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American Atheists Testifies Against Anti-Atheist Missouri Bill

Jefferson City, MO—Today, Missouri Assistant State Director Eric Wells testified against HB 728. This bill would prevent plaintiffs who stand up for their freedom of religion from bringing cases anonymously, endangering their lives.

HB 728 would treat state/church separation plaintiffs differently from other litigants, who may bring cases under a pseudonym if the lawsuit would put them as risk.

“Everyone should be able to go to court to protect their religious freedom, and no one should be subject to public harassment and death threats for doing so,” stated Wells.

Wells went on to list multiple instances in which supporters of the separation of church and state received threats.

  1. Joanne Bell and Lucille McCord in our neighboring state of Oklahoma filed suit to block unconstitutional religious meetings and distribution of Gideons Bibles at their children’s schools in 2008. Their children were branded as “devil worshipers.” The Bells received threats that eventually culminated in their home being burned down.
  2. In 2010, Rhode Island high school student Jessica Ahlquist faced severe harassment at school and numerous death threats because she stood up against an unconstitutional religious mural at her school.
  3. Two families (one Catholic and one Mormon) in Santa Fe challenged unconstitutional religious coercion by their school district in 2000, including chastising children who held minority religious beliefs, proselytizing during school, permitting the distribution of Bibles at school, and conducting prayer at graduation and football games. Because the families feared that asserting their constitutional rights would put them in danger, the court allowed them to proceed anonymously, as “Doe” plaintiffs. The speculation about their identities was so intense that before the trial, the district court judge issued an unusual order specifically instructing the school district’s representatives not to reveal the families’ identities to anyone for any reason and threatening anyone who violated the order with contempt.
  4. In 2011, a Texas family that challenged the unconstitutional practice of prayers at a high school graduation, as well as the judge who heard the challenge, received unrelenting harassment and death threats throughout the case. US Marshals were required to provide a continuous security detail to in order to protect the plaintiff and judge.
  5. Lisa Herdahl received death threats after challenging prayer at her children’s public school in Mississippi. Other parents even threatened their own children with beatings for playing with or talking to the Herdahl children.
  6. The Dobrich family challenged their public school’s practice of permitting teachers to proselytize and distribute Bibles to non-Christian students, they were driven to move to another county due to anti-Semitic taunts and threats.
  7. Louisiana high school student Damon Fowler asked school officials to reconsider having a prayer at his 2011 Bastrop High School graduation ceremony. His name was then leaked to the public. Students threatened to kill him, teachers publicly demeaned him, and his own family disowned him and kicked him out of the house.

“This misguided legislation would effectively weaponize public harassment and embolden those threatening the lives and well-being of Missouri citizens in order to prevent people from standing up in defense of their constitutionally rights. Actively promoting this harassing behavior is not only shameful, it is unconstitutional, and it is un-American,” concluded wells.

To read the full testimony with all of the citations, please consult the document below.