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A federal judge has ruled that individuals do not have the privilege under Washington state’s open records procedures to keep their names secret when they sign a ballot issue petition – even if they are facing death threats because of that signature.
The stunning ruling comes from Judge Benjamin Settle, who this week released the names of some 138,000 Washington residents who signed a petition several years ago seeking a statewide vote on whether homosexuals should be given essentially the same benefits as married couples.
The effort to overturn the state law granting those benefits failed, but the court dispute continued after homosexual activists promised they would get the names of those who wanted to protect traditional marriage and post them online so that they could encourage supporters of homosexuality to create “uncomfortable conversations” with the signers.
Then came, according to hundreds of pages of sworn statements, the death threats to those who, in one way or another, already had been identified as petition supporters and signers.
Among the many documented threats was the statement, “I will kill you and your family,” which was delivered to the young son of a political candidate, Elizabeth Scott, who had signed the petition.
A newspaper story revealing that she had signed the petition appeared in the morning, and at 6 p.m. that evening, the telephone call with the threat was made to her unlisted telephone number, she told WND.
She also was the target of the threat on a YouTube video, which included, “This woman is so f—ing stupid. Why doesn’t someone just shoot her in the head again and again. And again.”
She told WND that issue will continue, as there remain issues about children being identified to those making the threats, and the precedent will create an atmosphere of fear for anyone who may be asked in the future to sign a petition protecting family or traditional values.
Lawyers behind the traditional family supporters confirmed that the state immediately released the names of the petition signers when the judge’s order came out, but they have filed an emergency request for an injunction, concerned over the precedent that such a decision will create.
In fact, Gary Randall of the Faith and Freedom Network said in a statement released by Washington Values Alliance, which worked on the issue, the threats that came against the signers should have been reason to keep the list under cover.
“We have argued that our cause was an unusual circumstance which put pro-marriage citizens who participated in the R-71 initiative process in danger of unwanted threatening calls, contacts or worse, and should be handled with discretion and consideration,” Randall said.
“We have argued that releasing the signatures would create a chilling effect on all future initiative efforts regarding homosexual efforts to redefine the culture. The decision to release the names is bad news for Washington state. I believe there will be more harassment, and I pray to God there isn’t more than that.”
The coalition called Protect Marriage Washington, which organized the petition campaign, had filed a lawsuit more than two years ago to block the release of the names of those who signed Referendum 71 after “two militant homosexual activist groups vowed to reveal the names of signers on a pair of searchable websites, whosigned.org and knowthyneighbor.org; and to encourage their readers to initiate ‘uncomfortable conversations’ with signers.”
The organization introduced into court evidence including death threats, extensive vandalism, threats of destruction of property, arson and threats of arson, intimidating emails and phone calls, mailed envelopes containing suspicious white powders, blacklists, loss of employment and job opportunities, gross expressions of anti-religious bigotry including vandalism at religious institution “all for doing nothing more than standing up for traditional marriage.”
Settle’s opinion, however, said he didn’t think there was a “reasonable probability” the threats still exist for the signers as nearly two years have passed since the referendum was submitted to voters.
Protect Marriage Washington attorney Stephen Pidgeon said the decision was a “dramatic setback to the right of privacy in the state of Washington. There were death threats, acts of violence, harassment and published declarations that there would be harassment. The court erred.”
The Referendum 71 effort was in response to the Washington state legislature’s adoption of its “everything but marriage” act in 2009. Lawmakers granted virtually all rights of “marriage” to homosexual and lesbian duos.
Scott also issued a statement that Settle’s decision was disappointing.
“Extremists issued multiple death threats to me and my children due to my being publicly questioned about my personal beliefs. I am greatly concerned for both the safety and the freedom of speech of those who believe that marriage is between one man and one woman, a definition that Americans have upheld in every state that has put it on the ballot.”
When the dispute was at the Supreme Court, the justices ruled that the names generally should be public, but there could be exceptions when there are threats. Settle said that the plaintiffs in the case already were known as referendum supporters and none was really concerned that their personally identifying information was available.
But critics of the judge, a former general private practice attorney, noted that in order to introduce evidence to the court about the threats, the names of the threat victims were, in fact, forced into the public arena.
Attorney James Bopp of the James Madison Center has explained that the issue is more than just the revelation of some names. It is, he said, “that some groups and individuals, certainly a minority, have resorted to advancing their cause, not by debating the merits of the issue but by discouraging participation in the democratic process itself.
“The First Amendment was designed to ensure that all groups, whatever their persuasion, could participate fully in our republic,” he said. “That breaks down when some groups or individuals are cowed into silence for fear that they or their families will be targeted or threatened if they speak up.”
Part of the issue, too, was that the Washington issue got the public’s attention only a short time after voters in California simply reversed a same-sex “marriage” mandate by that state’s Supreme Court, defining in their constitution that marriage is between one man and one woman only.
A homosexual judge later overturned that law, and the fight remains in the courts.
But actual threats that were documented included:
- “I’m going to kill the pastor.”
- “If I had a gun I would have gunned you down along with each and every other supporter…”
- “We’re going to kill you.”
- “You’re dead. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon … you’re dead.”
- “I’m a gay guy who owns guns, and he’s my next target.”
- “I warn you, I know how to kill, I’m an ex-special forces person.”
- “Get ready for retribution all you bigots.”
- Burn their f—ing churches to the ground, and then tax the charred timbers.”
Evidence also included churches marred by graffiti, swastikas on lawns and walls, bricks thrown through windows and doors, adhesive poured into locks, suspicious packages of white powder sent in the mail – “all for nothing more than supporting traditional marriage.”
The court in the case was informed, “When some activists could sense that intimidation was not working … they resorted to threatening the families – even the children – of supporters. In one case, the perpetrator threated to ‘kill’ the supporter’s child and the whole family; in another, to ‘harm’ the supporter’s family; and in another, to rape the supporters’ daughter.”