In Giles County, Virginia, a Ten Commandments display just went up at Narrows High School. A student at the school, working with the ACLU of Virginia and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, has filed a lawsuit. But the students wishes to remain anonymous, opting to use the name “Doe 1” instead.
“I fear that if my involvement were made public, I would experience social ostracism, harassment, or threats from my school peers or community members,” the student said in an affidavit filed with the lawsuit.
Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State explains why some plaintiffs in church/state separation cases like this choose to remain anonymous — and the consequences of what can happen if their names go public:
… When we sued Judge Roy Moore, Alabama’s infamous “Ten Commandments judge,” the plaintiffs were named. That means people could track them down — and some did.
During the litigation, plaintiff Melinda Maddox, who was newly married, returned from her honeymoon to find that the windows of her house had been shot out.
As I noted in a February blog post about plaintiffs in church-state cases, it can take real courage to stand up for church-state separation in court. Consider the case of Joann Bell, a mother in Little Axe, Okla., who protested religious activity in her children’s public schools in 1981. Her home was burned down by an arsonist.
The unpleasant fact is that cases like this bring out the worst in some people. History, sadly, provides no shortage of individuals who are quick to resort to violence in defense of their faith.
Is it any surprise, then, that an attorney with the (right-wing) American Center for Law and Justice wants to prevent plaintiffs from remaining anonymous?
“The general policy is that lawsuits are supposed to be public, and the public has a right to know who is suing who, and the person being sued has a right to know,” [Francis] Manion said.
Of course, that’s easy for Manion to say. He’s not the one who might be assaulted in school or suffer from other forms of retaliation. (Manion might want to take a look at some of the reaction the case has already sparked, as noted by the [Roanoke] Times. Choice comments include: “Keep up the good work, you’ll have a special place in Hell” and “Sure sounds to me like non-Christians ought to move out of Giles County before things get ugly over there.”)
Anonymity is in the best interest of some plaintiffs, and as long as their counsel has access to them, there’s no compelling reason to force them to go public.
***Edit***: I originally posted that AU helped filed the lawsuit. In fact, it was the ACLU of VA and FFRF. Those changes are now reflected in the article.