The man in the photo above is Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Tim Krieger. Apparently, Rep. Krieger doesn’t like the idea of citizens using anonymity to protect their safety and identities, when filing lawsuits that they fear may cause public backlash upon them and their families.
Yesterday, the Pennsylvania House Republican Caucus website reported on the introduction of House bill 922, which would prevent plaintiffs in lawsuits pertaining to the display of religious symbols on public property from remaining anonymous, unless they can directly prove that they would suffer physical injury as a result of appearing in court.
GREENSBURG — Rep. Tim Krieger (R-Delmont) announced today the introduction of his legislation to guarantee public transparency in litigation impacting the expression of religious liberties in public places (House Bill 922).
Passage of House Bill 922 would require that the party bringing any lawsuit designed to suppress, remove or inhibit the display or use of religious symbols in public locations would not be allowed to proceed anonymously, unless it can be clearly demonstrated that the primary litigant(s) would suffer serious physical harm due to appearing in court.
There are so many things wrong with this, I almost don’t know where to begin. Let’s start with Krieger’s rationale behind this bill:
“Religious expression in public places has been part of our nation and Pennsylvania for generations, from the founding of the Commonwealth by William Penn and onward to modern times,” said Krieger. “Even inside our state Capitol, religious symbols are still prominently displayed in both chambers of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, as well as through a mural of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments adorning the chamber of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. A troubling practice has emerged in recent years where private parties file anonymous lawsuits to attack the display of religious symbols in public places.”
So, apparently Mr. Krieger finds the enforcement of church/state separation “troubling.” Do you know what I find troubling? The fact that we have state representatives who oppose the enforcement of and adherence to one of our most basic constitutional principles: that no government body may endorse any religion in any way. Whether the practice of public religious displays has been traditionally allowed or not has no bearing on its legal status. The fact is that the establishment clause makes it an unconstitutional practice. Period. This constitutional ideal has been upheld and reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in case after case, yet we still have elected officials who directly ignore, and even fight against it.
“Passage of House Bill 922 would guarantee that no individual or organization will be able to use our state courts as a weapon to attack the right of Pennsylvania citizens to display religious symbols in public places while hiding in the shadows,” said Krieger.
The right of citizens to display religious symbols in public places? I don’t remember reading that in the constitution, Mr. Krieger. Could you point it out for me, please? Because, as I’ve already said, I’m pretty sure that the establishment clause, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, says something very different.
As far as his comment about the plaintiffs in these cases “hiding in the shadows,” this is nothing more than an attempt to vilify a minority who has every reason to want to remain anonymous in these cases. This is illustrated by the huge precedent of harassment and threats that has been seen in the past, when individuals have publicly identified themselves in lawsuits such as the ones that this bill is aimed at. Through cases like those of Jessica Ahlquist, Vashti McCollum and many others, we have repeatedly seen the plaintiffs in such lawsuits and their families subjected to a variety of attacks, including verbal harassment, community shunning, threats of violence and death, actual violence, the online publishing of home addresses and more. The fact that Mr. Krieger wants to do away with the only real protection that future plaintiffs have against this type of backlash is both angering and sickening.
When we have elected officials who directly oppose the enforcement of constitutional principles, it should be a red flag. When those same officials attempt to introduce legislation that is aimed directly at discouraging citizens from pursuing the enforcement of those principles by taking away their only means of guaranteeing their safety in doing so, the citizenry should be sounding the alarm so loudly that those officials can’t hear themselves think.
So, I’m issuing a call to action for all secularists and other supporters of the establishment clause: let Rep. Krieger know that we will NOT tolerate this attack on citizens’ ability to safely fight for church/state separation. You can find Rep. Krieger’s office contact information below.
Representative Tim Krieger
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
101 Ehalt Street
Greensburg, PA 15601-2300