The Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors in Virginia has a nasty habit of beginning meetings with prayers explicitly referencing Jesus Christ. (That’s even worse than the typical non-denominational prayers local government officials often get away with…)
So one local resident filed a lawsuit against the city with the help of the ACLU.
The city tried to have the lawsuit dismissed, but Judge Michael F. Urbanski has denied that dismissal. The case has merit, he says.
“Every time the plaintiff attends a board meeting and comes in direct contact with an overtly Christian prayer, she experiences a recurring First Amendment injury,” Urbanski wrote in his opinion.
The injunction is not permanent, but it does order the board to stop praying until the case is settled.
“This is an important first step,” said Kent Willis, the executive director of ACLU of Virginia. “With a very strong opinion from the judge indicating that we are legally on the right track.”
There’s just one caveat to the whole thing…
If “Jane Doe” wants to proceed with the lawsuit, she has to give up her anonymity:
According to Willis, the ACLU’s next steps are to speak with the plaintiff about how to proceed. They requested she remain anonymous because of the hostile environment over the issue and because she feared for her safety if her identity were released. “Jane Doe” is a county resident who regularly attends board meetings, Willis said.
“Given the degree of anger this lawsuit has engendered in Pittsylvania County, we are disappointed that the judge did not grant request for anonymity,” said ACLU of Virginia legal director Rebecca Glenberg in a news release. “We are consulting with our client about how to best proceed.”
The ACLU can appeal the judge’s decision denying anonymity, but if “Jane Doe” does not appeal or disclose her identity, there is no plaintiff and no case, according to Willis.
I’m sure there’s some legal reason for this — at least, I hope that’s why they’re forcing her to make herself known — but what an awful thing to make her do. In the wake of the Jessica Ahlquist ruling, we know just how tough it can be when you take on the religious establishment in a First Amendment case. By going public, Jane Doe would be opening herself up to potential harassment. She risks having her address made public by Christian bullies. And who knows if she has children in local schools who may face persecution of their own?
I don’t even know if she’s an atheist, but that doesn’t matter. Even if she’s a Christian, she’s trying to do the right thing and keep church and state separate. But God-Fearing Christians are never content with that. They love their public displays of faith and they feel justified going after anyone who wants to put a stop to it.
If Jane Doe makes herself known, though, I hope she knows that there are a lot of us out there who would watch out for her and come to her aid should anything happen. Certainly, there are many atheists in Virginia who would come to her side.
(Thanks to Tom for the link)