Members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives are at it again. First it was ‘The Year of the Bible,’ Prayer Month,’ and ‘The Year of Religious Diversity,’ and now lawmakers are seeking to remove anonymity from individuals engaging in lawsuits seeking to uphold the separation of church and state in Pennsylvania.
State Representative Tim Krieger — serving the 57th legislative district in Pennsylvania — has introduced legislation, House Bill 922 (co-sponsored by 28 other lawmakers), which seeks to remove anonymity from individuals filing lawsuits advocating for the separation of church and state.
This legislation may, at first, seem innocuous to the general public or people with little perspective into the process of church/state complaints and the environments in which they are filed, but this would have serious implications for individuals who advocate for church/state separation.
If this legislation were to pass, fewer individuals would likely be willing to participate in church/state lawsuits because of fear of retaliation, backlash from local communities, and other concerns. It is not uncommon for church/state plaintiffs to receive a deluge of hate mail, ridicule from the community, and threats. For these reasons and more, people want to remain anonymous and be represented by organizations in lawsuits.
According to Krieger’s website, the purpose and/or goal of this legislation is to “guarantee public transparency in litigation impacting the expression of religious liberties in public places.” This hardly seems to be the concern, though, because Krieger later says that “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.” Krieger further explains that anonymous complaints are a “troubling practice” which is used to “attack the display of religious symbols in public places.” Krieger’s House Bill 922 notes that “the cherished tradition of religious expression in public life is contested by those who wish to erase religion from public property” and frames display of religion in government spaces as a matter of free speech and free expression.
The agenda seems to be quite clear here. Kreiger, informed by his religious beliefs and/or want to have religious displays (likely those of a Christian religion) on government property, wants to protect unconstitutional government endorsement of religion and make it more difficult for individuals and organizations to engage in litigation concerning church/state violations…despite the fact that courts have ruled time and time again that governmental displays of religion which constitute an endorsement of religion are illegal.
Pennsylvanians have the right to practice religion in the manner they wish provided that the government stay out of religion. Along with the right for people to practice religion, people also have the right to practice no religion and be free from governmental endorsements of religion. Contrary to what Krieger says, no rights are under attack. Church/state litigants, additionally, are not necessarily motivated by a want to “erase religion from public property.” Many church/state complaints target displays which are not inclusive – those which, for instance, ‘privilege’ a certain religious perspective and are not integrated into a larger secular display.
Many Pennsylvanians — both religious and non-religious — cherish a secular government and wish to, when necessary, defend the secular character of government by engaging in legal action when government officials do not comply with demands to uphold the constitution. Church/state advocates who wish to remain anonymous — and for good reason — should be afforded with the ability to do so.
Individuals, especially Pennsylvanians, who cherish a secular government — one which remains neutral on matters of religion and does not endorse religion — should oppose House Bill 922 and stand against efforts from theocrats who wish to have their religious views intertwined with government. Speak out against this matter by contacting members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and become involved with organizations such as the Secular Coalition for America, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State who work to defend the secular character of the United States.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, prior to my authoring of this piece, has weighed in on House Bill 922: