Proposal targets anonymous lawsuits
By Renatta Signorini
Published: Thursday, March 28, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
State Rep. Tim Krieger wants to eliminate the secrecy behind anonymous lawsuits that seek to remove religious symbols from public places.
The Delmont Republican introduced a bill this month that he said would guarantee transparency in cases such as the two lawsuits filed last year over monuments bearing the Ten Commandments that stand on school property in Fayette and Westmoreland counties.
“This is just a way for people to prevail without public scrutiny,” Krieger said.
In announcing his legislation, Krieger referred to the suits filed last year by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and anonymous students and parents over the monuments at New Kensington-Arnold and Connellsville Area schools.
Plaintiffs who want to remain anonymous should have to show “solid evidence” that they would be physically harmed if their identity is revealed, Krieger said. An anonymous plaintiff should have the “courage and convictions” to stand up publicly for their beliefs, he said.
“A troubling practice has emerged in recent years where private parties file anonymous lawsuits to attack the display of religious symbols in public places,” Krieger said in a news release.
Pastor Ewing Marietta said the bill would ensure that an actual person was involved in the suit, not just a group like the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion group.
Marietta, pastor of Liberty Baptist Church in North Union, leads “Thou Shall Not Move,” a community group formed in support of keeping the monument at Connellsville's junior high.
“In the other sense, if there is a real threat (to a plaintiff), then it should be up to the judge” involved in the case, he said.
Neither New Kensington resident Mike Hresko, who organized a “Save Our Stone” rally after the suit was filed against New Kensington-Arnold, nor Marie Schaub, a parent who is named as a plaintiff, could be reached for comment.
The nonprofit Freedom From Religion group has filed protective orders concealing the identities of plaintiffs in the suits, said Annie Laurie Gaylor, foundation co-president. Anonymous plaintiffs in those cases are district students and residents who are referred to as “Doe” with a corresponding number.
Anonymous plaintiffs in similar lawsuits across the country have faced “volatile” situations with peer pressure, threats, social shunning and physical harm, Gaylor said.
“In these cases, people aren't willing to sue unless they get some protection,” she said. “You're dealing with really young kids.”
In both lawsuits, the plaintiffs and Freedom From Religion object to the monument as a violation of the First Amendment's prohibition on government establishing a religion.
If Krieger's bill is passed, it likely wouldn't stand for long, said St. Vincent College law professor Bruce Antkowiak.
“I think the legislation would be challenged immediately as being unconstitutional,” he said.
Past court rulings have permitted anonymous writings, such as pamphlets and blogs, as long as they aren't libelous, Antkowiak said.
“I don't think it's going to slow down the suits,” he said.
But Krieger said the suits should be handled in the public eye.
“This is not open, this is quite the opposite,” he said.
Krieger said he graduated from Connellsville High School and remembers the Ten Commandments monument at the junior high. Local Eagles organizations placed the monument there and the one at Valley High School in the 1950s. No action has been scheduled in either case.
Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-837-5374 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Greensburg woman accused of assaulting nurse in Excela Health Westmoreland Hospital
- Unity woman loses appeal of DUI conviction
- Jeannette to use grant to secure Monsour
- Westmoreland man’s walk in Niagara Falls State Park wasn’t allowed, police say
- Wilkinsburg man jailed in heroin overdose case
- Mt. Pleasant’s St. Pius X serves up Lenten meals
- Judge to Cook Township drug suspect: Get new friends
- Murrysville police will get raises in 5-year pact
- Greensburg Salem raising funds for fitness equipment
- Homicide charge added in Derry death
- Pittsburgh man charged with threat to witness