Hopeless Plaintiffs Want Anonymity With No Threats

Hopeless Plaintiffs Want Anonymity With No Threats June 1, 2015

We’ve had this ongoing battle in Grand Haven, Michigan over a huge cross on public land. Our side convinced the city council to remove it rather than create a public forum that would grant equal access and now the other side is suing over that. And they want the court to allow them to file anonymously because of non-existent threats.

The people suing the city of Grand Haven to force it to restore a 48-foot-tall Christian cross to Dewey Hill want to stay anonymous because they fear retaliation from the city or anti-cross activist Mitch Kahle if their names become public, their lawyer says.

Attorney Helen Brinkman of Wyoming made that argument at a court hearing Friday, May 29…

“They are very concerned,” Brinkman said of her clients, known in court documents only as John Doe, Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2. If their names are disclosed, “they become a target.”

She said they feel threatened by Kahle, whose earlier threat of a lawsuit against the city led to a vote by the city council to end display of a cross and nativity scene on Dewey Hill.

Hulsing pressed Brinkman on that claim.

“Has Mr. Kahle issued threats of physical violence?” he asked her from the bench.

“No, your honor, but the threat of a lawsuit is a very real threat,” she said.

“Counsel’s intuition notwithstanding … I’m still not clear (on what the threat is),” city attorney Sutton said. “Threat of legal action is something every plaintiff in this state faces.”

Brinkman also said the plaintiffs are afraid of being publicly named because they’re suing their own city.

Asked by the judge what kind of city retaliation is possible, Brinkman suggested the city might raise their property-tax assessments.

I am strongly in favor of allowing plaintiffs to file anonymously and I think the standards for allowing them to do so should be broadened considerably to make it easier to do so. But there isn’t even a faint suggestion of any risk to the plaintiffs in this case. Mitch Kahle has never said or done anything that could even remotely be considered any sort of threat. Indeed, he is the one who has endured a flood of death threats and intimidation and even been physically attacked by a police officer in an earlier case.

Nor is there any reason to fear any retaliation by the city. The city council didn’t want to remove the cross either, they wanted it to stay, but the law did not allow them to do that unless they created a limited public forum that would have allowed other groups to put up their own displays on land that is very ecologically sensitive (it’s a sand dune on the shore of Lake Michigan and the city was already concerned about erosion and other environmental issues before this issue came up). And there’s no history whatsoever of cities retaliating against Christians trying to keep religious symbols on public property, while there is a good deal of history of them doing that to plaintiffs who seek the removal of such symbols.

Their argument is simply ludicrous and I doubt the judge will allow them to maintain their anonymity. Nor is there much chance at all of their suit succeeding. I doubt it will even make it past a motion for summary judgment. They just don’t have a case. There is no right to put their religious displays on public property being violated here.

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