without virtue or morales. Yeah I know you have heard it before and don’t care about anyone’s rights or opinions but your own. — Debra Plybon, Argillite, Ky.
To whom it applies: I want to voice my disgust about the Freedom From Religion Foundation going on witch hunts all over the nation trying to take crosses and other religious pictures and items down on public lands and schools all in the name of “Separation Of Church and State.” Shame on you! Our country (the USA) has been around for 237 years. Many of the Founding Fathers were religious and it didn’t destroy the country. Yes the Founding Fathers didn’t want a particular religion to be favored in Government. They wanted religion to make its own way. But neither did they intend for irreligion to be made into a state church. I have remained silent before. But your organization has awoken the sleeping giant in me and I must express my displeasure about your organization.
— Brian Williams
FFRF filed a brief Feb. 15 fighting the federal government’s motion in support of a permanent shrine to Jesus in the Flathead National Forest, leased at no cost since the 1950s to the Knights of Columbus. The statue is near Kalispell, Mont.
“A permanent Catholic shrine on public land is prohibited by the Establishment Clause, every bit as much as a Catholic church would be,” begins the brief by attorney Richard L. Bolton, on behalf of FFRF.
“The suggestion that a permanent shrine with a six-foot statue of Jesus Christ, standing by itself in the forest on federal land, does not convey a religious impression is unsupported by evidence or common sense.”
The Forest Service permit itself notes the permit is “for the purpose of erecting a religious shrine overlooking the Big Mountain ski run.”
“Enforcement of the Establishment Clause does not evince hostility to religion,” FFRF points out.
The brief details how local FFRF members have come into unwanted exposure to the statue, conferring associational standing upon FFRF. FFRF member William Cox, previously noted he has skied past the shrine many times and continues to ski on Big Mountain. During a fall 2012 deposition, Cox called the statue “religious in nature and offensive.”
Two other FFRF Montana members coming into contact with the shrine submitted declarations, including Doug Bonham, who lives close to Big Mountain and first encountered it about seven years ago while skiing past it.
“My immediate reaction was that the statue was grossly out of place and an oppressive reminder that Christians are a controlling and favored group in the Flathead Valley.” His daughter, 15, now regularly skis on Big Mountain and also considers it “ridiculously out of place.”
The statue “literally and figuratively looms over the Valley” and is “perceived as a reminder of the Christian religious values that the majority in the Valley promote,” Bonham declared.
Pamela Morris, a third-generation Montanan and daughter of the founder of Showdown Ski Area, first encountered the shrine in 1957 at age 15 as a member of a ski team. Although she was then part of the Methodist Youth Fellowship, “the statue felt startlingly out of place: intrusive. Since then I have avoided the area: I backpack, fish and camp where nature has not been so violated in Montana.”
Morris noted she would enjoy skiing Big Mountain again, “if it were a welcome site for all who love nature.” A Unitarian and FFRF member, she added: “I would support any religious group’s efforts to build on private land, including a mosque in my neighborhood, but I oppose any building on public land.”
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor notes in her declaration the “number of vitriolic” phone calls and threatening emails received by the FFRF office after its complaint over the Jesus Shrine went public and each time the case gets publicity. Many messages warn, “Don’t come to Montana.”
“As a co-founder who has been an active part of FFRF since the beginning and who became co-president in 2004, I have personally observed that the public reaction to requests to end Establishment Clause violations often devolves into ad hominems, hostility and veiled or unveiled threats to FFRF and members who are state/church separation advocates.”
Federal officials are alleging “no one” ever complained about the Big Mountain Jesus before. Gaylor noted, “It is my experience that, over the years, government officials often ignore or may fail to keep or hold onto complete records of Establishment Clause complaints.”
She gives as an example the claim in the Supreme Court decision in Van Orden v. Perry that no one except Van Orden had ever complained to the government about a Ten Commandments monument at the Texas Capitol.
Gaylor entered into the record her personal knowledge that both Madalyn Murray O’Hair, as head of American Atheists, and Anne Nicol Gaylor, as FFRF president, had previously complained.
One of FFRF’s several complaints asking for removal of the religious edicts, a letter Annie Laurie Gaylor herself wrote to Texas Gov. Rick Perry in 2001, is entered into the record.
The federal government and the Becket Fund, a Roman Catholic legal society representing the Knights of Columbus, claim the Jesus statue and setting are similar to the facts in Van Orden, in which the Ten Commandments monument on the Texas statehouse grounds was approved by the high court, because they likened it to a “museum.”
FFRF’s legal brief puns: “Treating a ski slope as a museum would be a dangerously slippery slope.”
The case, FFRF v. Chip Weber and U.S. Forest Service, CV 12-19-M-DLC, is in the courtroom of President Obama appointee U.S. District Judge Dana L. Christensen.
Below is an excerpted version of the memorandum in support of a motion to use pseudonyms and request a protective order for plaintffs in Doe v. Jackson City School District, a federal lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio by FFRF and the ACLU of Ohio in early February. (Deleted are numerous legal citations. You can read the entire legal memorandum:
ffrf.org/uploads/legal/Jackson-Jesus-Complaint.pdf. The judge granted the order.)
The memo references many FFRF members such as Richard Rohrer or activists who have received FFRF awards, as well as Doe v. Porter, an important victory won by FFRF in Dayton, Tenn. The decision barred religious instruction in public schools and was upheld by the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in 2004. It also cites the harassment of the McCollum family in winning their landmark lawsuit, upon which the other religion-in-school Supreme Court precedent rests. March 8 marks the 65th anniversary of the McCollum decision. Jim McCollum, on whose behalf his mother Vashti brought the case, is now a Lifetime Member.
Plaintiffs have filed this lawsuit using pseudonyms rather than their true identities. As alleged in the Complaint, the individual plaintiffs are citizens and residents living in or near Jackson County within the Jackson City School District (JCSD). The suit is also brought on behalf of a minor plaintiff who is a student enrolled within JCSD. Plaintiff Sam Doe 1 is the parent of a minor currently enrolled at Jackson Middle School. Plaintiff Sam Doe 2, is a minor and a student currently attending Jackson Middle School. Plaintiff Sam Doe 3 has children currently attending a public elementary school within JCSD and Plaintiff Sam Doe 3’s children expect to attend Jackson Middle School in the future. The Plaintiffs fear for their safety if their identities are disclosed.
Jackson Middle School, a public school in Jackson, Ohio, has displayed a portrait of Jesus Christ in one of its hallways for some years. Plaintiffs bring suit to challenge the portrait of Jesus hanging at the middle school. Due to the highly personal and sensitive nature of the religious matters involved in this case and the potential for retribution against the Plaintiffs, Plaintiffs seek to proceed pseudonymously.
Generally, pleadings must disclose the identities of the litigants. While there is a presumption of open judicial proceedings pursuant to this rule, there are exceptions when the issues involved are of a sensitive and highly personal nature. Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(c)(1) allows a court to issue a protective order that allows Plaintiffs to proceed under pseudonyms and protects against the public disclosure of the Plaintiffs’ personally identifiable information. Courts have granted such protective orders when there is a concern that the privacy and safety of the Plaintiffs will be threatened if their names and identities are disclosed to the public.
The Sixth Circuit identified factors a court must weigh to “determine whether a plaintiff’s privacy interests substantially outweigh the presumption of open judicial proceedings.” Doe v. Porter, 370 F.3d 558, 560 (6th Cir. 2004) [Editor’s note: Doe v. Porter was a victorious lawsuit brought by FFRF]. These factors are:
“(1) whether the plaintiffs seeking anonymity are suing to challenge a governmental activity; (2) whether prosecution of the suit will compel the plaintiffs to disclose information ‘of the utmost intimacy’; (3) whether the litigation compels plaintiffs to disclose an intention to violate the law, thereby risking criminal prosecution; (4) whether the plaintiffs are children.”
In this case, the Porter factors weigh heavily in favor of pseudonymity and a protective order. The Plaintiffs are suing a governmental entity; they will be forced to reveal information of the “utmost intimacy;” and one of the Plaintiffs is a minor child. The other Porter consideration — whether litigation compels Plaintiffs to disclose an intention to violate the law — is not applicable in this case.
I. The Doe Plaintiffs Are Challenging a Governmental Activity
The Doe plaintiffs are suing Jackson City Schools. As averred in the Complaint, Jackson City Schools is a public school district in Jackson, Ohio. Since at least 1947, Jackson City Schools has posted a portrait of Jesus Christ, known as Head of Christ, in the Hall of Honor at Jackson Middle School. Plaintiffs are challenging the posting of religious iconography in a public school and are suing to remove this religious imagery from the walls of a public school.
II. The Doe Plaintiffs Will Be Forced to Reveal Information of the “Utmost Intimacy”
The Plaintiffs will be forced to reveal information of the “utmost intimacy,” in particular their religious beliefs, or lack thereof, and their views on separation of church and state. Courts have recognized that “religion is perhaps the quintessentially private matter.” The “preservation and transmission of religious beliefs and worship is a responsibility and a choice committed to the private sphere.” Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577, 589 (1992).
Even if the Plaintiffs would not have to “directly state their religious affiliations, or lack thereof,” Plaintiffs will nonetheless have to explain their injuries — a requisite element to prove standing — which will necessarily “require [them] to reveal [their] beliefs concerning the proper interaction between government and religion.” “The court recognizes that such concerns can implicate privacy matters similar to those associated with actual religious teachings and beliefs.”
In Doe v. Porter, a case in which the Plaintiffs sought to enjoin a public school district’s decision to allow religious instruction in its schools, the Sixth Circuit aptly noted the uniquely controversial aspect of religious issues involved and found that forcing the Plaintiffs to reveal their identities could “subject them to considerable harassment.”
The Plaintiffs in this case face a unique risk inherent in Establishment Clause cases, which typically involve highly charged matters relating to religion. “Lawsuits involving religion can implicate deeply held beliefs and provoke intense emotional responses.”
A. Establishment Clause Plaintiffs Routinely Face Harassment and Threats Including Physical Violence
Plaintiffs would like to draw to the Court’s attention the alarming history of violence and threats of violence against Establishment Clause plaintiffs. Vashti McCollum brought a suit in 1945 objecting to the practice of allowing public school students to attend religious classes held in public school classrooms. See Illinois ex rel. McCollum v. Bd. of Educ., 333 U.S. 203 (1948). Ms. McCollum’s house was vandalized, she received hundreds of pieces of hate mail, and her sons were physically attacked.
In 1981, Joann Bell and Lucille McCord filed suit to block religious meetings and the distribution of Gideon Bibles in their children’s schools. See Bell v. Little Axe Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 70, 766 F.2d 1391 (10th Cir. 1985). The plaintiffs’ children were consequently branded as “devil worshipers.” “An upside-down cross was hung on thirteen-year-old Robert McCord’s locker,” and the Bells received threatening phone calls. “More than once a caller said he . . . was going to break in the house, tie up the children, rape their mother in front of them, and then ‘bring her to Jesus.’ ” The threats were far from empty: The Bells’ home was burned down.
In 1994, Lisa Herdahl brought an action challenging prayer practices in her children’s schools. See Herdahl v. Pontotoc Cty. Sch. Dist., 887 F. Supp. 902 (N.D. Miss. 1995). As a result, her children were called “atheists and devil worshipers” by their classmates. Other children were threatened with beatings by their parents if they were caught talking to, or playing with, the Herdahl children. There were reports that a boycott would be organized against the convenience store where Lisa Herdahl worked. Herdahl gave up her job “because of threats against her children.” She received death threats and threats that her home would be firebombed.
The son of the plaintiff in Chandler v. Siegelman, 230 F.3d 1313 (11th Cir. 2000) (a challenge to prayer at school-related events), was “harassed at school almost daily.” And even though she was not a plaintiff but merely a vocal opponent of the school prayer policy challenged in Santa Fe Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290 (2000), Debbie Mason received threatening phone calls and was followed home by persons trying to scare her. Eventually, her husband and children became unable to find work in the town where they lived.
Tammy Kitzmiller, the lead plaintiff in a high-profile case challenging a Pennsylvania school district’s promotion of intelligent design, received death threats, among other hate mail. “Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial” (PBS “NOVA” television broadcast Nov. 13, 2007); see generally, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area Sch. Dist., 400 F. Supp. 2d 707, 721-22 (M.D. Pa. 2005). New Jersey high school student Matthew LaClair also received a death threat after he tape-recorded and publicly objected to his history teacher’s frequent proselytizing of students. After speaking out, LaClair was quickly ostracized by his classmates.
In the case of Wynne v. Town of Great Falls, 376 F.3d 929 (4th Cir. 2004), the plaintiff suffered extreme harassment at the hands of her neighbors after she sued to enjoin a town council from opening its meetings with sectarian prayers. Individuals unhappy with the suit broke into the plaintiff’s home and beheaded her pet parrot, leaving behind a note reading, “You’re next.” In addition, several of the plaintiff’s pet cats were killed and her pet dog was beaten.
Tyler Deveny, the eighteen-year-old plaintiff in Deveney v. Board of Education, 231 F. Supp. 2d 483 (S.D.W. VA. 2002), endured a beating of his own after successfully challenging the invocation planned for his high school graduation ceremony. A group of eight teens evidently displeased with the outcome attacked Deveny in a public place, with one saying, “Oh, you hate God,” before striking Deveny in the face.
Unlike Deveny, the Dobrich family — plaintiffs in Dobrich v. Walls, 380 F. Supp. 366 (D. Del. 2005) — did not suffer physical violence after challenging their public school district’s practices of permitting teachers to proselytize and distribute bibles to non-Christian students and of rewarding students who attended school-sponsored bible clubs. But the harassment, anti-Semitic taunts, and veiled threats the family endured from fellow community members ultimately drove them to move to another county.
And in a case from the Seventh Circuit challenging the display of Christian paintings by the City in a public park, Judge Cudahy gave this description of events surrounding the substitution of a new, anonymous plaintiff for the original, named one:
The record indicates that the original plaintiff in this case, Richard Rohrer, was, in effect, ridden out of town on a rail for daring to complain about the City’s conduct. The present plaintiff has concealed her identity to avoid suffering the same treatment. However much some citizens of Ottawa [Ill.] may disagree with the position that the Plaintiffs have taken, however much they may think the Plaintiffs annoying and overlitigious, the conduct of some of them has been deplorable. Doe v. Small, 964 F.2d 611, 626 (7th Cir. 1992) (Cudahy, J., concurring in the judgment).
Finally, just recently in a similar case over religious iconography in school, the publicly identified high school student plaintiff, Jessica Ahlquist, faced “bullying and threats at school, on her way home from school and online.” Ahlquist v. City of Cranston ex rel. Strom, 840 F. Supp. 507, 516 (D.R.I. 2012). After filing the lawsuit, Ahlquist was “subject to frequent taunting and threats at school, as well as a virtual on-line hate campaign via Facebook.” Id.
B. Plaintiffs in this Case Have a Reasonable Fear of Facing Harassment and Threats Including Physical Violence
“To proceed anonymously for fear of retaliation and harassment a ‘plaintiff must demonstrate that . . . retaliation is not merely hypothetical but based in some real-world evidence; a simple fear is insufficient.” As discussed below, the Plaintiffs in this case have a reasonable fear of facing harassment, retaliation, and threats including physical violence based on commentaries made on the Internet, in news media accounts and on social media networks.
The issues involved in this case have already elicited a considerable amount of public outcry and will only elicit further community outrage directed at the Plaintiffs. Here, there has been a bombardment of Internet-based speech against those who oppose the continued hanging of the Head of Christ in Jackson Middle School. On Facebook and in online commentary to media accounts, individuals have expressed the desire to suppress minority viewpoints, and have alluded to a desire for those in disagreement to leave Jackson, Ohio, or have the students go to another middle school. The comments also show veiled threats of physical violence. Thus, it is reasonable that Plaintiffs fear social ostracism, harassment, intimidation and other threats including physical violence. The following demonstrates that this fear is not based on the hypothetical, but rather based on the comments made by real persons online.
Social media sites appear to be the hotbed of this threatening and harassing activity. In addition to comments on public Facebook pages, particularly news stations’ fan pages, residents of Jackson have expressed their displeasure with the opposition on their own Facebook pages.
Comments posted on Facebook have demonstrated veiled threats of physical violence. For example, John Davis commented on Lacey Williams Sturgell’s Facebook page, “Hunt down whoever complained and get them,” to which Ms. Sturgell replied, “John Davis if they remove the picture I think it might get a little ugly in this small town & it will turn so quickly they won’t have a chance 2 get away! I can’t stand people like this!”
Another Facebook commenter, Steve Hayburn, commented, “Find out who complained about it and settle this out in the parking lot.” Glen Smith commented, “But, alas, I believe in freedom of speech unconditionally unless it lessens or severs my Liberties and Freedoms . . . in which case I must invoke my 2nd Ammendment [sic] Rights upon you and your unjust endeavors.”
Equally alarming are the attempts already to find the identities of the attorneys involved. Commenters have targeted the attorneys representing the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which first contacted Superintendent Howard about the constitutional concerns regarding the portrait in January 2013. FFRF attorneys are co-counsel in this matter. CARL_IN_OHIO suggested, “Why not post the home addresses of these lawyers in Wisconsin? Let’s send THEM cards, phone calls, and emails.”
Adding to the mob mentality, many commenters espoused a “you’re either with us or against us” philosophy. On the Telegram News Facebook Page, J Matthew Thomas commented, “Support us. Or else.” On her own page, Lacey Williams Sturgell commented, “If they do remove it, I would say its not gonna be so happy go lucky in this little town of ours bc so many ppl I know disagree with removal.”
Others suggested those opposing the portrait were Satan worshippers or the “Anti-Christs.” Posting in response to an article on www.theblaze.com, Cyber Geezer commented, “It’s about time someone stood up and told these anti-Christ nut cases to take a flying leap off a tall building! This is such a fine upstanding group to be challenging what we do. They are all so proud of their beliefs that they keep a low profile so that no one in their own communites even know they are one of the Anti-Christs and self-glorifying atheists!”
Another woman posted “What a shame, This group That wants It taken Down Is Of Satan.”
Many commenters suggested those opposing the portrait of Jesus in Jackson Middle School leave the country or find another school. Samantha Ostrander commented on Ms. Sturgell’s Facebook page, “I am not even a huge Christian and believe the complainer and this so called 19,000 member cult are Fucking crazy. If they don’t like it, go to school somewhere else.” Hannah Nichelle Vance commented on Lauren Schmoll WSAZ’s Facebook page that “No one told you that you had to look at it. If you have a problem with it then don’t go into the middle school.”
“Pardon my French but these assholes need to get away from our schools PERIOD . . . get the hell out of our states, our region and our schools!” stated Sam Songer on WOWK13’s Facebook page. In addition to suggesting the Plaintiffs leave Jackson, some commenters wished eternal damnation upon the opposition. Pat Grochowski Mihaly commented, “To those who want it down, when you die I hope God sends you ‘down’. You wacko, sicko liberals are denying others their constitutional rights! Go find a deserted island and start a Liberal Colony. You are as much wanted in GOD’S COUNTRY as the lepers.”
The Plaintiffs have stated in declarations included with this filing that they fear experiencing social ostracism, harassment or threats. The Plaintiffs are aware of the online commentary directed at those opposing continued hanging of the Head of Christ at Jackson Middle School. Under these circumstances, it is unsurprising that Plaintiffs fear social ostracism, harassment, intimidation, and physical violence should their association with this lawsuit become known.
III. One of the Doe Plaintiffs is a Minor
The potential harm to children in Establishment Clause cases is great and thus, courts have frequently allowed minor Plaintiffs to proceed using pseudonyms. In Doe v. Porter, the Sixth Circuit noted, “this case is brought on behalf of very young children, to whom we grant a heightened protection.”
As a minor, Doe 2 is particularly vulnerable in this litigation. Recognizing the vulnerabilities of minors in litigation, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require minors to be identified by their initials. This measure of protection is not sufficient in this case, however, due to the highly publicized nature of the controversy and the size of the school and city of Jackson, Ohio. Because the Plaintiffs are drawn from such a small pool of individuals, even the use of initials for the minor plaintiff would make the Plaintiffs easily identifiable.
Sam Doe 2 is a minor child in this litigation and is thus deserving of “heightened protection.” Doe 2 will not participate if identified. Additionally, Sam Doe 3 is the parent of minor children. Doe 3’s anonymity is necessary to protect Doe 3’s minor children, not party to this lawsuit, but nevertheless affected by it should the identities of their parents become known.
Pseudonymity Traditionally Granted when Plaintiffs Uniquely Vulnerable to Stigma
Pseudonymity has traditionally been granted when Plaintiffs are uniquely vulnerable to stigma. For example, pseudonymity has been granted to: a bipolar plaintiff, a plaintiff seeking an abortion, and a gay plaintiff challenging a sodomy law. The Plaintiffs in Porter who were challenging religious education in public schools were vulnerable due to the fact that they espoused a minority viewpoint in their small, rural town. So too, Plaintiffs in this case are particularly vulnerable to stigma for espousing what appears to be the minority viewpoint in their small, rural town and for being individuals on record to challenge this religious display. Plaintiffs clearly fit within the traditional purpose of pseudonymity.
For the foregoing reasons, plaintiffs respectfully request that their Motion for Leave to Use Pseudonyms and For Protective Order be granted.
A portion of the information for this brief was compiled and graciously shared by the American Civil Liberties Union.
College agrees coach’s prayers unconstitutional
Coaches at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., have been instructed to stop proselytizing student athletes after getting a Nov. 8 complaint letter from FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott.
Football coach Jerry Moore, had been inviting preachers to give sermons and pray in Jesus’ name at pregame dinners, which all football players attended. Moore also led a bible study class and encouraged players to attend.
Elliott wrote Chancellor Kenneth Peacock, asking him to “discontinue the practice of instituting team prayers, sermons and bible studies for ASU football players.”
ASU’s general counsel responded Feb. 6 that Moore’s proselytizing has “no legitimate place in the University’s athletic programs” and that a student could see the coach’s “religious observances” as coercive.
“It is highly unlikely that a coach would look favorably upon a student athlete who walked out of a team meeting when a preacher, at the coach’s invitation, began to deliver a sermon or a team prayer,” the response letter said. “In these circumstances, it would not be unreasonable for a student athlete to consider the atmosphere created by such religious observances coercive.”
Moore has left ASU for “unrelated” reasons, but the school’s attorney said ASU has reminded all coaches that proselytizing is unacceptable.
FFRF ends Texas
Religion was forced to take a knee in the Pottsboro [Texas] Independent School District after FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell’s Feb. 6 letter of complaint that the football coach was leading players in pregame prayer. The football games of both the middle school and high school also featured a prayer addressing god and Jesus over the loudspeaker.
Cavell’s letter to Superintendent Kevin Matthews outlined the constitutional violations.
Legal counsel responded the next day to say that the school had discussed its policy regarding staff-led prayer with all coaches and will discuss the issue with stadium personnel before the next football season starts.
School ditches religion for positive choices
Ohio’s Wauseon High School will now have an inclusive spring assembly instead of a proselytizing Easter assembly.
Previous Easter assemblies encouraged students to accept Jesus as their Lord and savior and pressured them to sing Christian songs. A group of students protested the sermon-like assembly by walking out of last year’s.
FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt sent Superintendent Marc Robinson a letter last May 7, asking him not to schedule religious assemblies in the future.
Robinson responded Feb. 7 that the district had asked the high school principal to change the nature, speakers and format of the assembly. He said the spring assembly will focus on positive student choices.
Religious music scratched from schools
Choir concerts at grade schools in Ocean Springs, Miss., no longer include Christian worship songs and are held at the school instead of a church. A concerned parent contacted FFRF after their child participated in a school concert held at a Baptist church, where six of 14 songs were religious.
Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt wrote to Superintendent Bonita Coleman-Potter on Nov. 12. Schmitt found one of the songs, “Joshua Fit the Battle,” particularly worrisome because it proudly recounts a battle in which Joshua is instructed by his god to commit genocide on the people of Jericho. Schmitt quoted Chapter 6 of Joshua where “they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.”
On Feb. 14, FFRF was informed the school’s choir and band held a fall concert, which in previous years was called a Christmas concert, on Dec. 3. The concert was held in the school’s auditorium and featured entirely secular music.
Georgia teacher warned about religious songs
A sixth-grade science teacher at Lakeview Middle School in Rossville, Ga., will no longer sing Christian songs during instructional time to students.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote a Feb. 1 complaint letter and a Feb. 11 follow-up letter to Catoosa County Public Schools Superintendent Denia Reese. He expressed concern that several co-workers reported the teacher’s behavior to administration, but that she allegedly continued to impose her beliefs on students.
District legal counsel responded that the teacher admitted singing inappropriate songs to children. Administrators discussed the law with her and instructed her to stop proselytizing.
FFRF ends Indiana staffer’s proselytizing
An elementary school principal in Ligonier, Ind., will no longer push his religious beliefs and judgments on other district employees through religious newsletters and prayers at staff lunches. A newsletter the principal sent to staff read: “People may be able to take away the symbols of Christmas, but they can never take away the meaning of Christmas; that a Savior was born to save the world.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott called the principal’s actions inappropriate in a Dec. 19 letter to West Noble Schools Superintendant Dennis VanDuyne.
VanDuyne responded Jan. 28 that the principal will apologize to his staff and stop promoting religion. VanDuyne added that district policy on separation of church and state will be reviewed by all principals at the next administrators’ meeting.
Bible handouts ended at Georgia school
Bible distribution is out at S.L. Mason Elementary, a public school in Valdosta, Ga. The Gideons set up a table in the main hallway. When one girl and her friend refused to take a bible, other school children told them they were going to hell.
On behalf of a concerned parent, FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel contacted Valdosta City Schools Superintendent William Cason in a Feb. 12 letter. “The public schools should protect the personal conscience of students, especially those students of a very young age who were given bibles at the elementary school.”
FFRF was informed by the parent complainant that Cason personally contacted her to apologize. Cason said he would update school administrators to let them know the Gideons and other groups are not allowed to enter schools and distribute bibles.
Because the florist Marina Plowman no bouquet of roses wanted to deliver a 16-year-old atheist, she was now being sued by the Freedom from Religion Foundation. Twins Florist, a florist business and family business since 1951, in the small town in Cranston, Rhode Iceland wants people really just be fun.
Online translation of a German story about FFRF suing over a florist’s refusal to deliver to Jessica Ahlquist
I was a Brownie in 1978 and wanted to become a Girl Scout. It was not to be. I had a hard time fitting in as a kid. My Sunday school teacher’s eyes shot daggers at me when, after a lesson on the Virgin Mary, I asked, “Was Joseph a virgin, too?” I just didn’t take to the religion thing. Alongside my bible, I read Bulfinch’s Mythology, and I much preferred the Greek gods. They fell in love and had adventures and didn’t seem to take themselves so seriously. There was laughter in heaven. Jesus was sort of OK — I liked some of his sermons. But the bible seemed filled with harsh de-sert people (mostly men) morbidly obsessed with death and suffering. What had they to do with me?
Lynn Stuart Parramore, “I was an atheist child, and the Girl Scouts didn’t want me”
When I think of an army sporting a Christian cross, I think Crusades. Neither my country nor my army force me to swear allegiance to Odin, Jesus, Buddha or Horus. Freedom from religious oppression is pretty much the reason why the United States was founded.
Email from Afghanistan by Sgt. Joel Muhlnickel, objecting to a cross and steeple, which was ordered to be removed, at Forward Operating Base Orgun-E
NBC News, 1-24-13
CNN hasn’t flagged this iReport as inappropriate, but some community members have. This is a divisive topic, however it does not violate our Community Guidelines, so we ask people to please stop flagging it.
Daphne Sashin, producer, on a column by Texan Deborah Mitchell headlined “Why I Raise My Children Without God”
As a Christian, I have no personal issues with a prayer being said at a public meeting. But we are elected to serve the public. We need to make the public meeting a comfortable environment for all those that wish to attend.
Councilman Jason Jones, Mount Holly, Pa., questioning Mayor Richard Dow’s insertion of a Christian prayer into the meeting without consulting the council
They operate like the Mafia. They walk into a store and say it would be a shame if your window was broken or you lost your clientele. They might tell the father of a girl who wears a skirt that’s too short and he’s, say, a store owner, “If you ever want to sell a pair of shoes, speak to your daughter.”
Rabbi Allan Nadler, director of Jewish studies at Drew University in Madison, N.J., on “modesty squads” operating in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods
New York Times, 1-30-13
A few heavenly sources speculated the catalyst for the Divine Creator’s most recent bout of existential anguish may have come earlier this month, when one of His routine tsunamis claimed the lives of 6,000 people in the Indonesian port city of Kupang, causing Him to question the meaning of existence in general.
God, quoted in “God Freaks Self Out By Lying Awake Contemplating Own Immortality”
The Onion, 1-31-13
I did not believe my participation to be an act of joint worship, but one of mercy and care to a community shocked and grieving an unspeakably horrific event. I apologize where I have caused offense by pushing Christian freedom too far, and I request you charitably receive my apology.
Pastor Rob Morris of Christ the King Lutheran Church, Newtown, Conn., who was asked to apologize by the president of the Missouri Synod for taking part in “joint worship with other religions”
Our best estimate is that 700 people give up reading the bible every single day.
Paul Caminiti, vice president for bible engagement at Biblica [formerly the International Bible Society], Colorado Springs, Colo.
Mission Network News, 4-6-12
A number of courses and their instructional materials incorporate pseudo-scholarship, including claims that the bible provides scientific proof of a 6,000-year-old Earth (young Earth creationism) and that the United States was founded as a Christian nation based on biblical Christian principles. At least two districts’ bible courses include materials suggesting that the origins of racial diversity among humans today can be traced back to Noah’s sons, a claim that has long been an important element of some forms of racism.
Mark Chancey, professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist, in a report on bible courses in Texas public schools
Texas Freedom Network, 1-16-13
Hey Catholics, news flash — if the pope can quit, it’s OK for you to quit, too. ... Every poll of American Catholics shows they find most Vatican teachings to be irrelevant. Catholics use birth control, they get divorced, they have premarital sex, they masturbate, sometimes all in one night.
Entertainer Bill Maher, suggesting Hillary Clinton as a replacement for Pope Benedict because she “knows how to handle a guy who can’t keep his hands to himself”
“Real Time With Bill Maher,” 2-15-13
Percentage of freshmen at four-year colleges who declare “Roman Catholic” as their religious affiliation: 26. Who declare “None”: 25.
Harper’s Index, October 2012
The real reason for the bill is to allow certain religious or political groups to reject gay or lesbian students with the commonwealth’s blessing. It’s cut from the same mold as legislation passed last year to send taxpayer funds to adoption agencies that discriminate against prospective parents on the basis of religion and sexual preference.
Editorial calling on Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell to veto a bill passed by the House of Delegates and the Senate allowing religious and student groups to enforce discriminatory membership practices
The Virginian-Pilot, 2-19-13
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is suing a Rhode Island florist in Superior Court in Providence for refusing to deliver FFRF’s order of a dozen red roses to Cranston teen Jessica Ahlquist after she won a court case in January 2012.
The complaint, filed Jan. 25, alleges that Marina Plowman, owner-operator of Twins Florist in Cranston, denied FFRF “full and equal access to public accommodations by refusing to fulfill a flower order on the basis of religion (nonbelief), in violation of Rhode Island General Laws.”
FFRF filed a previous complaint in January 2012 with the state Commission for Human Rights. A preliminary investigating commissioner determined in October that “probable cause” existed to believe that Plowman violated state law.
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor asked for the following message to be delivered with the roses, “Congratulations, and hang in there. With admiration from FFRF.”
At the time, the defendant told ABC 6 television reporter Alexandra Cowley, “It’s my freedom of speech. I refuse orders when I want and I take orders when I want.”
The parties could have engaged in more conciliation with the commission, but the defendant chose to move the matter to Superior Court.
The suit notes that FFRF feels responsible “to expose the perceived discrimination by notifying the media of the defendant’s refusal, as well as the refusal of the other flower shops, in order to educate the public on matters related to nontheism and to defend the civil rights of nonbelievers.”
FFRF filed a similar complaint with the commission about Flowers by Santilli’s refusal to fulfill the order. Flowers by Santilli chose to pursue mediation through the commission. A hearing is set in March in that case.
Attorney Katherine Godin of Warwick is FFRF’s local counsel in the lawsuit.
James T. Nickell, 23, Sandy Hook, Ky., given a choice of church or jail after being caught stealing guitars and amplifiers at First Baptist Church of Sandy Hook in December, chose church.
WSAZ reported the plea bargain option of a year in jail or attending Sunday services for six weeks. The church option included wearing a sign that said, “I stole from this church” before and after services.
Nickell chose church and started his sentence Jan. 13, but on Jan. 31 he was booked into jail on a charge of theft of under $500.
Kayla Lykins alleges he stole a tool from her relative’s house. “Yeah he did, and he really doesn’t need to be doing that stuff.”
A proposal to start common council meetings in Onalaska, Wis., with prayer got what the La Crosse Tribune dubbed “a chilly reception,” when council member Jack Pogreba’s pious suggestion was voted down 4-2 on Feb. 12.
FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott sent a strong letter of objection Jan. 12 on behalf of local complainants.
Seven people spoke against prayer and five spoke in favor. Pogreba made a motion after the vote to put the prayer matter before voters with a referendum. The motion was ruled out of order because it wasn’t on the agenda.
Thanks to FFRF member Hank Zumach, members of the La Crosse Area Freethought Society and others who spoke against government prayer.