April 20, 2009

Jacksonville First Baptist Has Police Out Anonymous Blogger

City of JacksonvilleImage via Wikipedia

Many atheist bloggers write under various pseudonyms, despite frequent criticism that doing so somehow makes us less helpful to the atheist movement. I have previously shared my reasons for doing this, and I suspect they are not all that different from others' reasons for doing the same. Of course, I also recognize that nothing we do online is really anonymous. If I thought that being publicly outed and linked to this blog would completely destroy my life, I would not write it at all. Let this story about a blogger being outed by a church be a lesson to us all - anonymity is illusory.

What makes this story disturbing to me is not so much that the blogger was outed but how and why he was outed. It seems that a previously anonymous blogger brought himself unwanted attention by daring to criticize Pastor Mac Brunson of the First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL. This prompted an investigation by a police detective who just so happened to be a member of the pastor's security detail. Outraged yet?

This raises at least a few questions for me:
  • Since when is criticizing someone grounds for a police investigation?
  • Does this mean that member of Jacksonville's police department (state) was also providing some sort of regular security service to a local pastor (church)?
  • Assuming that such an investigation was somehow deemed necessary (and lawful), what right did Detective Robert Hinson have to disclose the blogger's identity to the church?
According to The Florida Times-Union, Det. Hinson obtained a subpoena forcing Google to provide the blogger's identity. The complaint alleged that the blog in question, fbcjaxwatchdog.blogspot.com, had "possible criminal overtones." Despite finding that the blogger had broken no laws, his identity was revealed to the church. They responded by banning him and his wife from the church.

My favorite parts of this odd tale are as follows:
Undersheriff Frank Mackesy said Hinson’s role posed no conflict of interest because his duties include handling possible threats against the city’s large religious institutions.
and
It was also proper for Hinson to provide First Baptist’s leadership with Rich’s identity despite finding no criminal evidence, Mackesy said, so it could take whatever internal action it felt necessary for its own safety.
I suppose the lesson here is that we should expect consequences from criticizing those who peddle superstition to the masses. So much for freedom of speech, eh?

H/T to Exchristian.net

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