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Atheists, Humanists Sue to Cut "Under God" Out of Pledge of Allegiance



This week, Liberty Institute and our volunteer attorneys filed a motion to intervene in a case involving atheists’ attempt to scrub “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance.  The motion was filed on behalf of our clients The American Legion, The American Legion Department of New Jersey, and The American Legion Matawan Post 176.

In March, the American Humanist Association, representing anonymous plaintiffs, sued the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District for conducting the daily, voluntary recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in its schools in accordance with New Jersey law.

The lawsuit, filed in the Monmouth County Superior Court of New Jersey, seeks to have the Pledge’s inclusion of the phrase “under God” declared unconstitutional under the New Jersey Constitution, even though the United States Supreme Court has repeatedly described the “under God” wording in the Pledge of Allegiance as constitutional and even though recitation of the Pledge or any portion of the Pledge is completely voluntary.

“It is unfortunate that the school and the court must waste precious time and resources on an obviously meritless lawsuit,” said Roger Byron, Liberty Institute Senior Counsel. 

Byron continued, “In May, the U.S. Supreme Court yet again used the Pledge of Allegiance as an example of a clearly lawful practice.”

Liberty Institute’s motion on behalf of The American Legion asks the court to allow the Legion to become a party in the lawsuit for the purpose of defending the traditional Pledge of Allegiance.In addition, Liberty Institute filed a motion to dismiss, asking the court to drop the case altogether since the lawsuit is without merit.

HISTORIC PLEDGE FOSTERS PATRIOTISM

Originally written in 1892, the Pledge of Allegiance inspires patriotism and helps to train students to be good citizens.  The primary purpose of the Pledge is to dedicate allegiance to America’s flag “and to the Republic for which it stands.”  Its secondary purpose is describing the United States to which allegiance is pledged, as “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” thereby acknowledging the principles upon which America has historically stood.

The American Legion, which works to instill patriotism and respect for America’s flag, was instrumental in crafting the current language of the Pledge of Allegiance.  The Legion, chartered by Congress in 1919, is the largest wartime veterans service organization in the nation with approximately 2.3 million members.

In 1923, the Legion convened the very first National Flag Conference, attended by President Harding, as well as the second National Flag Conference the following year.  At these conferences,  the words of the Pledge were changed from “I pledge allegiance to my Flag” to “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America.”  In 1942, the Legion led the way in convincing Congress to adopt into law the Flag Code that included the Pledge.  Similarly, in 1954 the Legion worked to ensure that the words “under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance.

Federal courts have repeatedly affirmed the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools.  The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently used the “under God” language in the pledge as an example of a lawful, constitutional activity, including in 1984 when the Court observed that “the language ‘One nation under God,’ as part of the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag . . . recited by thousands of public school children—and adults—every year” is a “reference to our religious heritage” in the same vein as “official references to the value and invocation of Divine guidance in deliberations and pronouncements of the Founding Fathers.”

HUMANISTS TAKE AIM AT PATRIOTIC PLEDGE

Liberty Institute, with volunteer attorneys, also took action in August of last year on behalf of The American Legion to defend the Pledge of Allegiance in Massachusetts, where the American Humanist Association also represented anonymous plaintiffs in a similar legal challenge to the Pledge of Allegiance.  The American Legion filed a “friend-of-the-court” brief in that case in support of the traditional Pledge.  Following the U. S. Supreme Court’s lead, earlier this year, the Massachusetts Supreme Court held that Pledge was constitutional.

Kelly Shackelford, Liberty Institute President and CEO, said, Our country is full of religious history and heritage, including the founding belief that our liberties come from God, and thus no government can take those away.”

Shackelford continued, “This attempt to enact some sort of religious cleansing is not the law in this country and never has been.  That would be religious hostility.”

YOU CAN HELP!

Liberty Institute is the largest legal organization in the nation solely dedicated to preserving religious liberty in America.  We are determined to win the battles to preserve religious freedom and keep groups like the American Humanist Association from pushing God out of our history and out of the public square.

Please pray for us as we work to defend the Pledge of Allegiance in New Jersey, and please donate now to help defend religious freedom across America.


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About Liberty Institute
Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit www.LibertyInstitute.org.

Thursday, July 31, 2014 1:57:00 PM

Shark Tank: Will Your Church Be Safe? - Part 2



Is your church or denomination safe from damaging legal attack?  What about your favorite religious ministry or charity?  What about religious schools training future leaders your church needs—are they safe?  Or will they be crippled by anti-religious legal attacks?
Churches, ministries, and faith-based schools today live in a shark tank of anti-religious bigotry that can mean legal and financial ruin unless they take legal steps now to protect themselves.  And that’s where Liberty Institute is helping dozens—and soon, hundreds—of religious institutions of all types and sizes.



NOT SAFE TO ASSUME

Many organizations are floating on a sea of false security, waiting to be capsized.  A Christian fraternity or sorority, for example, may understand and declare in written statements that the Bible is the first and final authority on all questions of belief and behavior, but if their policies stop there, it’s not enough.  

If the fraternity or sorority fails to specify in writing its beliefs on marriage, sexuality, gender identity, abortion, and other contentious issues, it may inadvertently admit dissenters who think they are compliant with “the Bible,” but seek to counter-witness against the longstanding beliefs of the organization.  As social and theological consensus erodes, greater specificity is required.

Matthew Kacsmaryk, Deputy General Counsel and Managing Director of Direct Litigation, Research, and Education for Liberty Institute, states, “Liberty Institute cannot easily defend an organization that failed to put people on notice of its expectations and requirements.  You can search the headlines:  Christian sororities and fraternities have this problem over and over again, particularly in the area of marriage, sexuality, and gender identity. It is no longer safe to assume that someone who pledges fidelity to Jesus Christ and signs a generic statement of biblical authority is in lockstep agreement with your organization’s definition of marriage, understanding of Christian sexual ethics, and beliefs on gender identity.”

SHARK-PROOF!

How does Liberty Institute’s expertise help religious institutions avoid—or at least survive—the sharks and help them keep their religious freedom?

In the field of employment, Liberty Institute takes guidance from the Supreme Court’s opinion in , which grants churches latitude in hiring, firing, and disciplining employees, but only if they are ministerial.

Consequently, where appropriate, churches and faith-based organizations should identify and denominate their ministry staff.  But churches and faith-based organizations cannot rely on simple word searches and cut-and-paste forms.

“You cannot simply download templates from an online law firm.  The language and policies should match the faith distinctives of an organization,” says Kacsmaryk, noting that Liberty Institute advises “adoption and foster care clients whose mission differs from that of religious schools, soup kitchens, food pantries, night shelters, or Christian sororities.”  He emphasizes that the Religious Liberties Audit requires a true attorney-client relationship:  “Liberty Institute seeks to match the policy to the organization and its mission.  That takes time.”

A ministry must have written policies, legal documents, and the tool kit to prove the sincerity of their faith.  “We will help you build that tool kit,” says Kacsmaryk.

A MUSHROOMING NEED—WITH MORE HELP COMING!

Liberty Institute has more than 30 clients in the queue, and every client is different.  Some organizations have robust written statements; some are checking off the boxes on pre-packaged corporate forms; and some have nothing and are starting from scratch.  “As we help faith-based organizations write these policies, we are developing templates that will benefit all,” says Kacsmaryk.  To inquire, use the legal request form on the Web site or through the main number.

Finally, the increased pressure should cause religious institutions to be more, not less, bold in their documents.

“Because you already live by these articles of faith, you should boldly define and state your beliefs in writing,” says Kacsmaryk.  “Many corporate and employment attorneys unacquainted with religious liberties litigation assume that the safest course is to have generic, lukewarm language on controversial subject matters, but the field increasingly tilts in the opposite direction in many, many instances.”

“Greater particularity”—increased specificity about what you believe on specific issues—“resonates as sincere and deeply held, and that is what the law requires.”


CLICK HERE to read part 1 of “Shark Tank:  Will Your Church Be Safe?”



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About Liberty Institute
Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit www.LibertyInstitute.org.

Thursday, July 31, 2014 1:57:00 PM

COMMENTARY: Another High School Graduation Speech Jeopardized!

It is starting to feel like Groundhog Day in this country. In the past couple of years, some of the best and brightest students in America have boldly shared their stories of personal faith from the stage at their high school graduation. But instead of standing ovations, these young men and women have been met with shut off microphones, black markers, and threats of jail time.

Why? Because decades of threats and attacks have left schools cringing at the thought of student religious liberty.


SORRY, GRADUATE, YOU CAN’T TALK ABOUT GOD


Rebekah Izzo presents the newest case of schools’ attempts to censor high school graduation speeches and claim superiority to both student and Constitution.

Possessing a humble spirit and a bold conviction in her Christian faith, Izzo strongly desired to express her beliefs during her salutatorian speech during this year’s graduation ceremonies for Amsterdam High School in Amsterdam, New York.


As she constructed the speech she had earned the right to give, Rebekah weaved a few of her favorite Bible verses into an inspiring message and challenge to her classmates.  


Yet according to writer Matthew L. McKibben, in an article for Izzo’s local newspaper,   before she was able to share her story, school officials instructed Izzo to remove and reword any religious reference in her speech.


DON’T SQUELCH THE SPEAKER 


This fits a disturbing pattern.  Ignoring a settled principle of constitutional law that students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate, school officials today—including Amsterdam, NY—are trying to force many students to shed those freedoms at graduation.


But they are wrong, and students should be advised not to back down in the face of such bluster and threats.


Under the Constitution and clearly established Supreme Court precedent, Rebekah’s speech is speech. Her speech is speech.  Like too many schools today, Rebekah’s school is attempting to take all the credit for her hard work. They argue that because she is their student, she is representative of the school’s great success and, therefore, her graduation speech is the speech.


That kind of insulting bravado not only ignores the Constitution and well established precedent, it refuses to acknowledge the invaluable role Rebekah, her parents, classmates, and her faith have played in Rebekah’s success in life and education.  Rebekah earned her grades, earned her place on the stage, and as a citizen of the United States of America, possesses the inalienable right to free speech.  


So, when it comes time to address her colleagues, it makes sense for her to tell them a bit about the source of her success.  Far from speaking on behalf of the school, Izzo—like all student graduation speakers—is having a conversation with her classmates.  That’s a conversation that school officials ought to listen to, not seek to censor.


THE SCHOOLHOUSE GATEKEEPERS


And in Rebekah’s case, that ignorance is clearly on display not only in the offices of the school district, but in the minds of the editors of the local newspaper


According to the editorial in , “Courts have consistently found that graduations constitute school functions, which gives school officials the right to regulate the content of the speeches.” This is clever wording, but gives a misleading picture . Interestingly enough, the courts have in fact ruled multiple times in favor of students’ religious expression—starting with the gold standard of student First Amendment law: .


In that case, the Supreme Court of the United States famously said, “It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.  This has been the unmistakable holding of this Court for almost 50 years.”
That was 1969.  Now, 45 years later, we are approaching the half-century mark of this “unmistakable holding” of the Supreme Court.  And yet, we still find school officials and newspapers insisting that, while their students may not shed their constitutional rights when entering the schoolhouse gate, they must shed them when saying farewell at their graduation ceremony. 
CLARIFY BUT DON’T CENSOR
But it’s not just the U.S. Supreme Court the school censors and their media choir are arguing with, but the U.S. Department of Education.
According to , Greater Amsterdam School District Superintendent Thomas Perillo said that, in censoring Izzo’s speech, the state school “wanted to make sure the speech could not be considered proselytizing and in no way favored one religion over another.”

The article goes on to explain the Amsterdam school official’s ill-informed approach: “[The superintendent] said students at the high school still have broad freedom of speech, but they cannot use a public gathering such as a graduation to advocate their personal religious beliefs.”But that sentiment is at direct odds with the written by the United States Department of Education that clearly states that when “expression is not attributable to the school and therefore may not be restricted because of its religious (or anti-religious) content.”
That means efforts by school officials to sanitize a student’s speech of any reference to religion violate federal policy, as well as the Constitution.
Liberty Institute Senior Counsel Jeremy Dys explains, “When a student earns the right to give a speech at graduation, the school should listen, not try to censor her.  Censoring a student’s graduation speech or threatening to turn off her microphone mid-speech just because she references her faith is a bullying tactic that a school official should never use against its students.”
THUNDEROUS APPLAUSE
Rebekah Izzo did not let the intimidating threats and bad legal advice of school officials stand in her way. 
Maybe it was her convictions of faith. Perhaps it was boldness derived from her parent’s instruction.  Or maybe somewhere deep down she knew that school officials were wrong to try to force her to shed her constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate. 
Whatever the motivation, Izzo delivered her faith-filled graduation speech.  To thunderous applause. 
WILL YOU STAND WITH THEM?
Students do not have to stand by and watch their religious liberty blacked out, marked up, or ripped out of their hands.
Liberty Institute has successfully represented multiple students in this assault against the expression of religious beliefsmost recently Brooks Hambyand is now becoming the primary resource for students facing censorship.  And your support of Liberty Institute shows you are standing with these students.
There is hope, but students have to have the courage to stand up, raise their hand, and say, “No.” Groundhog Day is over.  It’s a new day in America – one in which we can end censorship  and restore true freedom in our schools.  





About Liberty InstituteLiberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit www.LibertyInstitute.org.



Thursday, July 31, 2014 1:56:00 PM

Two Car Dealership Owners Fight for Religious Freedom



Despite what the Obama Administration argued in the recent case, religious liberty is not nullified when a person engages in business.  Joe Holland believes his religious freedom does not disappear when he enters into the public sphere, and he chose to stand up for his faith and his Constitutional rights when he filed a lawsuit against the federal government’s HHS Abortion Pill Mandate with the help of the Liberty Institute in June 2013.

Now, the United States District Court Southern District of West Virginia has granted Joe Holland’s family-owned business—Joe Holland Chevrolet—a preliminary injunction in the case of .

“Until the court says otherwise, “ says Liberty Institute Senior Counsel Jeremy Dys, “our client will no longer be forced between submitting to government and violating his conscience.  With this preliminary injunction in place—and the decision behind it—the government will have a very difficult time forcing Joey Holland to leave his faith behind him when he goes to work.”

Joe Holland is not the only business owner who is fighting back. Doug Erickson, an owner of two car dealerships, filed a similar lawsuit with the help of Liberty Institute, receiving a preliminary injunction in May 2014.  Erickson’s preliminary injunction was contingent upon the outcome of the case, and the Erickson case is now taking the next step in the legal process.

TWO CAR DEALERSHIP OWNERS, ONE GOAL

Joe Holland is an ordinary American in South Charleston, West Virginia.  He runs his own business, a car dealership called Joe Holland Chevrolet, which has existed for 50 years and has a staff of over 150 people. Holland has chosen to create a Christ-centered business.  The dealership’s website clearly states the business’s Biblical corporate purpose, which “is to glorify and honor God by being faithful stewards for all that is entrusted to us.”

Doug Erickson’s circumstances are similar to those of Joe Holland. Erickson is from Hastings, Minnesota, and he owns two car dealerships:  Hastings Automotive, Inc., and Hastings Chrysler Center. Erickson believes in enriching the community and running his 27-year-old business on Christian principles, which is why the dealerships are proud sponsors of two community service organizations and two Christian organizations.

Doug Erickson and Joe Holland care about their businesses, employees, and communities.  However, in late 2012, when the government announced that the HHS Abortion Pill Mandate would allow virtually no religious exceptions, these two business owners were faced with a terrible dilemma.

GOVERNMENT ORDERS: DISOBEY GOD, OR ELSE

Due to the mandate, they either had to provide their employees with insurance that would pay for abortion-inducing drugs, which their faith forbids, or, in Joe Holland’s case, pay more than $5.4 million a year in fines.  However, both Holland and Erickson saw the problem inherent in the choice:  the Constitution states that everyone has a right to the exercise of religion, which fundamentally means

In order to defend their religious freedom, both Joe Holland and Doug Erickson enlisted the help of Liberty Institute to file lawsuits against the federal government, both of which claimed that the HHS Abortion Pill Mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Erickson and Holland join other for-profit businesses and non-profit ministries who have sued the federal government to challenge the mandate, comprising over 100  cases with more than 300 plaintiffs.  The final decisions of both of these cases will help determine how the HHS Abortion Pill Mandate is applied to other suits challenging Obamacare.

STAND UP FOR RELIGIOUS RIGHTS

The HHS Abortion Pill Mandate, against which Liberty Institute is fighting on behalf of these plaintiffs, is a part of the Affordable Care Act.  The mandate requires all businesses to provide access to 20 different types of contraceptives, including 4 abortion-inducing drugs.

The lack of religious exemption for faith-based ministries as well as for for-profit businesses—and the problematic “religious accommodation” which still requires religious non-profits to cooperate in and facilitate the provision of a service that violates their religious beliefs—is a troubling illustration of the lack of religious toleration in the government today.  Doug Erickson and Joe Holland understand the importance of standing up for their faith and objecting to the theft of their rights, and they are not alone.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

In addition to these cases, Liberty Institute represents several other businesses, Christian colleges and other ministries challenging the HHS Abortion Pill Mandate.  We believe that if the mandate continues to be allowed to take away the religious freedom of hardworking Americans, our rights will begin to disintegrate.

That’s why we need your help.  Please give generously now and help Liberty Institute continue to successfully fight for freedom to express what you believe.  And please join us in prayer as we continue to defend the First Amendment rights of family-owned businesses including those of Joe Holland and Doug Erickson.


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About Liberty Institute
Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit www.LibertyInstitute.org.

Thursday, July 31, 2014 1:56:00 PM

President Obama Forces Ministries and Family Businesses to Choose Between Their Federal Contracts and Their Faith


—Matthew Kacsmaryk, Liberty Institute Deputy General Counsel

Imagine you are a small business owner who feeds your family and contributes to your community based on contract work with the federal government.  Imagine you are also a person of faith, who takes seriously scriptures appearing in your Bible or Torah.  Now imagine the United States government tells you to either deny an important moral tenet of your faith . . . or all your federal contracts.

On July 21, 2014, President Barack Obama signed an executive order that bans federal contractors, including small businesses and ministries, whose business practices and policies do not comply with the Administration’s understanding of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” 

The order includes faith-based relief organizations.  Though the details are still unfolding, experts predict that the executive order could ultimately impact approximately 24,000 businesses and 28 million workers.

CHOOSING YOUR FAITH OR YOUR FEDERAL CONTRACT

Liberty Institute Deputy General Counsel Matthew Kacsmaryk issued a statement in response to President Obama’s executive order. 

Under the executive order, the Secretary of Labor may require submission of a Compliance Reportand supporting information stating that the contractor’s “practices and policies” do not discriminate on the grounds of an undefined “sexual orientation” class or undefined “gender identity” class, and that the signer will affirmatively cooperatewith implementation of the Order.

“Though its full implications are still unfolding, President Obama’s executive order is another example of the administration’s callous disregard for people of faith,” said Kacsmaryk.  “From the HHS mandate to today’s executive order, the administration has consistently favored sexual revolution fundamentalism over the sincerely-held religious beliefs of Americans who simply seek to live out their faith in their day-to-day business practices.”

A troubling aspect was the refusal of the administration to consider the pleas of the faith community for commonsense religious protections.

Kacsmaryk noted, “Despite receiving myriad requests for a religious exemption—including two letters signed by over 170 leaders of Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Mormon organizations, charities, and colleges—the President refused to enact express written protections consistent with the longstanding American commitment to pluralism, diversity, and the accommodation of religious dissent.”

GOING AROUND CONGRESS, COERCING CITIZENS

The executive order comes after legislation known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) stalled in the halls of Congress.  The controversial ENDA law would have mandated discrimination those business owners who do not conform to  the Administration’s understanding of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”

With this executive order, the President achieved through executive fiat what he could not achieve through the normal legislative process:  enactment of ENDA protections for an undefined “sexual orientation” class and an undefined “gender identity” class religious liberties protections for millions of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Sikhs, and other faith-based traditionalists who adhere to millennia old definitions of marriage, sexuality, and gender. 

The bottom line?  The order is an attack on the very heart of the American ideal of religious freedom.  Said Kacsmaryk: “Faith-based contractors are left with a choice:  compete for federal contracts, or follow the teachings of their faith and the dictates of conscience.”

CONFORMITY CLOAKED AS “DIVERSITY”

Hiram Sasser, Liberty Institute’s National Director of Litigation said, “We once thought that the diversity of America was an asset.  This order crushes diversity and seeks to drive out those who disagree with the Administration’s viewpoint on a matter that is central to religious freedom and rights of conscience.”

Kelly Shackelford, Liberty Institute President & CEO, commented:

“This is another example of the increasing willingness of the government to reach into the most private sanctuaries of a person’s life and persecute him or her for ‘wrong religious thoughts.’

“This is especially dangerous when the punishment of these ‘wrong religious thoughts’ is to attack a person’s very ability to feed their family, follow their calling, and contribute to society as a business owner or employee.  It’s outrageous.”

Kacsmaryk added, “This religious intolerance will harm devout Christians, Jews, Mormons, and other faith-based traditionalists who provide exceptional social services to the federal government but dissent from the Administration’s about-face redefinition of marriage and gender identity.  This executive order is inconsistent with the longstanding American commitment to pluralism, diversity, and the accommodation of religious dissent.”

A WAY TO FIGHT BACK

Liberty Institute stands ready to defend the rights of people of faith in the workplace.  Our attorneys have launched legal action against a global corporation and numerous government entities for discriminating against people of faith for their religious views on issues like marriage, and we will advise and defend others targeted by unlawful religious discrimination.

“We encourage people of faith who are victims of discrimination not to simply assume they have no recourse,” said Shackelford.  “Liberty Institute has seen over and over again that standing against discrimination is most often the winning position in legal disputes—and we will continue to win, to secure the legal right to religious freedom in our laws.”

Please donate now to help Liberty Institute continue our winning strategy in the battles for religious freedom in America. 

Together, we achieve victories in these and other cases as we take on opponents like the federal government, other government entities, and corporations who discriminate against people of faith.


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About Liberty Institute
Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit www.LibertyInstitute.org.

Thursday, July 24, 2014 9:02:00 AM

LAWSUIT: Liberty Institute Sues City that Discriminated Against Church



On July 22, 2014, Liberty Institute filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Cornerstone Church by the Bay, its pastor Hamilton Musser, and the Laguna Madre Christian Academy, against the town of Bayview, Texas for enforcing an illegal zoning ordinance prohibiting the church and religious school from operating on its own property.

For years, Cornerstone Church had to rent space in a nearby town to hold services.  Recently, however, it acquired property in Bayview to use as a church and school.  But in June 2014, in action specifically targeting Cornerstone Church’s use of its own property, the Bayview Board of Aldermen unanimously voted to enforce a zoning ordinance that completely bans churches and schools from the area where Cornerstone Church owns property—despite allowing similar nonreligious uses in the exact same area.

Because of Bayview’s zoning ordinance, the school continues to expend valuable resources renting a building in a nearby town despite the suitability of Cornerstone Church’s property for use as a church and school.

Hostile Discrimination Against the Church

“Bayview cannot prohibit religious institutions while blessing similar institutions that are nonreligious,” said Prerak Shah, a member of Liberty Institute’s volunteer legal team and an attorney at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP.  “The town’s actions not only harm Cornerstone Church, they desecrate a cornerstone of our Constitution.  This type of blatant discrimination against religious institutions by a heavy-handed government is what led our Founders to enact the First Amendment in the first place.”

Mike Berry, Liberty Institute Senior Counsel, expresses his gratitude for all of the volunteer attorneys who are helping to fight against this religious discrimination, and points to the significance of having one of the most revered and respected attorneys in Texas—retired Texas Supreme Court Justice Raul Gonzalez—as a member of the legal team.



We’ve Seen This Before:  Significant Victories in the fight

This is not the first time Liberty Institute has seen a town or city discriminate against the very people trying to help their communities.  We have successfully defended the rights of churches and ministries in many cases, including:

Opulent Life Church — When Opulent Life Church searched for larger space to rent in the downtown area of Holly Springs, Mississippi, the city required churches, and only churches, to obtain the approval of 60 percent of local property owners and also the mayor before they were allowed to occupy their new space.  In a landmark decision , the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found the ordinance violated federal law, finding it  “inherently discriminatory.”  Following the appellate ruling, the U.S. District Court judge granted an injunction which allowed Liberty Institute to reach a settlement with the city before trial.  Opulent Life Church was able to permanently move to a larger, downtown Holly Springs location.

Plano Vietnamese Church — In need of expansion, Plano Vietnamese Baptist Church bought a new building which had previously been utilized as a church.  However, the city of Plano, Texas denied the congregation a certificate of occupancy because the property did not meet the arbitrary and discriminatory 2-acre site requirement for houses of worship in residential areas.  The site was 1.2 acres.  A Texas State District Judge ruled in favor of Pastor Le and his congregation, protecting this small church from this unlawful ordinance.

Isaiah 61 Ministries — After receiving threats from the Dauphin County Commission, Isaiah 61 Ministries, a non-profit Christian ministry to the homeless, poor, and elderly in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, was prevented from carrying out their work on public property.  Liberty Institute and Independence Law Center sent a demand letter to the Dauphin County Commission, who made the right decision by allowing Isaiah 61 and other ministries to continue their good work in the community.

YOU CAN HELP WIN MORE BATTLES!

Sadly, this type of discrimination and persecution continues to occur—due largely, Mike Berry adds, because of “a lack of appreciation for the valuable and cherished role that churches play in our communities.”  But through your commitment and support of Liberty Institute’s efforts to win the battles for religious freedom in America, you can help fight back. 

Please stand with us through prayer and your support today.  And if you know of a church or religious non-profit or school that can take advantage of Liberty Institute’s free “Religious Liberty Audits” to protect themselves before legal attacks, then please encourage them to contact us by filling out a legal request form online or calling our main number at 972-941-4444.


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About Liberty Institute
Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit www.LibertyInstitute.org.

Thursday, July 24, 2014 9:02:00 AM

WE FIGHT BACK: Religious Discrimination in the Workplace



This week, Liberty Institute filed an official charge of discrimination with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of former editor-in-chief, Bob Eschliman.

Eschliman, who worked for the newspaperin Newton, Iowa since 2012, was fired after posting his religious views on his private blog—which he had maintained prior to his employment at the ws, and where he frequently shared his personal thoughts and writings in his off hours.

“Once I began to work at ,” Eschliman explains in his statement in support of his charge of discrimination, “I made them aware and was never asked to stop my private efforts there.”

UNLAWFUL AND OUTRAGEOUS RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE

Says Liberty Institute’s volunteer attorney, Matthew Whitaker—a former United States Attorney and partner in the Des Moines law firm of Whitaker, Hagenow, & Gustoff, LLP—“No one should be fired for simply expressing his religious beliefs.  In America, it is against the law to fire an employee for expressing a religious belief in public.  This kind of religious intolerance by an employer has no place in today’s welcoming workforce.”

At issue are Eschliman’s views he expressed on his private blog this past spring, defending his religious beliefs regarding Holy Scripture and the institution of marriage. 

When the ’ management—Shaw Media­—learned of Eschliman’s blog post a few days later, they placed him on indefinite paid suspension while investigating the matter.  On May 5, 2014, Eschliman was summarily fired and immediately escorted out of the building—without being permitted to gather his personal effects from his office.  The president of Shaw Media, the owner of , issued a statement in an editorial published that same day ironically titled “Earning public trust our priority”: 


Eschliman responds:

“There is no question that I was fired for holding and talking about my sincerely held religious beliefs on my personal blog during my off-duty time from the comfort of my own home.


With the filing of Eschliman’s official charge of discrimination, the EEOC will begin an independent investigation of the former newspaper editor’s charges of religious discrimination and retaliation.  If the EEOC determines that Shaw Media is guilty of religious discrimination and retaliation, it may order broad relief, including back pay, front pay, and other significant damages for the unlawful conduct of Eschliman’s former employer.

FIGHTING FOR EMPLOYEES OF FAITH

Liberty Institute has stood and will continue to stand with clients being persecuted and their livelihoods threatened because of their personal beliefs and faith.  Recent clients include:
  • A teacher, Walt Tutka, who quietly gave a Bible—upon request—to a student.
  • U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sergeant Phillip Monk, was disciplined for refusing to state his religious beliefs on sexuality to a superior who disagreed with those beliefs.
  • TV sports analyst Craig James, whose was terminated when his employer learned he had publically expressed commonly-held religious beliefs concerning marriage—and did so off the worksite,  

There’s a reason  has cited Liberty Institute in its coverage on religious discrimination in the workplace.  And we’ll continue this fight to help those being persecuted in the workplace for their faith. 

NOT JUST FIGHTING, BUT WINNING

The battle to defend religious liberty in companies and organizations rages on, but we know we can win with the support of friends like you.  When you stand with us and help fight back, you help achieve victories in the workplace—defending the freedom of religious expression for fellow Americans including Bob Eschliman, Walt Tutka, SMSgt Phillip Monk, and Craig James.

Your support helps continue Liberty Institute’s unique strategy which includes:

  • A Home-Field Advantage – Wherever the case is litigated across America, we have an advantage due to our national network of volunteer attorneys who know their communities and how to win.
  • All-Star Attorneys – Our network features America’s best attorneys.  Many normally charge up to $1,000 per hour, yet they take religious liberty cases (free of charge).
  • Multiplied Impact of Every Dollar – For every $1 we spend on a case, we receive approximately $6 in (free) legal time given by our all-star attorneys across the nation.  

Please donate nowto help continue the fight and protect the “free exercise” of religion in our nation—and if you or someone you know is experiencing workplace religious discrimination, please contact us today!


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About Liberty Institute
Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit www.LibertyInstitute.org.

Thursday, July 24, 2014 9:01:00 AM

Shark Tank: Will Your Church Be Safe? - Part 1



Is your church or denomination safe from damaging legal attack?  What about your favorite religious ministry or charity?  What about religious schools training future leaders your church needs—are they safe?  Or will they be crippled by anti-religious legal attacks?

Churches, ministries, and faith-based schools today live in a shark tank of anti-religious bigotrythat can mean legal and financial ruin unless they take legal steps now to protect themselves.

And that’s where Liberty Institute is helping dozens—and soon, hundreds—of religious institutions of all types and sizes.       

WHO ARE THE SHARKS IN THE TANK?

“All are at risk:  in addition to churches and synagogues, faith-based charities, orphanages, shelters, sororities, fraternities, and companies,”says Matthew Kacsmaryk, Deputy General Counsel and Managing Director of Direct Litigation, Research, and Education for Liberty Institute.

Mr. Kacsmaryk warns that churches and faith-based organizations are vulnerable to attack by litigious individuals and organizations that are offended by traditional religious viewpoints and seeking to litigate employment or discrimination claims in furtherance of a larger political or cultural agenda.

Liberty Institute is assisting more than 25 faith-based organizations—including churches, adoption agencies, educational institutions, and ministries—by offering a free-of-charge “Religious Liberties Audit.”  He says, “Reviewing articles of incorporation, employment manuals, discipline policies, and other corporate documents, we try to identify any risk exposure.” 

Organizations that have already retained legal counsel may nonetheless benefit from a “Religious Liberties Audit” because Liberty Institute attorneys are trained to identify risks and develop solutions unique to their practice.  Mr. Kacsmaryk notes, “Lawyers trained in corporate or employment law may miss risks and solutions arising under the Establishment Clause, Free Exercise Clause, Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and various state laws.”

Anti-religious organizations are aggressive: they use Establishment Clause challenges, employment challenges, anti-discrimination challenges, and more.  Liberty Institute attorneys pour over the corporate DNA of a faith-based organization, looking for weaknesses:
  • What if an employee is terminated for immoral behavior and sues you? 
  • What if your religious schools declines to hire an applicant because her lifestyle or beliefs are antithetical to the affiliated church? 
  • What if a hostile anti-religious organization attempts to plant an infiltrator in your ministry and you refuse them? 
  • What if your church exercises church discipline and is sued?
  • What if an atheist demands to join your religious sorority and sues when they are turned down?
All these and more can seriously damage your organization.

A SURPRISING DEGREE OF DANGER

“You might be surprised,” says Mr. Kacsmaryk, “many churches don’t have robust written statements of faith, mission statements, or rules for how they operate, how they hire, how they discipline, and how they remove members.”

For ministries, he says, “We make certain that an organization expressly states that it is motivated by sincerely held religious beliefs and provides detailed explanations of those beliefs.”  Mr. Kacsmaryk warns, “If your religious organization lacks written statements of faith and fails to explain its beliefs in writing, Liberty Institute cannot easily defend your faith and beliefs in court.”

Today, the most common risk exposure involves the controversial topics of marriage and sexuality.  Mr. Kacsmaryk asserts, “With the rise of sexuality-specific anti-discrimination statutes and policies, churches need to expressly state their sincerely held religious beliefs so that they’re not later accused of a pretextual act of discrimination.”

What changes need to be made in such a case?

“Faith-based organizations need to flesh out what they believe with particularity before the infiltrator knocks on the church door, before the lawsuit is filed,” he says.  Many churches, faith-based organizations, and interdenominational charities lack the written statements of faith and policies necessary to defend a religious-liberties case: “Again, you’d be surprised by the large number of churches, faith-based organizations, and interdenominational clubs that lack written definitions of marriage, Christian sexual ethics, or procedures for disciplining or pastoring members who find themselves outside the boundaries of the organization’s rules and policies.” 

Through the Religious Liberties Audit process, Liberty Institute attorneys “seek to get those beliefs written down, codified, and enforced so that you’re not left without litigation exhibits if the time comes to defend your church.”  As an example, Mr. Kacsmaryk notes that the plaintiffs in the case—the Green and Hahn families—had well written statements of faith on file when the HHS mandate threatened their sincerely held religious beliefs: “it is difficult to litigate a victory without exhibits.”





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About Liberty Institute
Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit www.LibertyInstitute.org.

Thursday, July 17, 2014 12:04:00 PM

UPDATE: School Claims Grad Speaker Forfeited First Amendment Rights!



Last week, the Brawley Union High School District informed Liberty Institute that it will not apologize to salutatorian Brooks Hamby for censoring references to his faith in three different versions of his graduation address.

Last month, Liberty Institute sent a demand letter to the school district requesting a statement exonerating Brooks of any wrongdoing, a meeting with the superintendent, and an assurance that lawful religious expression in students’ speeches would not be censored in the future.

The school district sternly refused all of our requests.  A 10-page responsesent by lawyers from a large California firm representing the school district stated thatthe District exercises control over the valedictory/salutatory speeches and only permits students to deliver content its administrators have deemed appropriate.”

The school district’s letter also stated:


Liberty Institute Senior Counsel Jeremy Dys commented, “It is outrageous enough that this school censored a student’s speech just because he wanted to reference his faith, but now for the school to claim that students lose their First Amendment freedoms while the school controls them defies any explanation!” 

Dys continued, “We hoped to simply sit down for a quiet, inexpensive conversation.  Instead, we received an invitation to litigate our client’s First Amendment rights—an invitation our client may soon accept.”

REDACTING GOD FROM GRADUATION

In June, school officials told Brooks Hamby that he could not talk about his faith in his graduation speech.  After rejecting two versions of his speech, Brooks and his parents were called to see the principal the morning of the day of the graduation ceremony and were notified by the school district that if Brooks “interjects religious content, the sound will be cut off, and a disclaimer to the entire audience must be made explaining the district’s position.”

After receiving this information, Brooks wrote a third version of his speech, which he sent to the superintendent.  He received that version back with all religious references crossed out in black.

Brooks did not want to cause trouble, but neither could he compromise his faith and his convictions.

Brooks sent a fourth version of his speech to school administrators, but did not receive a reply before it was time for him to deliver his address.  In his speech, he referenced the previous three versions of his speech and included references to the Bible and his Christian faith.

Amazingly, the school did not silence Brooks’ microphone but allowed him to finish his speech.

FIGHTING FOR RELIGIOUS LIBERTY IN THE SCHOOL

Liberty Institute is on the forefront of the growing issue of valedictorians and salutatorians being forbidden to include religious references in their graduation speeches.  Our clients include:
  • Valedictorian in South Carolina Roy Costner IV ripped apart the speech school officials had approved and then proceeded to talk about his Christian faith.  Liberty Institute is proud of Costner for making the bold decision to stand for his faith.

  • Valedictorian in Joshua, Texas — When graduating high school senior Remington Reimer began to talk of the Constitution and his faith in his valedictory address, school officials shut off his microphone.  Liberty Institute sent a letter to Joshua ISD officials giving them 60 days to comply with state law.  In response, Joshua ISD issued a formal apology to Remington Reimer.

  • Valedictorian in San Antonio, Texas — Prior to Angela Hildenbrand’s graduation, a U.S. District Judge issued a temporary restraining order banning prayer offered by anyone during graduation and threatened “incarceration” for anyone violating the order.  Liberty Institute filed an emergency motion for intervention requesting relief from the temporary restraining order.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit overturned the ruling, allowing Hildenbrand to exercise her constitutional right to freely express her religious beliefs.
HOW YOU CAN HELP

Liberty Institute is dedicated to continuing to fight to protect the rights of Brooks and students like him who courageously stand up for religious liberty, but we need your help!

What can you do?

  • Pray.  Your prayers are needed and vital as we work to protect the religious rights of students, teachers, and others in the school.
  • Donate now.  Your gifts make a huge difference in the work we do—every $1 you give translates into $6 of legal impact. 


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About Liberty Institute
Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit www.LibertyInstitute.org.

Thursday, July 17, 2014 12:03:00 PM

Best Seller 'God Less America' Features Liberty Institute


In his best-selling book, author and “Fox News & Commentary” host Todd Starnes delivers the warning—Paul Revere style, while substituting his keyboard and microphone for a horse and a lantern—that secular radicals are trying to take over America and intensify the war on religious freedom.

“Todd Starnes is passionate about religious liberty,” Liberty Institute General Counsel Jeff Mateer says.  “And he’s fearless when it comes to calling out organizations hostile to freedom of religion, the government, and anyone who wants to cleanse our nation of what our Founding Fathers described as our ‘first freedom.’  Every American needs to read and take to heart its warning.”

A MIGHTY FORCE IN THE WAR ON RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

A compellation of interviews with top conservative leaders, as well as commentary on recent news stories featuring attacks on religious liberty, also points to Liberty Institute as a legal powerhouse with a winning strategy to defend and restore religious liberty in America.

Concerning Liberty Institute, Starnes says:  “Liberty Institute has become one of my go-to sources for religious liberty stories.  The attorneys have mastered the concept of explaining legalese in a way that connects with the Average Joe.  I’ve found Liberty Institute to be fierce defenders of religious liberty.  It’s been my experience that when Liberty Institute takes up the cause of a persecuted believer—that a wrong will be righted.”

Starnes points to recent Liberty Institute cases, while artfully telling the stories of these people of faith, who are taking a stand and declaring that we are still one nation under God. . . .
  • Walt Tutka Upon request, teacher Walt Tutka gave a Bible to a student.  Tutka quoted the Bible while speaking to a student coming last through a door, saying, “The first shall be last, but the last shall be first.”  After the student questioned Tutka several times about the quote, Tutka used his own Bible to show the student where the quote originated.  Then, after the student said he did not own one, Tutka gave the boy his Bible.  This simple act ultimately led to his termination by his employer, the Phillipsburg School District in New Jersey.  Liberty Institute stepped in to help the teacher evaluate his legal options in challenging wrongful termination.  Tutka filed a charge of discrimination against the school district with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  Tutka’s claims of religious employment discrimination are currently being investigated by the EEOC.

  • Audrey Jarvis A Sonoma State University, official told college student Audrey Jarvis to remove her cross necklace when she was working for the university’s Associated Students Production organization at a student orientation fair.  The supervisor told Jarvis that the chancellor had a policy against wearing religious items and said the cross necklace “might offend others.”  It might make incoming students feel unwelcome.  Assisted by Liberty Institute, Jarvis, a devout Catholic, filed a religious accommodation request with the university.  The university officials did the right thing, launched an investigation into the incident, and as a result, the university issued a formal apology to Jarvis.

  • Senior Master Sergeant Phillip MonkA 19-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Senior Master Sergeant Phillip Monk was relieved of his duties because of his faith and moral convictions.  SMSgt Monk respectfully declined to agree with his “politically correct” commander’s viewpoint about homosexual marriage when that commander demanded an answer.  Liberty Institute stepped in and filed a formal complaint with the military on Monk’s behalf.  During a meeting following the formal complaint filing, Air Force investigators abruptly read Monk his Miranda rights, accusing him of the military crime of making false official statements.  The Air Force investigation cleared Monk of any crimes, avoiding any potential court-martial or disciplinary action.  In February of 2014, the Air Force presented Monk with a prestigious award for his performance and conduct.  In May of 2014, the Air Force approved Monk’s request to officially retire, which will occur in January of 2015.

A NEW GENERATION BOLDLY TAKES A STAND

“Our nation stands on a precipice,” Starnes writes in the last chapter of “We are a people in grave danger. . . .  Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council, and Kelly Shackelford, president of Liberty Institute, penned an open letter to the American people in 2013.  Hostility against religious liberty has reached an all-time high, they warned.  The freedom of religion is being pushed out of public life, schools, and even churches. . . .

“But friends,” says Starnes, “no matter how difficult these days have become, let not your heart be troubled.  The sovereign Lord is our strength. And I believe He is raising up a new generation of believers—young people who are fervent in their faith, a new generation of Billy Grahams and Billy Sundays.  Young men like Roy Costner and Jake Naman and young ladies like Audrey Jarvis who have raised their Ebenezer.  They considered the cost, they took a stand, and God honored their faithfulness.”

DEFENDING OUR “FIRST FREEDOM”

The only way Liberty Institute can stay strong in defending our “first freedom” and continue being victorious in religious liberty cases—which each have a chance of becoming precedent to defend or restore religious liberty—is through the continuing financial support of friends and loyal supporters like you. 

To help us fight the “Goliath” opponents, please donate now and share this cause with your friends.  And for more information about Todd Starnes and his latest book, , please visit www.toddstarnes.com.


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About Liberty Institute
Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit www.LibertyInstitute.org.

Thursday, July 17, 2014 12:03:00 PM

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