Bill would ban anonymous church-and-state lawsuits

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — Lawsuits alleging government sponsorship of a particular religion couldn't be filed by anonymous plaintiffs under proposed legislation.

The Springfield News-Leader reports that Republican Rep. Hardy Billington, of Poplar Bluff, said during a hearing Tuesday that he sponsored the legislation to protect people of faith. He says anonymous suits allow outside groups to threaten Christians with no accountability. He cited a lawsuit filed by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation that sought the removal of a 60-foot cross from a Neosho park. The city sold part of the park to a nonprofit to resolve the dispute.

Opposing groups say judges allow anonymity to keep plaintiffs safe. Sara Baker, of the ACLU, says plaintiffs who fear being "chastised" also would be affected.

The Judiciary Committee didn't vote on Billington's bill this week.

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Information from: Springfield News-Leader, http://www.news-leader.com