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.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Now we’ll hear accusations of cowardice paired with the usual loving Christian threats of violence in the same statements, and the perpetrators won’t see the irony or the hypocrisy.

  • http://profiles.google.com/neotechni Techni Myoko

    Ah religious love.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    i don’t mean to be obscene, but i consider this a “silver lining” in the very dark and horrifying cloud of the newton tragedy.

    america is filled with hateful, violent, murderous people. atheists are greatly hated by many of them. kudos to the judge for choosing public safety over the rapacious media desire for exposure.

    • Guesty Guest

      It is very unlikely that the judge was balancing public safety against a “rapacious media desire for exposure”, but rather against the general principle that actions under the law should be open for public scrutiny. It’s a very high bar to clear, made possible only because of the presence of four mitigating factors: there remains a named plaintiff, those seeking anonymity are juveniles, a credible threat of violence has been ascertained, and the defendant did not object. Lose any one of those, and this would almost certainly have gone the other way. Media concerns do not enter into it at all.

    • http://www.facebook.com/quink.canada Quink Canada

      It is heartbreaking to consider that the anonymity granted by the judge may have, inadvertently, protected these kids from the very slim chance of serious harm caused by someone from a whole other teir of even more extreme and unstable people with too-easy access to weapons. Recent events just highlights the courage of these students. I truly admire these kids for taking on such a contentious issue.

  • DougI

    Gotta protect folks from that Christian love before someone gets hurt.

  • roberthughmclean

    Why doesn’t jujitsu jesus rock up and sort it out? He and the godsquad can get to work with some superspirit assistance and achieve something detectible. Ooops, that’s never happened, never will.

  • Pluto Animus

    Christians of Pennsylvania:

    With your threats against these students, you have proven what vile scumbags you are.

    Ever notice that we atheists don’t pull that kind of shit?

    Ever wonder why? It’s because we’re morally superior, assholes!

    • fin312

      Of course you non-believers don’t do that!! At least you know that you are that last word.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=628665833 Bill Santagata

    Best of luck to plaintiffs, although they probably don’t need it. This is going to be an open-and-shut case.

  • dan

    Keeping my fingers crossed. I’m sure there are teachers (at least the science dept…I hope) that feel strongly but have remained silent for the same reasons. Would have made an excellent class assignment for US Government, but how long would that teacher have a job?

  • http://www.facebook.com/quink.canada Quink Canada

    Now this is a good holiday season story; the kind that renews my faith in future generations. These kids are fighting the good fight; the never-ending struggle against superstition-based belief systems that are, at the end of the day, not held accountable to reality. It may be next to impossibe to extract believers from the insidious way that superstitious nonsense has worked its way into their identity through indoctrincation, but it’s in the spirit of democracy to resist religious authority forcing its way into public spaces. Wow!

  • http://twitter.com/BillyWillyson BillyWilson

    Many Christians are not very Christ like … just saying.

    • WoodyTanaka

      No true Scotsman. “Christianity” is as Christians do. And they do a hell of a lot of evil.

      • Ryan Jean

        To be fair, I think this was meant similar to the comment (often attributed to Gandhi, but disputed) of liking Christ but disliking Christians because of being so unlike Christ (which also play well with all the “Republican Jesus” jokes). The real issue here is that many Christians are hypocritical about their beliefs AND their behavior, and that’s hardly a No-True-Scotsman.

        (Edit: Also, he said that many Christians are not like “Christ”, not that they’re not acting like Christians are supposed to, so even more so not the NTS-Fallacy.)

  • PA_Year_of_the_Bible

    I wouldn’t go quite so far as calling the plaintiffs “courageous” if they insist on remaining anonymous. Ahlquist was courageous, all things considered.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      Given that there was (and remains) the risk that their identity could be known, I’m ok with the adjective.

      And in Jessica’s case, people said she was just doing it for the notoriety.

      So if you’re anonymous, you’re a coward. If you’re not anonymous, you’re an attention whore.

      • fin312

        Hello Mr. Wilson, we finally agree on something.

    • coyotenose

      *Wikis* It’s a town of 13,000 people. I live in a town twice that size and have randomly heard strangers discussing the sex lives of people I know, and I don’t socialize in this town. These students know well that they could be exposed at any time. They are probably suspect in their school based on what other students know about them, and even if they aren’t, they could be outed just for having insufficient enthusiasm in supporting the monument or criticizing the plaintiffs (themselves). I remember that environment well, and consider it a given that they’ve already had to lie to protect their anonymity.

  • Leif

    Fucking jesus freaks

  • KatieHartman

    Well, this definitely breaks the ‘doing it for the attention’ narrative that seems to frequently accompany the personal attacks and threats.


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