Atheists in Missouri are crying foul over legislation proposed by Republican state Rep. Hardy Billington requiring parties to sue in their real name and not a pseudonym in suits involving church-state disputes.
Hemant Mehta, editor of the Friendly Atheists blog, wrote that Billington’s goal is “painting giant targets on the backs of atheists (and others!) who dare to challenge Christian supremacy in government.”
The proposal is consistent with existing law and might even be redundant. Missouri and federal law have long followed the traditional rule that civil actions must be filed in the name of the real property in interest. Courts generally make an exception only when a party’s demonstrated fear of reprisal or concern for privacy outweighs the public’s right to know.
Billington noted the need for transparency in lawsuits, saying he had been the subject of a complaint when he erected a cross on his property. The complainants forced an expensive survey to ensure the cross did not encroach on the public right of way.
“House Bill 728 would guarantee that no individual or organization will be able to use state courts as a weapon to attack the right of Missouri citizens to display religious symbols in public spaces while hiding behind a cloak of secrecy,” Billington said.
The House Judiciary Committee is considering the bill this week.
Billington, a Baptist conservative, co-sponsored the Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act, a bill that would enact broad protections for unborn babies. He also co-sponsored legislation that would allow school districts to offer an elective social studies course on the Bible. —Steve West