August 8, 2009

Idiot of the Week: U.S. Magistrate Judge Craig Shaffer

Cherry Creek in w:Denver, ColoradoImage via Wikipedia
It is Saturday, and you know what that means. Time for another installment in the Idiot of the Week series. I have been complaining lately that it is getting harder and harder to select a weekly idiot. With the rise of the "birthers," Republican thuggery at Democratic town hall meetings, anti-atheist bigotry in Iowa, and the continued presence of Rep. Michele Bachmann, it is once again a difficult choice.

Although I feel that the most obvious choice would have to be Orly Taitz, I don't want to go "birther" again. It just isn't fair to all the other deserving idiots.

In the end, I decided to go with someone you probably haven't heard of, U.S. Magistrate Judge Craig Shaffer. According to Dispatches From the Culture Wars, Judge Shaffer has rejected a request for anonymity filed by the plaintiffs in a claim that the Cherry Creek School District (Denver, CO) was violating the Establishment Clause. The plaintiffs in this case sought to withhold their identities for fear that their children would be harassed at school. The school district did not oppose their motion, and Judge Shaffer noted that federal law does allow for this sort of anonymity. Then he denied the request.

Ed Brayton (Dispatches From the Culture Wars) characterizes the judge's reasoning as "rather weak," and he's absolutely correct to do so. Read what the judge said for yourself:

In this case, the individually named Plaintiffs argue that they should be permitted to proceed anonymously because of the role that religion plays in this case and the public's views toward atheists. Plaintiffs cite a 2006 public opinion poll which found that "atheists are seen by many as a threat to the American way of life and are the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry." Plaintiffs request anonymity out of their concern "about the possibility for intimidation, harassment, and physical harm should their identities become public." As support for their position, Plaintiffs cite three anecdotal accounts of religious discrimination and harassment recounted by Professor Frank S. Ravitch in his book, School Prayer and Discrimination: The Civil Rights of Religious Minorities and Dissenters (Northeastern University Press 1999).

While the court appreciates the highly personal aspects of religious dissent and could not condone any form of harassment that might be prompted by religious or any other considerations, the unsubstantiated potential for an adverse public reaction does not establish a compelling reason to depart from the requirements of Rule 10(a). Notably, Plaintiffs have not presented any evidence that reflects disapproval of the instant lawsuit within the relevant community or suggests they would be the target of actual threats, harassment or retaliation.
Judge Shaffer appears to be saying that since the plaintiffs' children had not yet been harassed, he was not willing to extend any protection to them. Ed Brayton notes that harassment is extremely common in these sorts of cases and provides some sad examples. I can't help wondering whether Judge Shaffer simply managed to convince himself that "real Christians" would never do such a thing.

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