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Abraham Lincoln and Religious Freedom's Impact

By Christopher Corbett 
Frederick Douglas, on Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865




The building is the most-visited monument in the nation’s capital. It was constructed, and is owned, by the U.S. government. It is maintained with taxpayer dollars. And etched on its wall? A five-story high, 703-word Christian delivered by a U.S. President as an official speech to the nation.

The building is the Lincoln Memorial, host to more than six million Americans each year. And the speech is the Second Inaugural Address, in which President Lincoln expounded a theological interpretation of the American Civil War, citing God or the Bible 21 times in relatively brief but important message to his country.

Secularists who claim that religion and government should be kept strictly separate are confounded by the example of Abraham Lincoln. No wonder they have propagated, through books, articles, and Internet pabulum, the myth that President Lincoln was either an atheist or deist. But such claims do not stand up to historical scrutiny.

A product of an overtly religious culture, Lincoln’s strong religious views steered his policies and saved the nation. On his birthday, his spiritual legacy is worth celebrating and contemplating in the light of increased challenges to religious freedom in the public realm.

LINCOLN THE TEMPORARY SKEPTIC

Abraham Lincoln was the son of a devout Baptist church member and a mother who would sing hymns and recite long passages of the Bible from memory as she worked around their cabins in Kentucky and Indiana. The American frontier was an incubator of diverse religious denominationalism, controversy, and discussion: the religious freedom for which so many had fled from Europe. After church, 15 year-old Abraham Lincoln would stand on a log and recite sermons almost word for word to siblings and friends.

Yet Lincoln the young man was not particularly fond of traditional religious beliefs. Or of his father. Almost as soon as he came of age, he struck out on his own, landing in New Salem, Illinois, working various jobs in search of a career and never, as far as history can discern, to visit his father again. 

Ever the self-educator, Lincoln devoured books and enjoyed debate society. Among the books he favored were anti-Christian Enlightenment skeptics such as historian Edward Gibbon, poet Robert Burns, Thomas Paine (who had embraced Christianity during the American Revolution and rejected it during the French), the French secularist Constantin Volney, and others. There exists strong evidence that Lincoln, a compulsive polemicist, even wrote a manuscript attacking biblical Christianity which was burned by his New Salem friend Samuel Hill, who feared it would ruin Lincoln’s budding political prospects.

Lincoln participated in no church and wrote morbid poems fixating on life’s ultimate purposelessness. He came close to driving himself mad. Eventually righting his wavering psyche, he married well, started a strong legal career, and began to climb the political ladder in Springfield, Illinois. Yet even his early career in government could not escape his opponents’ nagging charge that he was an “infidel” and a “scoffer.”

The first evidence of a change came with Lincoln’s run for Congress in 1847, when he distributed a handbill admitting that in early life he believed in the “Doctrine of Necessity,” which held that a man was moved by forces over which “he had no control.” This sounds like the secular naturalism of some Enlightenment authors. But he added, “The habit of arguing thus . . . I have, entirely, left off for more than five years.”

Whether this was mere political posturing is difficult to discern. What is more certain is Lincoln’s encounter with a minister who was almost a mirror image of his own inner struggles with belief.


A LAWYER CONFRONTED WITH EVIDENCE

In 1849, Lincoln and his family spent time in Lexington, Kentucky where he helped relatives settle a disputed estate. While there he began to read his brother-in-law’s copy of the two-volume book by Reverend James D. Smith. The book was the product of Smith’s 18-day debate in 1841 with well-known skeptic C.G. Olmstead. Smith himself was a former skeptic who was ironically converted to Christianity while attending revival meetings with the intention of mocking the preachers.

A large Scotsman known for superb oratory, tenacious reasoning, and lawyerly use of logic and historical evidence, Smith had become a champion of Christians who desired rational discourse rather than pure emotion-driven revivalism. He used razor-sharp reasoning to defend the miracles of the biblical record as literal historical events, the deity and resurrection of Christ, and the inerrancy of the Bible.

Most amazing for Lincoln, it turned out that Rev. Smith was currently the minister at First Presbyterian Church in, of all places, Lincoln’s home of Springfield, Illinois.When he returned home from Kentucky, the tall, rationally-inclined lawyer wasted no time seeking out the tall, rationally-inclined preacher.

The Lincolns quickly bonded with Rev. Smith. The clergyman often ate at the Lincoln home; preached at the funeral of their son, Eddie; and welcomed them as regulars at First Presbyterian. A copy of both volumes of was in the Lincoln home. Smith also provided Lincoln with spiritual support for opposition to slavery on biblical grounds, unafraid to address such topics of civic controversy from the pulpit if he felt the Scriptures had something to say about them.

A decade after meeting James Smith, Abraham Lincoln found himself more dependent upon his faith than ever as president-elect of the United States. Leaving Springfield for the nation’s capital, he addressed his hometown to undertake “a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington.” He concluded:

(Capitalizations of pronouns for God in Lincoln’s handwritten transcript.)

Lincoln’s theology was now expressed in some detail. It was theistic, with divine attributes described. Lincoln’s God hears, acts, is omnipresent, and all wise. No deist or agnostic could honestly make such a claim.



“THIS NATION, UNDER GOD”

Upon arriving in Washington, the new President searched for a church and minister to replace what he had left behind in Springfield, and found it at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church and the pastoral care of Rev. Phineas Gurley, who like Smith was theologically conservative and highly intellectual.

As President, the pace of Lincoln’s personal spiritual journey speeded up as circumstances forced both the country and its leader to face extreme realities of life and death.

He became a regular attender at New York Avenue Presbyterian (Pew B-14, which can be observed today), made sure his children attended Sunday School and became involved in missionary society activities, and attended Thursday night prayer meetings. In fact, when his prayer meeting attendance became a nuisance to the church due to office-seekers loitering near the door, Gurley arranged for Lincoln to slip in a side door and attend prayer sitting secretly in the pastor’s study with the door propped open.

Crises battered him like ocean waves: The carnage and difficulty of the war. Another son’s death. His wife falling into emotional instability. Friends dying. Political foes attacking from all sides.

His response? Historians know that he kept and read at least two Bibles and a pocket New Testament, and commonly consulted He confided to a Treasury official, “I decided [a] long time ago it was less difficult to believe that the Bible was what it claimed to be than to disbelieve it.”

And as Lincoln plunged deeper into his personal spiritual journey, he externalized it as President—taking the government and the nation with him to confront the fact that, in his view, God had ordained the Civil War, and the spiritual realities of judgment had to be acknowledged.

That meant government encouragement of faith and promotion of religious freedom. Historian Stephen Mansfield writes:

“During the war years . . . [Lincoln] called for and funded military chaplains, supported the work of the Young Men’s Christian Association among the troops, and approved a bill that placed, for the first time, ‘In God We Trust’ on a coin of the United States.”

He proclaimed a day of “Public humiliation, prayer and fasting” and wrote it himself—a lengthy, four-paragraph call to all creeds “that the united prayer of the nation may ascend to the throne of Grace and bring down plentiful blessing upon our Country.” And fittingly, he also proclaimed days of thanksgiving.

In the Gettysburg Address, after finishing the first written draft, he inserted his growing theology into the final phrase: “that this nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, may not perish from the earth.”

THE DIVINE WILL

All of which brings us back to the 703 words on the most famous government monument in the country.

As the war was coming to a close, President Abraham Lincoln stood on a platform under the newly refurbished Capitol Dome, on a platform above the east steps, a spot little changed to this day. After taking the oath of office for his second term, the President gave what historian and Lincoln expert Ronald C. White calls “Lincoln’s Greatest Speech” in White’s book by that name.

Why his greatest? White goes into length to show how it distilled Lincoln’s interpretation of the war into words designed to explain to a wounded, grieving nation what had just happened, why, and how to move forward.

And it included God. After quickly reviewing pertinent facts, the President’s points included:

Ø  Both sides prayed to the same God and read the same Bible.
Ø  Though slavery was a sin, the North had no business indulging in self-righteous judgment.
Ø  God is sovereign and just, yet humans are free and accountable. God’s purposes for the war involved this mysterious interplay between His predestined will for the nation and man’s accountability for his actions. Yet as always, God is righteous in His judgments.
Ø  The duty of the nation was now to move forward in Christ-like love: “with malice toward none, with charity for all.”

After Lincoln’s assassination, it was discovered among his papers that the themes in the Second Inaugural Address were present as early as 1862 in a private paper later entitled “Meditation on the Divine Will.” Not surprisingly, the themes found their way into Lincoln’s correspondence, eventually into his speech and on to the wall of the Lincoln Memorial where millions of Americans read them today.

LINCOLN VS. SECULARISM

What if Lincoln’s America had been saddled with the extreme secular resistance to traditional religious acknowledgment that exists in our America? What if Lincoln’s initiatives for religion in the military had been attacked as we see happening today? What if special interests had stirred up lawsuits against his calls for prayer, fasting, repentance, and thanksgiving? What if overtly spiritual speeches like the Second Inaugural Address and deeply religious invocations were scorned and ridiculed as violating the Constitution?

Think of how diminished our nation would be. An America without a religious Abraham Lincoln would be unthinkable—and indeed, without freedom to acknowledge God as Lincoln did in his capacity as a public official, our nation might have ceased to exist at all.

Abraham Lincoln’s spiritual journey is an example of how a society that honors and encourages religious freedom and spiritual exploration survives and flourishes. And the fruits of that journey exemplify why free exercise of religion should be protected in the arena of public affairs—for presidents, other government officials, and all citizens in “this nation, under God.”


*  *  *
Sources:

by Prof. Ronald C. White Jr. (Random House, 2009)

by Prof. Ronald C. White Jr. (Simon & Schuster, 2002)

by Stephen Mansfield (Thomas Nelson, 2012)

by Dr. Watson Pindell (Role Models Incorporated, 1988)

Introduction by Carl Sandburg (Hawthorne Books, 1957)

by Dr. Raymond Taggart (The Service Print Shop, 1943)

by Dr. John Wesley Hill (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1920)


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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.

Friday, February 12, 2016 3:58:00 PM

NASA Censors ‘Jesus’ from Employee Emails



Liberty Institute attorneys issued a demand letter on Monday to the legal team at NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas after it banned a group of civil servants, employees and contractors from using the name “Jesus” in email announcements.

“It is illegal for the government to censor the name of Jesus in employee email announcements,” said Jeremy Dys, Senior Counsel for Liberty Institute. “Censoring a religious club’s announcement to specifically exclude the name ‘Jesus’ is blatant religious discrimination.”

According to Liberty Institute attorneys, NASA’s actions violate not only the U.S. Constitution, but also NASA’s own history of free religious expression.

SUBJECTED TO CENSORSHIP

The censorship started in 2015 when members of the NASA JSC Praise and Worship Clubsubmitted an announcement for their club meetings to , the center’s daily email newsletter.

The Praise and Worship Club began in 2001 and consists of 16 civil servants and contract employees who gather during their lunch hour to pray, sing, and discuss matters of their Christian faith.

“The purpose of our club is simply to encourage one another, pray together, and worship God,” club spokeswoman Sophia Smith said. “Our meetings are open to anyone who would like prayer or is interested in what we do.”



Just like many other clubs at NASA JSC, the Praise and Worship Club regularly submits announcements for club meetings in .

When the club members submitted their announcement for the May 28, 2015 edition of , they included the theme for the upcoming meeting—“Jesus is our life!” After the ad ran, NASA’s lawyers at the JSC contacted club organizers, informing them that the name “Jesus” could no longer appear in any future announcements.

The NASA attorneys claimed that including “Jesus” was “sectarian,” possibly creating the perception that NASA was endorsing Christianity over other religions and non-religion, and thus violating the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

“It was shocking to all of us and very frustrating,” Smith told Fox News on Monday. “NASA has a long history of respecting religious speech. Why wouldn’t they allow us to put the name Jesus in the announcement about our club?”

LIBERTY INSTITUTE STEPS IN

The Praise and Worship Club agreed to comply temporarily with NASA JSC’s ban, but immediately sought legal assistance from Liberty Institute.

Liberty Institute sent a demand letter to the legal team at NASA JSC on Monday, February 8, 2016. In the letter, Liberty Institute attorneys inform NASA JSC’s legal team of the grave violation of their employees’ First Amendment rights, and threaten a federal lawsuit should NASA fail to correct the problem.

NASA’S LONG TRADITION OF EMPLOYEE RELIGIOUS SPEECH

NASA’S actions against the Praise and Worship Club violate more than just the Constitution—they also violate NASA’s own history of permitting the religious speech of its employees. For example,

·      In February of 1962, Scott Carpenter quipped, “Godspeed, John Glenn” as the first American orbited the earth.

·      Astronaut Gordon Cooper selected the name “Faith 7” for the Mercury spacecraft that would orbit the earth 22 times in May of 1963, in part, because of his personal faith in God.

·      In 1968, Apollo 8 astronauts (Bill Anders, Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman) read the Creation account from Genesis 1 while orbiting the moon on Christmas Eve. (The infamous atheist, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, sued NASA over this—and lost—in , 1969.)

·      Buzz Aldrin famously celebrated communion on Apollo 11.

·      President Nixon led the nation in prayer in April of 1970 as American anxiously awaited the return of Apollo 13.

·      There has even been a Jewish blessing offered on the space shuttle and Muslim prayers recited in the International Space Station.

“NASA’s public history is one of freedom of religious expression for its employees,” said Kelly Shackelford, Liberty Institute President and CEO. “If NASA could accommodate the religious expressions of past civil servants, why not a praise and worship club’s simple announcement?”

SUPPORT FREE RELIGIOUS EXPRESSION FOR NASA EMPLOYEES

Liberty Institute is committed to restoring the rights of the NASA JSC employees and contractors—and the tradition of free religious speech that NASA has previously upheld.

To read more about this case and sign a letter of supportfor the members of the Praise and Worship Club, click here. To learn about religious liberty rights for employers and employees, download Liberty Institute’s 7 Facts About Religious Rights in the Workplace


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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.

Friday, February 12, 2016 3:48:00 PM

Public Health Expert—Fired for Preaching About His Beliefs—Receives Right to Sue from EEOC





A Liberty Institute client fired for his faith nearly two years ago received a right to sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) last week.

Dr. Eric Walsh, M.D., was abruptly fired from his new position as a District Health Director for the Georgia Department of Public Health in 2014 after the department learned of sermons Walsh delivered as a lay minister for his Seventh-day Adventist Church on the weekends.

Liberty Institute and volunteer counsel at Parks, Chesin & Walbert filed an official charge of discrimination with the EEOC in September 2014. They received the right to sue letter from the EEOC on Tuesday, February 2, 2016.

“We are pleased that the EEOC has granted us the right to sue the Georgia Department of Public Health on behalf of Dr. Walsh,” Jeremy Dys, Senior Counsel for Liberty Institute said. “Such blatant religious discrimination has no place in America’s workplace.”

The deadline to file the lawsuit is May 2 of this year.

FROM HIRED TO FIRED IN DAYS

In early 2014, Walsh was working as the Public Health Director for the City of Pasadena, California, and was selected as the commencement speaker for the class of 2014 at Pasadena City College.

Walsh later withdrew from the commencement ceremony after some students found videos of his sermons online.  They attacked Walsh over his religious views and the school for inviting him to speak at commencement. The students’ attacks followed Walsh to his job; the City of Pasadena then placed him on administrative leave.

During his leave, Walsh was hired to be a District Health Director for the State of Georgia Department of Public Health. As a courtesy, he informed the Department of the recent events regarding his position in Pasadena and the commencement controversy.

The State of Georgia seemed unfazed—one Department of Public Health official even emailed Walsh expressing appreciation for his willingness to volunteer the information.

Walsh was hired as a District Public Health Director for the Georgia Department of Public Health, resigning his position in California.

But then the California students’ attacks followed him to Georgia. Days later a senior official at the Georgia Department of Public Health requested that Walsh submit a sampling of his sermons.



Afterwards, two State of Georgia officials called Walsh and left a voicemail.

By an apparent accident, the officials failed to hang up the phone after delivering the message to Walsh—inadvertently recording themselves laughing about their decision to fire him, using the words “cold” and “you're out!” Listen to their voice mail and read the transcript.

LIBERTY INSTITUTE TAKES LEGAL ACTION

Liberty Institute intervened in September 2014, filing an official charge of discrimination with the EEOC on behalf of Walsh and in conjunction with volunteer counsel from Parks, Chesin & Walbert. The EEOC has now delivered a right to sue letter to Walsh and his legal counsel.

Liberty Institute and volunteer counsel are preparing for a lawsuit against the State of Georgia.

“People of faith ought to be respected at work, not fired for expressing their religious beliefs at church,” Dys said. “We are committed to making sure that Dr. Walsh is vindicated and that the religious liberty rights of employees everywhere in America are upheld.”

To learn about religious liberty rights for employers and employees, download Liberty Institute’s 7 Facts About Religious Rights in the Workplace.


Other stories:


NASA Censors ‘Jesus’ from Employee Emails



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, February 12, 2016 3:44:00 PM

Ronald Reagan: A Champion for Religious Liberty





One of America’s most deeply read and thoughtful presidents, Ronald Wilson Reagan, was a leading champion for religious liberty. As the nation commemorates his 105th birthday this weekend, those who love religious liberty should remember this aspect of his heritage—and honor his memory by seeking to preserve the religious freedom for which he fought.

REAGAN’S SPIRITUAL JOURNEY

Evidence indicates that Reagan was one of America’s most spiritually grounded presidents. Trained early in life by his evangelical Christian mother, his speeches, journals and personal communications suggest that he never forgot the lessons she taught him. 

Reagan prominently laced speeches on domestic and foreign policy with references to the practical implications of doctrines such as sin and the fall (part of his case for limited government, law and order, and confronting evil in regimes like the Soviet Union), and the creation and dignity of every human being in image of God (part of his case for free enterprise and against abortion).

After renowned historian Douglas Brinkley spent six months meticulously examining and editing the private diaries Reagan kept while president, he noted:


RESURRECTION, JESUS AND PRAYER

In these diaries, one also finds Reagan:

·      Taking time to research evidence for the resurrection of Christ and drawing confidence from what he learned.

·      Praying through the night for good weather for a visit from the prime minister of India, whom Reagan was trying to draw away from the influence of the Soviet Union (“Today was supposed to be a rainy one & I’ve been praying since last night.”) The rain held off until just after an important outdoor ceremony that got the meeting off to a good start. 

These are two of many recorded instances of Ronald Reagan exhibiting an uncommon personal pursuit of God, and understanding the life-changing influence of faith.

REAGAN: RELIGIOUS LIBERTY VITAL TO ALL LIBERTY

Because Reagan personally understood religion, Reagan the statesman firmly grasped its value to a free society. And that made him a fierce opponent of threats to religious liberty. 

“Without God,” he said, “there is no virtue, because there’s no prompting of the conscience. Without God, we’re mired in the material, that flat world that tells us only what the senses perceive. Without God, there is a coarsening of the society. And without God, democracy will not and cannot long endure.”

For this reason, Reagan rebutted attacks on religious values as attempts to “abrogate the original terms of American democracy.”

Those “terms” were repeatedly articulated by America’s Founding Fathers, like John Adams, who stated in 1798,


(Adams’ words have been proven true. Multiple research studies show that individuals who regularly attend religious services are more likely to adhere to laws and be good citizens.)

To promote religious freedom in America, Reagan:

·      Supported both judicial and legislative action to restore prayer and other religious activity to public schools, including the 1984 Equal Access Act.
·      Left a federal judiciary populated with judges who made key rulings in favor of religious freedom. 
·      Accelerated the careers of countless champions of religious liberty and freedom through his Justice Department.

Most of all, Reagan attacked the widespread misinterpretation of “separation of church and state,” saying in 1983,


Indeed, Reagan saw religious freedom as crucial to the moral stability necessary for a society to afford less government and enjoy more political and economic freedom. 



“FREE TO SPEAK OF AND ACT ON THEIR BELIEF”

Reagan stated in 1984,


Today, contrary to the view of Ronald Reagan, powerful forces in all branches of government and in the culture are questioning the value of religious liberty.

Some float the idea that religious freedom means limiting religious expression to the walls of one’s home or house of worship—and even some houses of worship are facing government interference and legal retribution for nothing more than operating according to their beliefs.

If Americans aren’t free to express their beliefs in public, all their freedoms are in danger.

But the fight is just beginning. Champions of religious freedom—like Liberty Institute—are battling in courts, state legislatures, the U.S. Congress, and the media—and they still have the law and influential court decisions on their side. 

As the nation’s largest legal organization solely dedicated to protecting religious freedom for all Americans, Liberty Institute has a victory rate of over 90 percent.

You can help Liberty Institute win even more victories—and honor religious liberty champion Ronald Reagan, by supporting our efforts with your prayers and financial support.


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Liberty Institute Asks U.S. Supreme Court to Reverse Violation of Religious Conscience Rights in Washington State




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, February 05, 2016 5:06:00 PM

SILENCING FAITH? Liberty Institute Appeals After Court Denies Preliminary Injunction to Vintage Church







On Friday, Liberty Institute attorneys appealed on behalf of Vintage Church to Louisiana’s Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal.

The appeal was filed after the Jefferson Parish 24th Judicial District Court denied the church’s request for a preliminary injunction. The injunction would prevent Jefferson Parish from discriminatorily enforcing the noise ordinance against the church.

In 2015, Jefferson Parish banned Vintage Church’s tent services from exceeding noise levels of 60 dB—which is the equivalent of a “typical conversation, dishwasher, [or] clothes dryer” (American Speech-Language Hearing Association)—and barred the church from using any sound amplification, including microphones for preaching, for its 9:00 a.m. service. Jefferson Parish officials even issued criminal summons to the church’s executive pastor, fingerprinting him in front of church members.

While Jefferson Parish has banned the church from exceeding the noise level of a conversation, it allows exceptions for other loud noises such as power tools, construction and demolition noises, lawn mowers, and power generators.

The Parish’s discriminatory restrictions on the church have prevented Vintage Church from holding its worship services without the fear of running afoul of the law. In December 2015, Liberty Institute and volunteer attorney Roy Bowes filed a lawsuit to protect the church’s religious liberty rights.

Liberty Institute Senior Counsel Justin Butterfield said, “It is discriminatory—as well as ridiculous—that Jefferson Parish is demanding that Vintage Church remain below 60 dB while power tools, construction noise, and demolition noise are permitted to be much louder. We are confident that the Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal will vindicate Vintage Church’s rights under federal and state law.”

PARISH PROHIBITS CHURCH FROM EXCEEDING THE VOLUME OF A CONVERSATION—BUT ALLOWS POWER TOOLS AND DEMOLITION NOISES

Vintage Church has two locations in the New Orleans Metropolitan area, one of which is in Metairie, Jefferson Parish, La. At its Metairie location, the sanctuary is undergoing expansion in order to accommodate the growing congregation. In the meantime, members are meeting in a tent on church property on Sunday mornings.

In October 2015, Jefferson Parish officials issued Pastor Matthew Brichetto, the church’s executive pastor, a criminal summons (a non-custodial arrest in which the pastor is considered under legal arrest but not taken into custody) after they measured the church’s service at over 60 dB—which is the equivalent of “typical conversation, dishwasher, [or] clothes dryer” (American Speech-Language Hearing Association).

The church hired a sound engineer to ensure their services were compliant. But in November 2015, the church was informed that they could not use any sound amplification system at the church’s 9:00 a.m. service. This included the microphone the pastor used to preach and speakers for worship music.

The church complied, but a few days later Jefferson Parish officials came to the church, claimed the sound was above 60 dB even without any sound amplification, and issued another criminal summons to the pastor. They even fingerprinted the pastor in front of members.

Jefferson Parish has banned the church from using any sound amplification before 10:00 a.m. and from ever surpassing noise levels of 60 dB. However, the parish’s noise ordinance allows power tools, lawn mowers, power generators, and construction and demolition activities—even at times earlier than the church’s 9:00 a.m. service. In addition, construction noises are given a 75 dB limit rather than the 60 dB limit applied to the church.



LIBERTY INSTITUTE TAKES ACTION TO PROTECT CHURCH’S RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

The parish’s restrictions have severely affected Vintage Church’s ability to hold worship services, which is an essential part of the church’s religious activities. For example, without a microphone, the pastor cannot maintain a speaking level loud enough for  all the people to hear what the pastor is saying. In addition, the intimidation of the church by the Jefferson County officials has resulted in a drop in attendance.

On December 10, 2015, Liberty Institute and volunteer attorney Roy Bowes filed a lawsuit against Jefferson Parish.

The lawsuit argued that the parish’s actions violated the U.S. Constitution, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), and the Louisiana Preservation of Religious Freedom Act (LPRA). Among other requests, the lawsuit sought a preliminary injunction to protect the church from the ordinance.

COURT DENIES PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION TO CHURCH; LIBERTY INSTITUTE FILES APPEAL

Although Jefferson Parish recently dropped the criminal charges against Pastor Brichetto, Jefferson Parish has not agreed to stop enforcing its unreasonable and discriminatory sound restrictions against the church. The church’s lawsuit against the parish is proceeding.

On January 6, 2016, the Jefferson Parish 24th Judicial District Court denied the church a preliminary injunction. The court ruled that Vintage Church was not substantially burdened by the noise ordinance.

On February 5, 2016, Liberty Institute appealed the court’s denial of the preliminary injunction to Louisiana’s Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal.

FIGHTING FOR THE RELIGIOUS LIBERTY RIGHTS OF CHURCHES

Liberty Institute is committed to defending the religious liberty rights of Vintage Church and other churches who experience unlawful hostility. Liberty Institute has a victory rate of over 90% and has successfully defended the religious liberty rights of other churches who faced opposition from local governmental entities.

For information on the religious liberty rights of churches and how to best defend those rights, download Liberty Institute’s free Religious Liberty Protection Kit for Churches.


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Ronald Reagan: A Champion for Religious Liberty



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, February 05, 2016 4:50:00 PM

Liberty Institute Asks U.S. Supreme Court to Reverse Violation of Religious Conscience Rights in Washington State





Liberty Institute submitted an (friend of the court) brief Friday on behalf of 43 members of Congress who oppose a 2015 Ninth Circuit decision in that denied the conscience rights of healthcare professionals. The brief asks the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

The case originated in 2005, when the Stormans’ family-owned pharmacy sued Washington State for requiring all pharmacies to provide abortion-inducing drugs, even if providing such drugs violated the conscience of the pharmacists. The law even prohibited objecting pharmacies from referring customers to other pharmacies within a five-mile radius.

The case eventually made its way to the Federal Appeals Court for the Ninth Circuit, where the Court ruled against the pharmacy in 2015. The plaintiffs appealed the case to the Supreme Court.

On behalf of a group of U.S. House Representatives who support the petitioners, Liberty Institute wrote and submitted an brief requesting a which, if granted, will ensure that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case.

AMERICA’S HISTORY OF PROTECTING CONSCIENCE RIGHTS

In the brief, Liberty Institute attorneys detail America’s long history of protecting conscience rights through three main arguments.

1.    Since the Founding Era, the United States have Recognized and Protected Conscience Rights – even in an area as vital as military service in the Revolutionary War.

From Quakers who objected to fighting in the Revolutionary War because of their religious beliefs, to conscientious objectors in World War II and even today, the federal government has a longstanding tradition of providing exemptions from military service to those whose religious beliefs cannot permit the taking of another human life.

The Ninth Circuit’s decision requiring pro-life pharmacists to provide abortion-inducing drugs should be viewed no differently, the Liberty Institute’s brief argues:


2.    Federal and State Governments Have Long Protected the Conscience Rights of Healthcare Professionals

Liberty Institute’s brief goes on to argue that federal and State governments have specifically protected the conscience rights of healthcare professionals for decades.

This general rule is well illustrated in the conscience protections enacted the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in . Though immediately legalized abortion in all 50 states, federal and state governments responded with special protections for healthcare professionals who sincerely believed abortion was wrong. 

Over the next four decades, federal and State governments enacted myriad statues, regulations, and rules protecting the conscience rights of healthcare professionals who abstain from practices, procedures, or products that would violate their moral duty not to kill or cause harm. As Liberty Institute’s brief states, the Ninth Circuit’s decision denying the conscience rights of pro-life pharmacies is not only unconstitutional, but unprecedented.

3.    If Uncontested, the Ninth Circuit’s Decision Will Endanger Healthcare Professionals’ Conscience Rights in Other States

Finally, Liberty Institute’s brief points out that if the Ninth Circuit’s decision is permitted to stand, it will open the door to more violations of other healthcare professionals’ conscience rights in other states.

“Freedom of conscience and religion are basic human rights,” Liberty Institute attorneys write. They go on to quote Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, who said,




AT STAKE: CONSCIENCE RIGHTS IN AMERICA

As Liberty Institute’s brief in goes before the U.S. Supreme Court, hundreds of other battles for the rights of conscience are waging all around the nation.

Faith-based non-profits—including some Liberty Institute clients—are fighting for their conscience rights against the HHS Mandate, which demands that the ministries provide abortion-inducing drugs regardless of their religious beliefs. Liberty Institute filed another brief earlier this month on behalf of several faith-based non-profits, including the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Businesses around the nation including bakeries, floral shops, and wedding venues have been sued and shutdown because the business owners declined from participating in same-sex marriage ceremonies, holding the religious belief that marriage is between one man and one woman.

County commissioners, coaches, and even Christian schools have been prohibited by the government from praying in public according to their religious convictions—a direct violation of their religious liberty.

Liberty Institute Kelly Shackelford said last year that “2015 was the most hostile year to religious freedom in our nation’s history,” and already, 2016 is on track to follow close behind.

 “We’re dedicated to making a stand against the undeniable rise in hostility to religious freedom in this country,” Shackelford says. “Through defending clients for free, submitting expert briefs in key cases before the United States Supreme Court, and educating our fellow Americans about their rights, we have confident hope that we can protect religious liberty for all Americans—now and in the future.”

To find out more about the current struggle for religious freedom in America and what you can do to make a difference, download the newly updated edition of Shackelford’s A Time to Stand 2016: Why Saving Religious Freedom Depends on What People of Faith Do Next.


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Ronald Reagan: A Champion for Religious Liberty


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, February 05, 2016 11:40:00 AM

Liberty Institute Attorneys Speak Out for America’s First Liberty Against Potential SOGI Laws




Indiana lawmakers are proposing two sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) bills (SB 100 and SB 344) that would grant special protections to certain groups based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. But experts at Liberty Institute warn that instead of protecting one group of people, the SOGI bills would strip certain religious liberty rights from many people of faith in Indiana. Ken Klukowski, Liberty Institute Senior Counsel & Director of Strategic Affairs testified before the Indiana General Assembly on Wednesday, explaining the threat to people of faith that the Indiana SOGI bills present.

Jeremy Dys, Senior Counsel for Liberty Institute , was featured in the IndyStar last Saturday. In his op-ed, Dys explains why lawmakers must take advantage of this opportunity to protect religious freedom for all—in Indiana, and in the United States. Read the article in full below.

***


Less than a year ago, the solicitor general of the United States stood before the Supreme Court of the United States — and, by extension, the entire nation — and admitted that changing how we define marriage would present “an issue” for religious organizations seeking to be faithful to their beliefs and convictions. Now, as legislatures convene across the nation and in Washington, D.C., we have arrived at the first opportunity to address that “issue.”

It was Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for a majority of the court, who urged the continued protection of religious liberty in a post-Obergefell world. “[I]t must be emphasized,” he wrote last June, “that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction” according to those religious doctrines.

But, just how much protection people of faith will have to advocate for their beliefs may ultimately be decided by the action — or inaction — of lawmakers nationwide. Will lawmakers heed the direction Justice Kennedy provides and protect religious liberty? Or, as Justice Alito warned in his dissent, will the decision be used to “vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy” and “stamp out every vestige of dissent?”

That is a conflict that should be simple for lawmakers to avoid. People of good will have disagreed over consequential matters for most of human history. Perhaps better than any other culture, America has uniquely provided people of faith the freedom to a self-determined life governed according to their most central convictions. That should not change now.

Religious liberty in America protects the right of its citizens to “adhere to religious doctrines” and then “to advocate” according to those convictions without fearing the reprisal of its government. This is the promise of religious liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment.

That is a promise our lawmakers must continue to uphold, in this and every generation. Lawmakers should take steps to ensure that First Amendment rights are protected at every level of government.

Employees must remain legally protected from being punished by employers based upon their religious beliefs.

Ministries, motivated by the religious doctrines central to their faith, must continue to be free to do good works — works that lower poverty, increase human flourishing, and strengthen the bonds of the family unit.

Small-business owners ought to be protected and encouraged to abide by their religious conscience when conducting business. Our economy is strengthened by diversity — including the diversity found in the religious beliefs of business owners.

The men and women of our armed forces must be afforded continued religious liberty by our lawmakers. As they do their duty to defend our first liberty, let us never deny them theirs.

Students must be afforded the academic freedom to express their religion in school assignments. Affording students the liberty of conscience teaches them their faith is a welcome addition to the public square.

Most importantly, lawmakers must ensure that the public square will continue to be one in which Americans may continue to debate matters of faith.

Lawmakers may be tempted to place limits on how and when religious liberty is protected. That is a mistake. Religious liberty is a fundamental American right, protected by the Constitution.

Compromising lawmakers risk turning religious liberty into a legal right granted by permission of the state. That would work if religious liberty was a gift from the state, to be exercised according to its whim and fancy. But it is not. It is a fundamental human right, guaranteeing freedom from the state’s intervention in matters of conscience.

In the forming of our “more perfect union” so many years ago, we did not cede religious liberty. We took steps to ensure it would be protected and preserved for future generations. It falls to this generation of lawmakers to carry forward that great promise of the First Amendment and ensure that this right of religious liberty — our first liberty — continues.




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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.

Friday, January 29, 2016 3:16:00 PM

Christian High School Banned from Praying Over the Loudspeaker before State Championship Football Game


According to the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA), prayer in public is completely off limits— if you’re a Christian school, and even if you’re playing Christian school. 

Liberty Institute sent a demand letter to FHSAA on Tuesday after FHSAA denied Cambridge Christian School’s (CCS) request to prayer over the Florida Citrus Bowl loudspeaker before their football team’s championship game against University Christian School (UCS). FHSAA claimed that since the venue was a public facility and FHSAA is a state actor, prayer would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Liberty Institute’s demand letter claims that the FHSAA violated the Tampa-based school’s rights as a religious institution.

“By refusing CCS’s request to pray, FHSAA is telling individuals and institutions everywhere that religious expression doesn’t belong in the public arena,” said Hiram Sasser, Deputy Chief Counsel for Liberty Institute. “That is dangerous and unconstitutional.”

FHSAA SAYS PRE-GAME PRAYER IS ‘OFF LIMITS’

Prayer is an important aspect of life and education at CCS, including the CCS athletic department. Teachers are encouraged to open their class lectures with prayer. Coaches frequently lead their teams in prayer before practices or games. And prior to each football game kickoff, a prayer is offered over the school stadium’s loudspeaker.

In fact, CCS has been praying before the start of all their athletic competitions since . 

So when CCS learned they would be facing University Christian School (UCS) of Jacksonville, Florida in the 2015 FHSAA 2A division state championship, they joined forces with UCS, asking FHSAA officials to allow CCS’s Head of School, Tim Euler, to pray over the loudspeaker before the game.

On December 2, officials from both CCS and UCS emailed FHSAA to respectfully request approval for a pre-game prayer, explaining the importance of the tradition to their teams.

Within hours of that request, FHSAA denied the it via email. FHSAA reasoned that, “Although both schools are private and religious-affiliated [sic] institutions, the federal law addresses two pertinent issues that prevent us from granting your request.” 

Those two “reasons,” given by the FHSAA, were that the game venue was a “public facility…off limits [to religious expression] under federal guidelines and precedent”; and that as a “state actor,” FHSAA was not “legally permitted to grant permission for such an activity.”




LIBERTY INSTITUTE INTERVENES

Representing CCS, Liberty Institute issued a demand letter to FHSAA on Tuesday, January 26 to correct the notion that allowing a Christian school to pray before its game—even in a public venue—violates the Constitution.

“By banning their customary pre-game prayer, FHSAA prohibited the school’s free exercise of religion,” Sasser said. “That a violation of the First Amendment.”

“If uncontested, FHSAA’s demands would continue to severely limit the religious liberty of the thousands of students, teachers, and administrators of Florida’s religious schools,” Sasser added.

Liberty Institute is awaiting a response from FHSAA, and is ready to take the next step to defend Cambridge Christian School's right to pray.

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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.

Friday, January 29, 2016 3:14:00 PM

Liberty Institute and Allies Defend County Commissioners Sued by the ACLU for Praying





In 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued Rowan County, North Carolina for its tradition of opening sessions with legislative prayers. This week, Liberty Institute’s volunteer attorney, Allyson Ho, argued on behalf of five elected commissioners from Rowan County before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, VA.

This legal appeal is significant as the first case to challenge legislative prayer since the Supreme Court’s most recent decision in in 2014.

COMMISSIONERS’ PRAYERS QUESTIONED

In a decades-long tradition, the commissioners of Rowan County, North Carolina have followed the example of the America’s very first Congress—as well as the current Congress, and every Congress in between—by opening its sessions in legislative prayer. The responsibility of offering the invocation rotates between the five commissioners, who are elected to serve on the Rowan County Board of Commissioners by their fellow citizens every four years.

When it becomes a commissioner’s turn to offer the invocation, they can choose to pray, or to defer. If they choose to pray, they are permitted to use whatever words they choose, a choice that is always consistent with their personal faith’s beliefs and prayer practices.
In March of 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued Rowan County for this practice, claiming that because all commissioners self-identified as Christian, their traditional method of opening sessions in legislative prayer excluded all other religions, and must therefore be stopped.

“The make-up of the prayers in Rowan County is a direct result of democracy,” said Ken Klukowski, Senior Counsel & Director of Strategic Affairs for Liberty Institute. “The people freely choose their elected leaders, regardless of their personal faiths, and the commission allows all the elected leaders an equal chance to pray without any regard to their personal faith.”

“Just because the five people currently elected happen to all claim the same faith, does nothing to say that five people of a different faith might not be elected in the future,” Klukowski added.

LEGISLATIVE PRAYER DEFENDED BY TOP ATTORNEYS

In conjunction with allies from the National Center for Life and Liberty and ADF, Liberty Institute and volunteer attorney Allyson Ho stepped in to represent the Rowan County commissioners before the Fourth Circuit, after a U.S. District Court ruled against them in 2015.

Arguing for the Rowan County commissioners on Wednesday was Liberty Institute volunteer attorney Allyson Ho, one of the leading appellate attorneys in America. A former U.S. Supreme Court Clerk and White House advisor, Ms. Ho has also graciously worked with Liberty Institute successfully defending the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial against attempts by the ACLU to have it torn down. 

In 2014, Ms. Ho was the only female attorney in private practice to argue more than one case at the U.S. Supreme Court—arguing two cases within 21 days. She is co-chair of appellate practice for a national law firm.

 A decision is expected later this year.


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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.

Friday, January 29, 2016 3:12:00 PM

BREAKING: Texas Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Kountze Cheerleaders





In an 8-0 decision on Friday, the Texas Supreme Court issued a crucial decision in favor of the Kountze Cheerleaders, whose legal struggle began in 2012 when school officials opposed their right to paint Bible verses on sports banners.

The Supreme Court overturned a 2014 Texas court of appeals decision that had ruled the case “moot,” a decision which denied the cheerleaders the opportunity to defend their right to free speech and religious expression. The Justices ordered the Beaumont Court of Appeals to reconsider the case.

“This is an 8-0 victory for the free speech and religious liberty rights of all Texas students,” says Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of Liberty Institute. “We are delighted that the court considered this case so straightforward that it did not even require oral argument.”

“In light of today’s Supreme Court ruling,” he added, “we look forward to defending the Kountze cheerleaders at the Court of Appeals and resolving this case permanently in the cheerleaders’ favor”

The Court’s decision on Friday followed extensive briefing by Liberty Institute and its volunteer attorneys James Ho and Prerak Shah of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, LLP (who are serving as lead appellate counsel) and (“friend of the court”) briefs filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in October 2015, and U.S. Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn in December 2015.

Justice Eva Guzman’s concurring opinion in favor of the Kountze cheerleaders accurately highlights the continuing struggle for religious liberty in America’s public schools. Justice Guzman agreed with Liberty Institute’s brief, and cited key free speech decisions—including landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions and past victories by Liberty Institute—that apply to the Kountze cheerleaders and make their situation a critical matter deserving special attention.

POSITIVE BIBLE VERSES BANNED FROM SCHOOL GROUNDS

In 2012, middle school and high school cheerleaders in Kountze, Texas, decided to paint positive and inspirational messages on run-through banners at football games. The decision to use Bible verses was made by the entire cheer squad and the students themselves. The cheerleaders and their families purchased all materials.

But after receiving a complaint letter from the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Kountze ISD superintendent banned the religious messages.

Supported by their parents and the community, the cheerleaders decided to fight for their free speech and religious liberty rights. That’s when the case exploded into the limelight, garnering nation-wide attention.

In September 2012, Liberty Institute and Beaumont attorney David Starnes filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Kountze cheerleaders and their parents, seeking a temporary restraining order (TRO) and temporary injunction to prohibit government school officials from censoring the cheerleaders’ religious speech.
The judge granted the TRO (and later a temporary injunction), allowing the cheerleaders to continue using the signs for the remainder of the 2012 football season.

In May 2013, Hardin County District Court Judge Steven Thomas granted the cheerleaders final judgment finding that the banners are “constitutionally permissible.”

But Kountze ISD appealed the District Court’s decision to the Texas Court of Appeals in Beaumont, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) jumped in to file a brief against the cheerleaders. In May 2014, the Beaumont Court of Appeals said that because Kountze ISD now stated it would allow the banners, the case was moot. The court of appeals’ decision, however, left unresolved the claim by the Kountze ISD that the cheerleaders’ banners were government speech subject to school censorship or an outright ban. On behalf of the cheerleaders, appellate lead counsel Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, LLP, David Starnes, and Liberty Institute sought a review of that decision from the Texas Supreme Court. The Court reversed the lower court’s decision without oral argument on January 26, 2016, sending the case back to the Beaumont Court of Appeals.

AT STAKE: STUDENTS’ FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION IN SCHOOL

As chronicled in Liberty Institute’s , attacks against the religious free speech rights of students are escalating as more and more organizations send misinformation and legal threats to school officials.

But the law is on the side of religious freedom in schools. While the Texas Supreme Court ruling on Friday is a victory, the war for the permanent protection of the Kountze students’ rights is still ongoing. Liberty Institute vows to continue the fight on behalf of the Kountze cheerleaders at the Court of Appeals and beyond, if necessary, and to protect freedom for future students nationwide.

To learn more about the religious rights of students and teachers in school, read or download Liberty Institute’s free Religious Liberty Protection Kit forStudents and Teachers.

SHOW YOUR SUPPORT

To thank former Kountze Independent School District (KISD) cheerleaders who have now graduated, encourage current KISD cheerleaders, and embolden students all over the country, signour letter of support now! 

Stay updated on the Kountze Cheerleaders case and other important issues by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, and signing up for our Liberty Watch Weekly Newsletter 

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, January 29, 2016 3:10:00 PM

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