Judge Will Allow Students to Remain Anonymous in Lawsuit to Remove Ten Commandments Monument from Their Public High School

This is the Ten Commandments monument sitting outside Valley High School in New Kensington, Pennsylvania (not far from Pittsburgh):

Three plaintiffs — including two current Valley High School students — have sued to have that display removed, but one of the potential problems was that they could have been forced to reveal their identities to the public. That’s a *huge* concern when you consider the death threats other public atheists have received when doing something similar — legally right but massively unpopular. Like we saw in Jessica Ahlquist‘s case, that concern is even greater when the plaintiffs are students at the school.

Take, for instance, a post made on a pro-monument Facebook page in reference to the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (representing the plaintiffs):

“Have the families involved in the lawsuit been identified? I cannot believe anyone living in the community would participate in such a worthless cause. Someone needs to send that group back to Wisconsin with several black eyes!

The school district managed to strike all those threats from the case record — since they have nothing to do with the merits of the case itself — and, to their credit, they didn’t oppose the use of pseudonyms for the younger plaintiffs throughout the case.

Thankfully, the judge agreed:

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Terrence McVerry of the Western District of Pennsylvania said, “The plaintiffs presently designated as ‘Doe’ may continue to proceed anonymously with the use of pseudonyms.”

Judge McVerry found there had been significant threats made to the suit’s only named plaintiff, [parent] Marie Schaub.

“A number of threats referenced in her affidavit have extended beyond ad hominem rhetoric, although they certainly appear to include threats of violence and ostracism,” he said.

He agreed with the plaintiffs that the as-yet-unnamed plaintiffs should be able to proceed anonymously to avoid any danger of harm.

“The court finds that this basis upon which the Does fear disclosure is substantial and that there is a substantial public interest in ensuring that litigants not face such retribution in their attempt to seek redress for what they view as a constitutional violation, a pure legal issue.”

That’s fantastic news for the courageous high school students fighting to remove the monument from government property. Their names are irrelevant and they shouldn’t be victimized for doing the right thing.

(Thanks to Henry for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.