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COURT-MARTIALED! Marine Criminally Prosecuted by the U.S. Government for Displaying a Bible Verse in Her Workspace


This week, Liberty Institute and volunteer attorney Paul Clement asked the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF)—the highest military court whose cases are subject to review by the Supreme Court of the United States—to review the case of Lance Corporal (LCpl) Monifa Sterling, USMC. LCpl Sterling was convicted at a court-martial for putting a Bible verse on her computer when she was stationed at Camp Lejune, North Carolina.

After being criminally prosecuted by the United States Government, LCpl Sterling initially represented herself, then appealed her case to the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals. She again cited her First Amendment rights to religious expression, as well as her protection under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). RFRA is a vital law that has been used in court to protect religious liberty in various contexts.

But in this case, both the trial and the appellate court said RFRA did not apply because displaying a Bible verse does not constitute religious exercise.  Sterling and her attorneys take issue with this opinion.

“If the government can order a Marine not to display a Bible verse, they could try and order her not to go to church on Sunday,” says Liberty Institute Director of Military Affairs and Senior Counsel Mike Berry. “Restricting a Marine’s free exercise of religion is blatantly unconstitutional.”

Liberty Institute, along with volunteer attorney Paul Clement—a partner at Bancroft PLLC who has argued over 75 cases in the U.S. Supreme Court, including the recent victory—is now asking the court to rule that the appellate court should have applied RFRA in LCpl Sterling’s case, protecting her right to post Bible verses as a form of religious exercise.

A decision that RFRA should have been applied would set a major precedent that could be used to protect others in the military who desire to express their faith while serving their country.

NON-RELIGIOUS SPEECH IS OKAY . . . BUT RELIGIOUS IS NOT?

While stationed at Camp Lejune, LCpl Sterling, a devout Christian of Haitian descent, noticed that other service members had placed various personal items in their work spaces at the military base. So she decided to express herself as well in her workspace by displaying one of her favorite Bible verses.

LCpl Sterling printed out the words of Isaiah 54:17: But after taping it in three different places in her workspace, LCpl Sterling’s supervisor—who also happened to be her former drill instructor—ordered her to remove the Bible verse, cursing at her in the process. When LCpl Sterling asked why, her supervisor said, “I don’t like the tone.” The service member explained it was her First Amendment right to display the Bible verse and declined to take them down. Moreover, no other person in the unit ever complained about the verse.

The next day, LCpl Sterling discovered that her supervisor tore down the Bible verse and threw it in the trash. Adding insult to injury, the U.S. Government charged LCpl Sterling with the crime of failing to obey a direct order because she did not remove the Bible verse.

“If a service member has a right to display a secular poster, put an atheist bumper sticker on their car, or get a Star of David tattoo,” explains Berry, “then Lance Corporal Sterling has the right to display a small Bible verse on her computer monitor.”

ATTACKS ON RELIGION TRIGGER VIGOROUS LEGAL DEFENSE

Liberty Institute has defended service members in all four branches of the military—from officers to enlisted service members to chaplains who are black and white, male and female. “Nobody in the military is safe anymore,” adds Berry, “regardless of rank, age, color, gender, or branch of service. Whether you are a lowly private, or a commanding general, opponents of religious freedom simply don’t care. Clearly, people of faith are the targets.”

Other military members represented by Liberty Institute include:

  • Chaplain Wes Modder, a highly-decorated chaplain unlawfully and unconstitutionally discriminated against by the U.S. Navy – When a few soldiers requested private counseling sessions with Chaplain Wes Modder and then complained that they disagreed with the chaplain’s religious beliefs and moral convictions shared in these sessions, Chaplain Modder’s commander removed Chaplain Modder from his unit and isolated him at the base chapel. Liberty Institute is vigorously defending Chaplain Modder and asked a Navy admiral to reject the commander’s punishment of Chaplain Modder and exonerate him so he can continue ministering to sailors and Marines and fulfill his duty of service.
  • Chaplain Joe Lawhorn, a former Army Ranger punished by the Army over a lifesaving, anti-suicide message – Colonel David Fivecoat, Chaplain Lawhorn’s commanding officer, reprimanded Chaplain Lawhorn because of a suicide prevention presentation he gave to an Army Ranger battalion. Chaplain Lawhorn’s message included his own personal testimony of how his Christian faith had helped him counter depression. But the Colonel deemed it too Christian in its approach, and the Colonel subsequently issued Lawhorn a “Letter of Concern” to be placed in the Chaplain’s file. Liberty Institute defended Chaplain Lawhorn’s religious freedom, resulting in successful removal of the “Letter of Concern” from the Chaplain’s file.
  • Senior Master Sergeant (Retired) Phillip Monk, a U.S. Air Force veteran who was exonerated after filing a religious discrimination claim against his commander – When Senior Master Sergeant (Retired) Phillip Monk was on active duty, he respectfully declined his commander’s demand that Monk agree with her views on same-sex marriage. As a result, she relieved him of his duties and banned him from her unit. Liberty Institute stepped in and filed a formal complaint with the military on SMSgt Monk’s behalf. During a meeting following the formal complaint filing, Air Force investigators abruptly read SMSgt Monk his Miranda rights, accusing him of the military crime of making false official statements. The Air Force investigation cleared SMSgt Monk of any crimes, avoiding any potential court-martial or disciplinary action that could have jeopardized his retirement. Last year, the Air Force presented SMSgt Monk with a prestigious award for his performance and conduct and also approved SMSgt Monk’s request to officially retire after more than 20 years of faithful service.

SERVICE MEMBERS SECURE THEIR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

Our service members give up many freedoms when serving, but religious freedom is never one of them. The First Amendment, RFRA, and military code protect service members’ right to express their faith freely, and their right to free religious expression should be protected.

For that reason, Liberty Institute is hopeful that CAAF will decide to take LCpl Monifa Sterling’s case and correct the lower court ruling by saying RFRA does apply—and that displaying scripture, especially when no one complained about the small verse, is unquestionably and constitutionally protected religious exercise and expression of faith.





Other stories:


A President's Prayer for "Our Republic, Our Religion, and Our Civilization"



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, May 21, 2015 10:26:00 AM

School Officials BAN Sixth-Grade Student the Right to Use Bible Verse in Class Assignment

This week, Liberty Institute sent a demand letter to school officials at Somerset Academy, a public charter school in Las Vegas, Nevada, after 12-year-old Mackenzie Fraiser was denied the right to include a Bible verse in a class assignment called “All About Me.”

In February 2015, Mackenzie, who is in sixth grade, was assigned to compose a PowerPoint presentation called “All About Me.” This presentation was to include a slide with an “inspirational saying” that explained more about who she is as a person. Since Mackenzie’s Christian faith is a central aspect of who she is, Mackenzie wanted to include a Bible verse—John 3:16—as the inspirational saying in her project.

However, the teacher informed the class that they could not use “Bible verses or quotations from the Book of Mormon” on the “inspirational sayings” slide, so Mackenzie was forced to choose a nonreligious saying.

A few months later, in May, the class was assigned a project on self-esteem. When Mackenzie contemplated explaining that her self-esteem is rooted in being created in the image of God, Mackenzie grew nervous. She told her parents that her teacher had said students are not allowed to include Bible verses in their assignments, so she thought it was wrong—or even illegal—to talk about her faith in an assignment.

UNCONSTITUTIONAL CENSORSHIP OF RELIGIOUS EXPRESSION

Mackenzie’s father, a pastor, contacted the school to find out why his daughter had not been allowed to include a Bible verse in her project. Somerset Academy’s Assistant Principal replied to Pastor Fraiser that the school was following U.S. Department of Education guidelines. However, the school was wrong: U.S. Department of Education guidelines expressly permit student religious expression in class assignments.

“Students have a constitutional right to express their beliefs in class assignments,” says Jeremy Dys, Liberty Institute Senior Counsel. “Banning students from expressing their religious beliefs in class assignments teaches students that religion is bad. When school officials violate the civil rights of religious students, they must apologize and reaffirm the right of their students to express their faith in school assignments.

“The Supreme Court and the United States Department of Education repeatedly recognize that ‘Students may express their beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions,’” Dys explains, quoting the U.S. Department of Education’s guidelines on the subject.

Liberty Institute’s demand letter gives Somerset Academy school officials 10 days to issue a written apology to the Fraisers and allow Mackenzie to resubmit her assignment using a Bible verse of her choice.

GROWING HOSTILITY TO RELIGION IN THE SCHOOL

In the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the landmark (1969) decision, Justice Abe Fortas wrote, “It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

Despite this decision and other Supreme Court precedents, Mackenzie is not the only student to experience the violation of free speech and religious liberty rights. Liberty Institute clients who have suffered from hostility to religion in the school also include:

  • Kountze Cheerleaders—For years, cheerleaders in the Kountze Independent School District in Kountze, Texas, chose their own messages to paint on run-through banners at sporting events. But when the cheerleaders decided to paint Bible verses on the banners, the Freedom from Religion Foundation complained, and the Kountze ISD banned the religious messages. Eventually, the school district agreed to allow the messages, but the district still claimed that the messages on the banners were government speech subject to censorship by the school. Liberty Institute is petitioning the Texas Supreme Court to rule that the cheerleaders’ messages are private speech protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution—not government speech subject to censorship.

  • Erin Shead—When ten-year-old Erin Shead was assigned a project at school to write about her idol, Erin wanted to write about God. However, her teacher rejected her assignment about God and instead accepted one about Michael Jackson. Liberty Institute got involved, and after several conversations with the school district’s general counsel, Erin was allowed to turn in her assignment on God and received an A.

Liberty Institute’s Undeniable: The Survey of Hostility to Religion in America chronicles many more violations of religious liberty rights in the school.

COMMITTED TO DEFENDING RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

Liberty Institute is dedicated to protecting the constitutional right of Mackenzie and students like her to freely express their faith without censorship. The U.S. Constitution and federal law protect religious liberty, and with a more than 90% win rate, the non-profit legal firm is confident that Mackenzie’s case will be successfully resolved.





Other stories:

A President's Prayer for "Our Republic, Our Religion, and Our Civilization"



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, May 21, 2015 10:26:00 AM

A President's Prayer for "Our Republic, Our Religion and Our Civilization"


This Memorial Day, as we remember our fallen military heroes, isn’t it appropriate that we identify and recommit ourselves to the things for which they offered the ultimate sacrifice?

I’m not sure any U.S. President described it more dramatically than Franklin D. Roosevelt on D-Day, as more than 100,000 Americans crossed the English Channel to invade Nazi-occupied France. Roosevelt’s expression of what they were defending was especially significant considering he spoke publicly, with a national radio audience of millions joining him, in a prayer that lasted a full six-and-a-half minutes.

Consider that. At a time when the souls of many soldiers overseas would be departing this life to meet God, the man the nation elected to lead the government was now leading the country into the presence of that God.

What did Roosevelt say those brave souls were dying to defend? He did not mince words when he spoke to the Almighty:


To Roosevelt, there was an unbreakable connection between free government—“our Republic”—our way of life—“our civilization”—and our faith in God—“our religion.” All were intertwined. All were at risk together. Separation of religion and state would have been a laughable, repugnant, and dangerous notion at such a clarifying hour of national crisis.

The first president, George Washington, would have understood. As commander of the Continental Army, Washington asserted, “The blessing and protection of Heaven are at all times necessary but especially so in times of public distress and danger.”

Keep in mind, Roosevelt’s prayer was no vague deistic platitude. He called upon God to act. He requested, “Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith. They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong.”

Nor was the prayer mere ceremony and political window dressing. This was a long prayer. It took up an entire presidential address, given on the most important day of Roosevelt’s presidency, concerning one of the most important events in American and world history. What’s more, the President urged God to remind the people to throughout the grind of the war.

The prayer also made bold statements about the afterlife—especially poignant for us to recall on a day like Memorial Day. The President acknowledged, “Some will never return.” He asked, “Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.”

Finally, this was no prayer diluted with politically-correct moral relativism. For a President and his people going before God that fateful night, good and evil, right and wrong, light and dark were very real:  “With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy, “ he said. “Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogance.”

For years, anti-faith special interests and the U.S. government saw fit to exclude President Roosevelt’s prayer from the otherwise magnificent World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. The ACLU and others vigorously opposed etching his words on the stone of the expansive memorial. Finally, last year the inclusion of the prayer became law, though it must be added to the memorial with private funds.

If they had their way, the secularists would tear down existing memorials that are in the form of a cross honoring our war dead located on public property. For instance, Liberty Institute is standing in the way of the American Humanist Association, which wants a court to remove the 40-foot Maryland WWI “Mothers Memorial,” and we have stood against the ACLU’s attempts to tear down the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial and the Mojave Veterans Memorial in California.

Secularists would also neuter the spiritual authority of military chaplains, as politically correct commanders attempted to do with our clients such as chaplains Joseph Lawhorn (U.S. Army) and Wes Modder (U.S. Navy). If President Franklin Roosevelt could utter a doctrine-laden prayer in an official address to the nation, can’t a military chaplain be free to express his or her religious viewpoint?

This Memorial Day, let’s apply President Roosevelt’s words. Let’s continue to fight “a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization,” because those three institutions remain intertwined. And indeed, they remain under attack. These are the things our fallen service members gave their lives to defend on the battlefield. We owe it to them to continue that defense in every area of the free society they entrusted to our care.


 






Other stories:

School Officials DENY Sixth-Grade Student the Right to Use Bible Verse in Class Assignment



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, May 21, 2015 10:25:00 AM

A READY DEFENSE: How to Protect Your Ministry or Faith-Based Business from Legal Attack and Ruin




It was right there in the earlier this year: blatant hostility toward the religious liberty rights of people of faith. Openly-gay columnist Frank Bruni didn’t candy-coat it:


That’s the reality of today in America, where it’s now open season on people of faith who are vulnerable to growing attacks by litigious individuals and organizations offended by traditional religious viewpoints. They’re seeking to litigate employment discrimination claims to further a larger political or cultural agenda.

While there hope from key Supreme Court cases, (a victory granting ministries latitude in hiring, firing, and disciplining ministerial employees) and (a landmark win for freedom of conscience rights), churches, ministries, and schools, and faith-based businesses still need to take legal steps to protect themselves from serious legal and financial ruin.

6 REAL-LIFE EXAMPLES OF RELIGIOUS LIBERTY THREATS

What does it look like when ministries or faith-based businesses face legal attacks? Churches, synagogues, religious charities, orphanages, shelters, Christian sororities and fraternities, and faith-based businesses are all at risk. 

Consider these six real-life examples of religious liberty threats . . .


1.    Catholic Charities forced to close adoption services in Boston.

When a Massachusetts state law was passed stating that homosexuals must be allowed to adopt, Catholic Charities of the Boston Archdiocese made the difficult decision to stop offering adoption services—to avoid violating their sincerely held religious beliefs by providing adoptions to same-sex couples. Then, when the Catholic agency tried to obtain, an exemption from state law, it was denied.

2.    Transgender woman sues Christian university that expelled her.

A student who designated herself as “female” on her application for admission was expelled from California Baptist University after it was discovered she was born a male. The student sued the private, Christian, liberal arts university in Riverside, California, and alleged the school violated California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act—which provides protection from discrimination by all places of businesses in California because of, among other things, sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth, gender, gender identity, and gender expression).

3.    The Salvation Army must close programs after the city of San Francisco refuses religious exemption.

The 150-year-old Christian denominational church and international charitable organization
could not comply with the domestic partners law in San Francisco, California, and was forced to scale back its programs for senior citizens and the homeless. The city of San Francisco refused to grant The Salvation Army a religious exemption, and now The Salvation Army no longer accepts city money to help fund its community outreach efforts.

4.    Same-sex couple sues Christian preschool for rejecting son as student.

After initially accepting a three-year-old student, New Hope Christian School in Albuquerque, New Mexico, rejected the admission of the young boy after learning his parents were a same-sex couple. The two men raising the son filed a lawsuit under New Mexico’s Human Rights Act which makes it unlawful for “any person in any public accommodation to make a distinction, directly or indirectly, in offering or refusing to offer its services, facilities, accommodations or goods to any personbecause of . . . sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, spousal affiliation. . . .”

5.    Government tells Christian ministers: Perform same-sex weddings or face jail and fines.

City officials in Coeur, d’Alene, Idaho told Christian ministers Donald and Evelyn Knapp that they have to officiate same-sex weddings at Hitching Post Wedding Chapel in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. The couple, who own and operate the wedding chapel which has been in existence for over 50 years, face a 180-day jail term and $1,000 fine for each day they decline to celebrate the same-sex wedding.

6.    Intervarsity Christian Fellowship loses campus access to California State University system.

Because Intervarsity Christian Fellowship requires its student leaders to affirm Christian doctrines, California State University told the evangelical and interdenominational campus ministry that a non-discrimination policy requires student leadership position to be open to students. As a result, 23 student chapters in the Cal State system are no longer recognized as official student groups and have lost free access to rooms in which to hold meetings and to student activities fairs for recruitment efforts.

PROTECT YOURSELF WITH FREE RESOURCES

What’s the solution to protecting yourself from legal attacks? In a word: “When you your ministry or faith-based business, you specify allyour beliefs and act in accordance with all of those beliefs through proper documentation and enforcement of policies.

This includes examining articles of incorporation, bylaws, employee handbooks, policies & procedures, independent contractor agreements, and other documentation to ensure that churches, ministries, and faith-based businesses are prepared and protected against legal and financial ruin from individuals and organizations who are offended by traditional religious viewpoints—and seek to litigate employment or discrimination claims to further a larger political or cultural agenda.

Liberty Institute’s constitutional attorneys have created free-of-charge Religious Liberty Templates and Guides to use as a resource in drafting bylaws, articles of incorporation, employment manuals, discipline policies, and other corporate documents to try to avoid risk exposure. Churches, ministries and faith-based businesses are encouraged to work diligently to ensure their beliefs are written down, codified enforced so that they have the tool kit needed to prove the sincerity of their faith—and protect themselves from coming legal attacks.

For more information about Liberty Institute’s free-of-charge Religious Liberty Templates and Guides, please visit www.LibertyInstitute.org/audit or call (972) 941-4444.




Other stories:

Portraits of Courage: High School Salutatorian Brooks Hamby Continues to Stand for Students’ Rights to Religious Expression



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, May 14, 2015 1:02:00 PM

Portraits of Courage: High School Salutatorian Brooks Hamby Continues to Stand for Students’ Rights to Religious Expression




Last year at this time, Brooks Hamby was getting ready to graduate from high school. He was about to be chosen as the salutatorian of Brawley Union High School in Brawley, California, and would be asked to write a graduation speech. There was no doubt that Hamby, a devout evangelical Christian, would include references to God in what he would say to his fellow students.


Brooks had written his speech as a prayer, including the sentence: 


He ended up rewriting his speech two more times—each time receiving it back from school officials with all religious references crossed out in black, as if the school was attempting to block out obscenity or obscure classified material.

On the day of the ceremony, Brooks and his parents were called to see the principal 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.” Brooks didn’t want any trouble—but neither could he compromise his faith and his convictions, so he wrote a fourth version of his speech and prepared to deliver it at his graduation a few hours later that night. He made mention of 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 and allowed him to finish his speech. But in response to the school district’s rejection of Brooks’ graduation speech, Liberty Institute Senior Counsel Jeremy Dys sent a demand letter seeking a public statement from the district exonerating Hamby of any wrongdoing and an affirmation that such censorship will not occur in the future.

Today, as a college freshman at Stanford University, Brooks knows what is at stake for all people of faith today—graduation speakers and otherwise. “If this challenge to religious liberty can occur in Brawley,” he says, “it can happen anywhere.”

He recently shared his thoughts about standing up for his religious liberty rights . . . what the legal support and expertise of Liberty Institute has meant to him . . . and how he hopes graduating seniors who are giving speeches this graduation season will be encouraged to stand for their lawful religious expression in our nation’s schools.

***

It’s been almost a year since you had your graduation address censored. Do you remember how that felt?

When my speech was denied and censored three times and was told the microphone would be cut if I mentioned my faith, I was really pretty shocked and disappointed. I was looking to share a brief positive message with my graduating class, something to inspire and give hope for our lives as we move past high school. Unfortunately, my school did not believe that the mention of God as a part of that was appropriate.

If you had known about Liberty Institute at the time, would you have called them after your speech was first censored by the principal?

Without a doubt. When the school denied and censored my speeches, stating that the inclusion of "Jesus" or "God" was unconstitutional, I knew that something wasn't right. But no matter how polite or how much evidence I gave to show them that it was legally okay to mention my faith, they didn't respond well. Had I known about Liberty Institute before I gave my final speech, I believe the school would have either allowed me to give one of my original speeches, or be held accountable for censoring personal religious speech.

After you contacted Liberty Institute, how did you feel about their efforts on your behalf?

I cannot commend Liberty Institute enough for their professionalism and swiftness in dealing with my case. They were always there to give support and help to me when I needed it most. Liberty Institute is truly dedicated to the protection of religious liberty across America and takes every effort to make sure that the rights of people of faith are not infringed.

You were interviewed by some major news outlets (including FOX News) about your story. What was it like to share your story with such a large audience?

My hometown, Brawley, is a pretty small town in an agricultural area. I would have never expected firstly to have been denied the ability to share my faith there, but secondly, that such attention would be drawn after I was told by the school I could not and would not be allowed to give my speech.

Quite honestly, I was incredibly nervous before giving the speech, and in interviews afterward. I wasn't looking to make trouble or a fuss with my speech. I just wanted to share a good word and personal experience which included my faith with my class. But I felt it was important to share this experience, because if this challenge to religious liberty can occur in Brawley, it can happen anywhere.

Do you think more and more students across the country will face similar  censorship just like you did?

I believe so. After I had given my speech, my grandparents told me about their third grade teacher opening up the Bible to be read every morning, or saying the Lord's Prayer alongside the Pledge of Allegiance. Last year, I was told that the inclusion of "Jesus" was unconstitutional and the district would pull the mic if I decided to say that name. Schools across the country are either fearful of lawsuits, misunderstand the protection of religious expression, or both.

Did your experience open your eyes to the threats to religious freedom in America today?

Despite all that happened over my short speech, at the end of it all I was able to realize that discrimination based on religious expression is not a novel or isolated issue. There are thousands of incidents annually, and my case was simply one of the many.

Where are you going to college and what are you studying?

I am a student at Stanford University, currently undeclared, considering History or Political Science.

Have you seen any type of religious discrimination there?

College really is unique in two main ways. In one sense, outright "legal" religious discrimination based on rules or administration does not really occur. Students have much more leeway in terms of free speech and expression on a college campus than a high school one, which is fantastic.

However, college is much different in the sense that there is a generally cynical view of being religious or attending church. Many times, the mention of faith is not welcome to many, and as a result, many others have never even been exposed to Christianity or even having never gone to church. This presents a unique opportunity to share God's love with those, who are willing to explore and accept, especially because you are free to do so.

Have you been asked to speak publicly about your experience?

I had the privilege to attend the Values Voter Summit last fall and share my experiences with my graduation speech censorship. It is so important for people to know they are not alone, and that there are thousands across the country who have had their religious freedom challenged, and that support from members of your community, people across the country, and especially Liberty Institute who are incredibly supportive of the right to speak about your faith.

Why is it important that organizations like Liberty Institute exist today?

Liberty Institute is a strong organization that has the ability to right wrongs and protect our foundational freedoms, most importantly freedom of religion and freedom of speech. I believe the only limit to what Liberty Institute can do is just being known to those who need help most like I did. Liberty Institute has all the right people and resources and is absolutely dedicated to protecting religious freedom.

What’s your advice to graduating valedictorians and salutatorians who are people of faith and who are drafting their graduation speeches right now?

As I said in my speech last year, “Be the salt of the earth. Be strong and stand for your convictions and stand for what is right, what is ethical, what is moral and what is Godly, no matter what is the cost to you. Stand for what is good wherever you go and whatever you do.”

As these high school grads are entering the next step in their lives,
they should stand for their convictions and not be silenced by those who seek to censor their faith and misconstrue our core freedoms.

***

If you are a student who has been given the privilege of addressing your classmates at graduation this year and want to make sure that what you say reflects your values, please contact Liberty Institute. Staff attorneys are ready to evaluate your speech against what your school requires and the Constitution permits.

Also, please contact Liberty Institute at info@libertyinstitute.org or call (972) 941-4444 if you have had your religious liberty rights violated, or know of a graduate who has.




Other stories:





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, May 14, 2015 1:02:00 PM

Liberty Institute Asks State Supreme Court: Protect Kountze Cheerleaders’ Rights




This week, Liberty Institute submitted further briefing on behalf of the Kountze cheerleaders, as requested by the Texas Supreme Court, and is hopeful the Court will accept this case and resolve the crucial issue at hand:

The cheerleaders’ religious messaging on their run-through banners is —not government speech, which is subject to censorship and banning—and is protected by the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution.

For more than 20 years, cheerleaders in the Kountze Independent School District (KISD) in Kountze, Texas, have painted messages of their own choosing on run-through banners to encourage fans and players at games.

Never before had the Kountze ISD banned what wording the cheerleaders chose to use . . . the cheerleaders painted religious messages on their run-through banners.

The decision to display Bible verses on banners was the decision of the students—and they even purchased their own materials. But then Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a complaint letter, and the Kountze ISD caved to the anti-religious foe’s misinformation and banned the cheerleaders’ religious messaging. So the cheerleaders, courageous young women who believe in their freedom of speech and religious expression, with the support of their parents and the entire community, stood up for their rights.

“How many people get the chance to represent such great ideas?” asked one of the Kountze cheerleaders at the time of the district’s ban. “How many actually get to be the person to take action? This is something I’m going to be proud of my entire life.”

CHEERLEADERS’ RIGHTS ARE BEING VIOLATED

Liberty Institute, along with volunteer attorney David Starnes, filed a lawsuit on behalf of the cheerleaders. During the two years of litigation that followed, a judge granted a temporary restraining order and temporary injunction to prohibit government school officials from censoring the cheerleaders’ religious speech. The Kountze ISD stated it would allow the banners in a gambit to try to evade a court order, but still claimed the right to censor or even ban the messages.

In May 2013, Hardin County District Court Judge Steven Thomas entered an order granting the cheerleaders a victory, saying the banners were “constitutionally permissible” and rejected Kountze ISD’s attempt to dismiss the case under the claim the banners are government speech. But the Kountze ISD filed an appeal with the Beaumont Court of Appeals (and with its own court filings, the ACLU also joined the side of the school district in support of the censorship of the cheerleaders’ private, religious messages). In May 2014, the Beaumont Court of Appeals said that because the Kountze ISD stated it would allow the banners and that the cheerleaders could display religious messages but that Kountze ISD would control the speech and retain the power to censor religious messages in the future, the case and the district court ruling was moot. 

Left unresolved, however, was the claim by the Kountze ISD that the cheerleaders’ banners were government speech subject to school censorship or an outright ban without any need to justify its decision.

In May 2014, Liberty Institute and its volunteer attorney Jim Ho of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, filed a petition asking the Texas Supreme Court to guarantee the private speech rights of the Kountze cheerleadersand review and reverse the decision. Liberty Institute is hopeful the Court will accept the case for review after considering further briefing submitted last week.

“The religious messages the cheerleaders choose to display on their banners is plainly the private speech of the cheerleaders and deserves protection,” says Liberty Institute Director of Litigation, Hiram Sasser. “The state Supreme Court needs to enforce the rule of law and reverse the Beaumont Court of Appeals ruling.”

STATE SUPREME COURT MUST REVERSE THE OPINION

In defense of the free speech rights of the Kountze cheerleaders, Liberty Institute makes three key arguments in their briefing to the state Supreme Court:

1.    Because KISD has not actually ceased its unconstitutional conduct, it is still violating the cheerleaders’ constitutional rights by treating the banners as government speech.

The religious messaging chosen by the cheerleaders to paint on the run-through banners are words of their own choosing. That is . The KISD has no authority to ban these positive and uplifting messages selected by the cheerleaders, and has a severe misconception of constitutional law.

2.    KISD has not met its “heavy burden” of making it “absolutely clear” that it will never again ban religious messages on the cheerleaders’ banners.

Since KISD treats the cheerleaders’ run-through banner messages as government speech, the speech is still subject to being banned by the district. All KISD has said is that it is not to ban the cheerleaders’ religious messages—it still maintains that it could if it wanted to.

3.    If the Court of Appeals decision is allowed to stand, the cheerleaders will soon be barred from ever displaying religious messages on their banners.

Even though KISD is allowing the Kountze cheerleaders to display religious messages on their banners, if the banners are treated as government speech then they violate the Establishment Clause under existing Supreme Court precedent. And a court will have little choice but to follow precedent and ban the cheerleaders from expressing any religious messages on their banners.

PROTECTION FOR ALL STUDENTS NATIONWIDE

As chronicled in Liberty Institute’s attacks against the religious free speech rights of students like the Kountze cheerleaders are escalating—as more and more secular, anti-religious organizations send misinformation to these school officials, and threaten lawsuits unless the school officials stamp out religious expression in the school.

But the law is on the side of religious freedom in schools, and Liberty Institute vows to continue the fight on behalf of the Kountze cheerleaders, and the work to protect freedom for future students nationwide.




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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, May 07, 2015 11:19:00 AM

UPDATE: Humanists Step Up Efforts to DEMOLISH Historic Maryland World War I Veterans Memorial





This week, the American Humanist Association (AHA) filed a motion for summary judgment with the United States District Court for the District of Maryland in its ongoing attack against the Bladensburg, Maryland World War I Veterans Memorial—a 90-year-old veterans memorial in the shape of a cross that honors 49 fallen WWI service men from Prince George’s County, Maryland.

Liberty Institute is representing The American Legion, which the Court granted the right to intervene, and has joined the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission as a defendant in the matter to protect the historic veterans memorial—which sits in a public area amidst several other memorials commemorating other conflicts in American history and honoring those who served in our armed forces. The Bladensburg, Maryland World War I Veterans Memorial was erected and dedicated in 1925 by a local post of The American Legion.

REMOVE, DEMOLISH OR MAKE THE CROSS A “NON-RELIGIOUS SLAB”

In their motion, the American Humanist Association—one of the most active opponents of religious freedom in the nation, and one Liberty Institute helped defeat earlier this year in a lawsuit challenging the “under God” wording in the Pledge of Allegiance—asked the Court, among other things, to:

·      Declare that it is a VIOLATION of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment—and the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights—for the government to own, maintain and display the memorial on public property;

·      Order the REMOVAL of the memorial from the property, or that the government DEMOLISHthe memorial entirely or REMOVE THE “ARMS” OF THE MEMORIAL to make it a “non-religious slab or obelisk”;

·      Order the government NOT TO DISPLAY the memorial on public property or take any steps to maintain it at its current location in Bladensburg, Maryland.

“There is no excuse for this attack on a time honored veterans memorial,” says Liberty Institute Senior Counsel Roger Byron. “We’ll continue to defend this veterans memorial to see that it stands for another hundred years. The men it honors, others who have served, and those in uniform today deserve no less.”

Liberty Institute plans to submit its response and cross-motion, on behalf of The American Legion, early next month.

A TIMELESS VETERANS MEMORIAL STANDS WITHOUT OBJECTION FOR ALMOST 90 YEARS

One of the oldest World War I memorials in the United States, the Bladensburg, Maryland World War I Veterans Memorial was erected by a local American Legion post and has been used from its inception for patriotic events by The American Legion and others to honor our nation’s veterans. The memorial has stood without objection for almost 90 years.

According to an article by Richard Wilson published in in 1983, the Memorial Committee formed to raise money for the Memorial included ten mothers who had lost sons in the war. In 1920, Mrs. Martin Redman, the mother of the first sailor from the county to lose his life in World War I, became the treasurer for the committee. In a letter to Senator John Walter Smith, who had donated money for the cause, Mrs. Redman wrote:


Like many other WWI veterans memorials around the world and in Arlington Cemetery, the Bladensburg, Maryland World War I Veterans Memorial uses the shape of a cross. But the American Humanist Association wants the memorial removed, altered or torn down and continues to press its case in court.

In August 2012, the American Humanist Association sent a letter asking the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission to remove the memorial, which stands in the median of an intersection in Bladensburg, Maryland, calling the memorial “unconstitutional” because it uses the shape of a cross.

In February 2014, the American Humanist Association took it a step further and filed an official lawsuit, seeking to have the memorial removed, altered or torn down.

In May 2014, Liberty Institute filed a motion to intervene in the case on behalf of The American Legion, The American Legion Department of Maryland and The American Legion Colmar Post 131. The United States District Court for the District of Maryland granted the motion to intervene in September 2014.

PRESERVING AMERICA’S RELIGIOUS FREEDOM


Whether they be Nativity scenes or menorahs, Ten Commandments displays, or words or symbols on veterans memorials or governmental buildings, expressions that use symbols of our religious heritage are woven into our cultural and social fabric by decades and even centuries of Americans who worked, sacrificed, risked, lived and died in communities where these expressions were, and are still today, a vital element.





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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, May 07, 2015 11:19:00 AM

Eyewitness Account of Supreme Court Marriage Arguments






***

On Tuesday, April 28, I had the privilege to be at the United States Supreme Court to listen to oral arguments in
, a group of consolidated cases that will determine the future of marriage policy in America. Importantly, the Supreme Court’s decision in these cases could have major ramifications for our religious liberty rights for years to come.

Going into the hearing, experts believed and I also felt like there was little hope for an outcome affirming the traditional view of marriage. After the arguments, however, I believe the Supreme Court Justices appear to be grappling with the issue, questioning the role of judges imposing a redefinition of marriage upon all 50 states, and taking into consideration the consequences of such decision upon the religious liberty rights of millions of Americans who hold to a Biblical view of marriage.

WHAT’S AT STAKE FOR YOUR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

The question before the Supreme Court is not whether same-sex marriage is good public policy. Instead, the central question is whether the U.S. Constitution, specifically the 14th Amendment, mandates a redefinition of marriage in all 50 states. 

Contrary to earlier decisions by three other courts of appeal (4th, 7th and 10th), the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit found that the 14thAmendment require a mandatory redefinition of marriage and in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. The Supreme Court granted review of those decisions (having had declined review of the decisions overturning marriage laws in other states).

Earlier this month, in advance of the oral arguments, Liberty Institute filed an important friend-of-the-court briefon behalf of scholars and religious organizations that support the First Amendment free speech rights of Christian ministers, teachers, and leaders who are compelled by faith and conscience to preach and speak aloud their millennia-old and sincerely held religious view that marriage is the sacred union of one man and one woman. 

Liberty Institute filed this brief on behalf of prominent evangelical organizations, including the National Religious Broadcasters, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Samaritan’s Purse, In Touch Ministries, Pathway to Victory, The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Dallas Theological Seminary, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and national Christian leaders, including Dr. Daniel L. Akin, Dr. Mark L. Bailey, Dr. Francis J. Beckwith, Dr. Robert A.J. Gagnon, Dr. Robert Jeffress, Dr. Byron R. Johnson, Eric Metaxas, Dr. Albert Mohler, Jr., Dr. Charles F. Stanley, John Stonestreet and Dr. Owen Strachan.
           
Our brief asks the Justices to affirm the Sixth Circuit decisions upholding marriage laws in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. Moreover, in reaching its decision in this case, we ask the Court to reaffirm that the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment protects religious dissenters who disagree with state-recognized same-sex marriage and to reaffirm the importance of free debate and free inquiry in this democratic Republic.

Our brief points out that, in the marriage debate, many people of faith – from small business owners to students, soldiers, and chaplains – have already been persecutedfor their religious beliefs about marriage. Just a few of our recent cases demonstrate this point:

·         U.S. Navy Chaplain Wes Modder, who has been relieved of his duties for giving one-on-one Biblical counseling on marriage and family issues.
·         Georgia Department of Public Health official Dr. Eric Walsh, who was fired from his position because of statements he made in his church, prior to his hiring, concerning marriage.
·         United States Air Force Senior Master Sergeant Phillip Monk, who was relieved of his duties because he disagreed with his lesbian commander’s views on marriage.
·         Sports broadcaster Craig James who was fired from Fox Sports because of his religious views concerning marriage.

DIVISION IN THE COURTROOM

Tuesday’s argument before Court, lasting over two and half hours, was lively and at some times contentious.  The Court is clearly divided into two camps with Justice Kennedy again in the middle. In the early stages of the argument, Justice Kennedy revealed the importance of the issue confronting the Court:



Even Justice Breyer, one of the liberal justices on the Court, recognized that definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman

In an exchange with counsel for one of the same-sex couples, Chief Justice Roberts summed up the monumental nature of the issue before the Court:

Moreover, during the course of the argument, three Justices focused upon the ramifications from a judicially-imposed redefinition of marriage on religious liberty.   

First, Justice Scalia raised the issue of whether pastors would be required to perform same-sex weddings.   

Second, Chief Justice Roberts asked whether religiously-affiliated colleges and universities would be mandated to provide married student housing to same-sex couples. 

Third, Justice Alito inquired about tax-exempt status for religious schools if marriage is redefined.

The response by our government to the last question is the most chilling. The Solicitor General of the United States, the Obama Administration’s top lawyer at the Supreme Court, when asked by Justice Alito if religious organizations who believe that marriage is the union of husband and wife would lose their non-profit tax status, said   

In the view of the attorney who speaks for the Obama Administration, with the judicial imposition of a redefinition of marriage comes the loss of non-profit status for religious organizations that continue to hold to a Biblical view of marriage. That’s alarming.

HOPE FOR THE RIGHT DECISION

Nevertheless, I am hopeful that the Supreme Court will do the right thing and allow marriage policy to be worked out through the democratic process and encourage the public debate about marriage to continue. As Americans, we have a constitutional right to speak and to act according to our beliefs. Redefining marriage by the federal judiciary will lead to the violation of religious liberty and free speech. People’s right to hold a faith-based view of marriage as the sacred union of one man and one woman should be protected. 

In light of this week’s arguments at the Supreme Court, I remain optimistic that the Court will continue to protect the religious liberty and free speech rights of those who hold traditional religious views concerning marriage, recognizing the constitutional right of all Americans to speak and act according to their beliefs. A decision is expected from the Supreme Court in late June.




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TIME FOR GRADUATION: Liberty Institute Educates Student Speakers About Their Religious Liberty & Free Speech Rights



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.

Friday, May 01, 2015 1:57:00 PM

JUDGES vs. YOUR PASTOR? Proposed Law Would Protect Clergy from Being Forced to Participate in Ceremonies that Violate Their Faith


As the nation anxiously awaits the Supreme Court’s decision later this summer in the marriage case —which could redefine marriage and lead to the violation of the religious liberty and free speech of people of faith—new federal and state laws are already on the way to help people of faith win in court.

Attorneys for Liberty Institute—who know that winning courtroom cases often depend on exact wording of laws—have advised more than 13 states and the federal government to make sure these laws have maximum sturdiness against challenges by the radical Left. These are laws that will make it easier to win in the ongoing battle for religious freedom—including the new Pastor Protection Bill (HB 3567) in the state of Texas.

The Pastor Protection Bill ensures that the government:

·      May not force a pastor, a clergy member or a church to perform a marriage or related ceremony that would violate their sincerely held religious beliefs;
·      Safeguards pastors and churches from having to live in fear that the government will force them to perform marriages that violate their religious beliefs; and
·      Helps Texas respect the rights of pastors and churches to hold the biblical view of marriage.




CLERGY MEMBERS SHOULDN’T HAVE TO LIVE IN FEAR

The bill explicitly states that thegovernment may not force a pastor, other clergy member, or a house of worship to perform a marriage or related ceremony that violates their sincerely held religious beliefs.

Further, it states that refusal “to provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges . . . is not the basis for a civil or criminal cause of action or any other action” by the state or a political subdivision of the state. 

The bill was written by Texas State Representatives Scott Sanford (R-McKinney), Byron Cook (R-Corsicana), Debbie Riddle (R-Houston), J.M. Lozano (R-Kingsville), and Patricia Harless (R-Houston),

Of course, writing the bill is one thing. Passing it is another, even in a state like Texas.

EXPERT LEGAL WITNESS JUSTIN BUTTERFIELD TESTIFIES

Testimony at the Texas House State Affairs Committee hearing on HB 3567 last week included legal expertise as well as pastors.

Liberty Institute Senior Counsel and Director of Research and Education, Justin Butterfield, testified in support of the proposed legislation. He said it will provide more protection—than the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and help safeguard clergy members like Liberty Institute client Chaplain Wes Modder, an ordained minister, from being punished or forced to act against their faith.

The Liberty Institute attorney shared why federal and state RFRAs needed to be augmented:




Village Parkway Baptist Church Senior Pastor Dr. Steve Branson, who is also the pastor and friend of Liberty Institute client Senior Master Sergeant Phillip Monk, also attended the hearing, and shared about his experience walking alongside SMSgt. Monk and the career-threatening punishment he experienced with the U.S. Air Force because of his sincerely held religious beliefs.

“We’re being tested at Village Parkway mainly probably because of my public stand [with SMSgt Monk],” said Branson. “I’m the least likely guy to be in that position, but that’s where I find myself now. . . . I’d rather just be doing my job. I love what I do. I’ve been [pastoring] for 40 years, but it’s becoming more difficult for me to do it.”

Witnesses including pastors and clergy members from the State of Texas (as well as nationally known leaders from two Dallas, Texas area mega-churches, Dr. Tony Evans of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship, and Dr. Jack Graham of Prestonwood Baptist Church, who provided written endorsements of the bill).

WHO WOULD ATTACK A PASTOR?

Pastor Protection Bill co-author Rep. Sanford greatly understands the need for the proposed legislation, as he is also Executive Pastor of Cottonwood Creek Baptist Church in Allen, Texas. He saw fellow members of the clergy and churches across the state begin to wake up to the growing threat toward their religious liberty when in October 2014, five pastors in Houston, Texas (dubbed “The Houston Five”) came under attack by the City of Houston.

“Five pastors in Houston were recently subpoenaed by the mayor for discussions that included biblical interpretations related to marriage on church property,” Sanford says. “Many faith leaders are now concerned about the threat of continuing government intrusion and infringement on these issues. HB 3567 makes it clear that Texas should remain a place where government respects the diversity of religious beliefs on these matters of faith and marriage.”

Liberty Institute President & CEO Kelly Shackelford, along with Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, also spoke out in support of the Houston Five at a press conference last fall. Shackelford said:


IT’S BIGGER THAN TEXAS

Threats against pastors, clergy members and the church aren’t just isolated to Texas, as pastors in other states and countries are being forced to violate their beliefs or suffer the consequences:

·      In Idaho: Christian pastors were told that they were required to perform same-sex ceremonies or face months in jail and/or thousands of dollars in fines.

·      In New Jersey: the Christian Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association was sued for not allowing a same-sex couple to have a civil service union in their facility.

·      In England:  The Church of England is currently facing legal action, attempting to force churches to perform marriages that violate the church’s religious beliefs.

Liberty Institute will continue to speak out in support of pastors, other clergy members and churches and looks toward the passage of the Pastor Protection Bill in Texas in the next few weeks.

Other states currently considering similar bills include Oklahoma, where the bill recently passed their State House on a vote of 88-7. Additionally, many states already have the protections that Texas is considering in place—including Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Washington, D.C.




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TIME FOR GRADUATION: Liberty Institute Educates Student Speakers About Their Religious Liberty & Free Speech Rights




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.

Friday, May 01, 2015 1:57:00 PM

TIME FOR GRADUATION: Liberty Institute Educates Student Speakers About Their Religious Liberty & Free Speech Rights


As graduation season nears, valedictorians and salutatorians in high schools, universities, and colleges all across our nation are preparing their speeches. Many of these bright leaders of tomorrow are young men and women of faith—and they want to mention “God” or talk about their faith in their graduation speeches. But, because of years of deceptive arguments by anti-faith groups, students are afraid to talk about their faith.

“Ironically, most students of faith and even many educators simply aren’t aware that student religious liberty is protected—even at graduation,” says Kelly Shackelford, Liberty Institute President & CEO. “As a result, students have been unlawfully silenced when those rights are violated by uninformed educators influenced by national anti-faith organizations.”

LIBERTY INSTITUTE  READY TO DEFEND GRADUATES THEIR SPEECHES

In recent years, Liberty Institute has represented many graduates who faced opposition when they wanted to include references to their faith in their graduation speeches. Students including:

·      Salutatorian Brooks Hamby in CaliforniaHigh school officials censored salutatorian Brooks Hamby’s simple references to God in his graduation speech three different times. Then, they threatened to turn off his microphone if he dared read his speech with any inclusion of the Bible or his Christian faith. Brooks wouldn’t back down because he knew his rights. He gave his speech anyway, to thunderous applause, and we sent a letter on his behalf to his school administrators explaining why their efforts to censor his speech were unlawful.

·      Valedictorian Angela Hildenbrand in San Antonio, TexasPrior to Angela Hildenbrand’s graduation, a U.S. District Judge issued an order banning prayer offered by anyone during graduation and even threatened “incarceration” for anyone—including students—daring to violate the Judge’s order. Liberty Institute filed an emergency motion requesting that the order threatening students who asserted their First Amendment rights with possible jail time be rescinded. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit overturned the Judge’s order, allowing Hildenbrand to exercise her constitutional right to freely express her religious beliefs.

·      Valedictorian Roy Costner 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, and we provided legal counsel to him following his speech.

·      Valedictorian Remington Reimer 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.

FREE, DOWNLOADABLE RESOURCES TO EDUCATE EMPOWER STUDENTS

U.S. Supreme Court precedent and other court decisions and laws grant broad free speech and religious liberty rights to students in public school.

Religious influence by students is needed now more than ever: Levels of crime, drugs, unwed teen pregnancy, and suicide are rising in our nation’s schools. Academic scores and career readiness are falling. Research by the U.S. government and private agencies shows these catastrophic trends worsen as religious activity in school declines.

Students who care enough for their classmates to encourage them with lessons about how faith shaped their lives and contributed to their success in life and school should be encouraged, not threatened with censorship, turned off microphones, or incarceration. The Constitution protects that right for our students.


·      Know Your Religious Rights Kit – One small booklet (or computer download) with at BIG impact! It fully equips students, parents, and teachers to know their religious liberties in public schools and be prepared to defend and restore their rights when they come under attack. The booklet gives step-by-step instructions, and information for contacting legal help when needed. It can transform one life . . . many lives . . . and even a whole school!

·      Student Bill of Rights in Schools Brochure– A powerful, condensed version of our “Know Your Religious Rights” kit that gives a quick overview of students’ rights when it comes to religious speech, expression, or practice in public schools. Attorney contact info is also included.
·      Teachers Guide – Educators are often misinformed by anti-faith groups—but usually respond well when the facts and law is carefully explained to them. This guide gives instructors convincing, documented, clearly-explained facts for how they can maintain First Amendment rights—including freedom of religion and speech—in schools.

STUDENT RELIGIOUS SPEECH AT GRADUATION CEREMONIES

Restoring religious freedom in public schools can happen, and in many cases is happening, as Americans wake up to the freedoms recognized in our Constitution.

This graduation season, students include religious content, including prayer, in their graduation speeches so long as the students were selected by neutral criteria (e.g. valedictorian and salutatorian are selected by grade point average, class officers are selected by a student body vote) and the control over the content of each address is left to the students, and not the school.

If you are a student who has been given the privilege of addressing your classmates at graduation this year and want to make sure that what you say reflects your values, please contact us. Liberty Institute would be pleased to evaluate your speech against what your school requires and the Constitution permits.

If you have had your religious liberty rights violated, or know of a graduate who has, please email Liberty Institute at info@libertyinstitute.org or call us at (972) 941-4444. 




Other stories:


JUDGES vs. YOUR PASTOR? Proposed Law Would Protect Clergy from Being Forced to Participate in Ceremonies that Violate Their Faith




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.

Friday, May 01, 2015 1:57:00 PM

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