ADL Heartland Letter to Rep. David Gregory, Chair of the Missouri House Judiciary Committee Regarding HB 728

  • April 10, 2019

In a letter to Missouri House Judiciary Chair, David Gregory, ADL Heartland expresses strong opposition HB 1107 which requires the naming of a plaintiff “in any action involving the separation of church and state.”


March 4, 2019

Rep. David Gregory

Chair, Judiciary Committee
Jefferson City, Missouri 65101

RE: HB 728

Dear Rep. Gregory,

While we are aware that HB 728 has passed out of Committee, on behalf of the ADL Heartland (Anti-Defamation League), I write to note for the record our concern and strong opposition.  The proposal seeks to impose a solution for a problem that does not exist. The bill requires the naming of a plaintiff “in any action involving the separation of church and state”.  While the proposed legislation addresses the Missouri Rules of Civil Procedure, it will have no impact on the Federal Rules where the majority of “church/state” cases are filed.  In Federal Court it is the plaintiff’s option to file lawsuits anonymously when alleging violations of the Establishment Clause.  HB 728 would not affect that option. Additionally, there is a genuine question of “Separation of Powers” and whether the General Assembly can tell the Court how to oversee cases.  This could serve as the basis for a Gubernatorial veto.

The term “separation of church and state” while commonly used in everyday language, is found nowhere in the Missouri Constitution or Missouri Revised Statutes.  While we believe Rep. Billington meant to address cases alleging violations of the Religion Clauses of the Missouri Constitution, that is not what HB 728 expressly states.  This lack of clarity creates an ambiguous change to the Missouri Rules of Civil Procedure which could lead to further litigation and other challenges.

Further, HB 728 singles out plaintiffs who wish to challenge Missouri governmental agencies for violating their religious freedom.  Why treat religious freedom plaintiffs differently than all others seeking relief in the State of Missouri anonymously?  Finally, special treatment given to this already vulnerable group creates a potential danger to the health and welfare of a potential plaintiff.

Finally, the timing of the filing of HB 728 in conjunction with legislation restricting abortion rights creates the appearance that the General Assembly wants to intimidate potential plaintiffs from challenging future laws restricting a woman’s right to choose and prevent such lawsuits from being filed.

Due to its unnecessary nature, the ambiguity of procedural impact, the potential threat of harm to plaintiffs, and its capacity to limit access to the courts, we offer for the record our opposition to HB 728.

Sincerely,

 

Karen Aroesty

Regional Director, ADL Heartland