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Outrageous Attacks on Supporters of Church-State Separation: Death Threats, Murdered Pets, and Vandalized Property

The religious right often wages campaigns of harassment, intimidation and outright violence against First Amendment plaintiffs.
 
 
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When it comes to the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment, which forbids the establishment of a state religion by the government even if a majority supports it, is something most of us heartedly support.

But not all. The religious right despises the First Amendment, since it's constantly foiled their efforts to inject Christian doctrine into government. And when they've lost in court, religious conservatives in the U.S. have often waged campaigns of threats, harassment and outright violence against First Amendment plaintiffs, in the hopes of intimidating them into backing down and achieving by mob violence what they can't achieve under the law.

Last year, the Freedom from Religion Foundation contacted two public school districts in Pennsylvania, in New Kensington and Connellsville, to demand the removal of large stone Ten Commandments monuments prominently placed on school property. When the schools chose to fight, the FFRF and its local plaintiffs, including current students, filed a lawsuit.

As often happens in these cases, FFRF plaintiffs asked to have their identities concealed because they feared harassment and retaliation from the community. It was a well-founded fear, since some of them had already been receiving threats on social media. On a Facebook page supporting the New Kensington school, one person encouraged others to "slam the shit out of the bitch" who filed the lawsuit. Another commenter asked, "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!"

Because of threats like this, the court granted the request for anonymity, finding 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." In response, Republican state representative Tim Krieger filed a bill... that would eliminate the right of plaintiffs to sue anonymously over religious symbols on public property.

Thankfully, Krieger's understanding of federalism is as abysmal as his grasp of the Bill of Rights: the FFRF lawsuit was filed in federal court, where state laws have no effect. Still, the ugly, bullying intent behind his bill is obvious: the unsubtle hope is to encourage bullying and retribution against First Amendment plaintiffs, to "punish" them for standing up for the Constitution.

The story of high school activist Jessica Ahlquist, previously reported by Greta Christina on AlterNet, is another example. After speaking out against an illegal prayer banner in her public school (and winning in court), Ahlquist received vivid, violent threats on social media, and even in a handwritten letter. Some of the threats were so serious she was temporarily given a police escort for protection.

These two stories are just the most recent and high-profile examples of the kind of harassment and intimidation of church-state plaintiffs that's been going on literally for decades. Countless other stories could be cited, like these:

Darla Kay Wynne. A Wiccan living in the town of Great Falls, South Carolina in 2004, Darla Kay Wynne was disturbed by sectarian Christian prayers before town council meetings. On one occasion, when she deliberately came late to avoid the prayer, she was denied the opportunity to speak at the meeting even though she had previously signed up to do so and was listed on the official agenda. When she asked for members of other religions to have an opportunity to give the prayers, that too was denied; the mayor, Henry Starnes, said, "This is the way we've always done things and we're not going to change." When she refused to stand for one of the prayers, several people told her she "wasn't wanted" and "should leave town."

 
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