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WE CAN WIN: Why Now Is the Time to Stand for Religious Freedom

Liberty Institute President & CEO, Kelly Shackelford


Editor’s note: Kelly Shackelford explains why America is at a tipping point in the battle for religious freedom, and why he believes people of faith hold the key to victory. Excerpted from his new e-book:

As the year 2015 began, Americans entered a tipping point.
 We entered a time when religious liberty will either be saved or lost. At the end of this period of time, which could be a year or more—but likely not longer than five years—America will be traveling one of two paths.       
        
We either will be on a path of restored religious liberty, having repelled the most severe assault on religious freedom in the history of our republic, or we will be on a path to becoming a nation of religious liberty and its vital benefits.
        
It could go either way. We’re seeing things we have seen before. Clearly, we have entered a period of trial for the future of religious freedom. 
        
WHO WILL DETERMINE THE OUTCOME? 

Prayer is definitely needed at this crucial time. On a human level, the main determiner of America’s religious future will be people of faith, the very targets of growing discrimination. Even after decades of judicial activism and liberty-hostile legislation—even after a cultural war on religious belief from the worldly fortresses of secularist education, media, government and much of corporate culture—the is still decisively on the side of religious freedom.
        
If people of faith stand up courageously and make use of these laws, their religious freedom can be saved. 

I advise you not to buy into the constant barrage of negative hype through the media. Religious liberty is not dead. Keep in mind two crucial factors:

FIRST, major federal and state statutes and court decisions are waiting to be used to reaffirm religious liberty. SECOND, skilled attorneys stand ready at the defense. 

People of faith need to they have it within their power to win the battle. And with that knowledge, they must then make the courageous decision to fight.If they do, I believe events will tip in their favor.
        
In one strategic sector of society after another, we are facing dramatic battles:

SAVING VETERANS MEMORIALS

Maryland "Mothers' Memorial" for WWI Veterans

When a regime hostile to religious freedom wants to discredit and silence a faith, one of the first important steps is to eradicate public symbols of that faith.

Secularists are pushing hard for that goal today. 

Currently, Liberty Institute is defending several veterans memorials on public property that are under attack because they contain traditional religious imagery, something that goes back through the history of America. Memorials at risk include:

  • The historic Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial in San Diego, California. The ACLU is representing groups who want to tear down a 29-foot cross that is an essential element to the memorial and has stood since 1954. 

Should even one of these monuments fall, more will be targets.  On the other hand, winning that case will protect the other memorials.  The war will be won. We are nearing the tipping point.
           
PROTECTING CHURCHES, SYNAGOGUES AND MINISTRIES

Dr. Chuck Swindoll
  
It will happen soon. Either clergy, the pulpit, and the sanctity of ministry will be protected—or we will enter an era of de-sanctification of religion in America.

Liberty Institute is representing Dr. Eric Walsh, one of top healthcare administrators in the United States, in a legal action against the state of Georgia, who had fired him because of what he preached in his church as an ordained lay minister.

Other examples of persecution of churches and ministries include the Obama Administration’s insistence that Christian ministries participate in providing insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs. Even when that violates their sincerely held religious beliefs! 

We are representing several such ministries, including Insight for Living Ministries, the Bible-teaching outreach of Dr. Chuck Swindoll. 

Liberty Institute is also winning in one community after another to enforce the right of houses of worship to exist and minister where people need it most. We have won for churches, synagogues, and homeless ministries, and protected street evangelists and sports events outreaches.

And that’s the good news: we can win. The law is on the side of religious liberty for Dr. Walsh, Insight for Living Ministries, congregations, and the others we represent. But brave people of faith like Dr. Eric Walsh, Dr. Chuck Swindoll, and others must be willing to stand. We’re at a tipping point, and what people of faith do in the near future will determine the outcome.

TAKING BACK THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Fifth-grader Giovanni Rubeo

Sixty million students are also living at a tipping point for religious freedom and influence in the public schools where they spend so much of their time and energy. Ironically, most students of faith and most educators simply aren’t aware of lawfully protected religious rights in the schools.

. We’re seeing it happen!

Indeed, at Liberty Institute in 2014 we saw the seeds of a very possible future as our attorneys won case after case for students in the public schools. The intensity of the attacks on students’ rights picked up—but so did the victories for faith! For example:

A 2nd-grader was told she could not read her Bible during free reading time. We stepped in, and the school apologized.

  • A school employee told a 5-year-old girl it was “not good” to pray over her meal at school. The school was forced to retract.
  • A fifth-grade teacher ordered a boy to stop reading his Bible during an advanced reading time. After a national outcry and some education on the law, the school district conceded the boy was within his rights to read the Bible.
           
That was just a small sample of our 2014 education victory parade.

Imagine an America where public school students do routinely pray, read Scripture, and openly express their faith in schools without fear of opposition by school authorities.  Imagine an America where public schools do protect faith as a daily, positive aspect of student life. That America happen.  Soon.  We are at a tipping point.

RECLAIMING THE MILITARY

Liberty Institute Senior Counsel & Director of Military Affairs, Mike Berry

Beginning in 2006 the assault on religious liberty in the military escalated with the activity of the anti-religious freedom Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF). Indeed, MRFF called for 400 officers to be court-martialed for expressing their faith.

The rise of MRFF coincided with the ascendancy of Barack Obama to the White House and a “politically-correct” tilt in military policy.


A coalition of pro-religious freedom organizations formed, with legal input by Liberty Institute’s Senior Counsel & Director of Military Affairs, Mike Berry. We used a tone of sobriety, firmness and respect, in distinction to MRFF’s inflammatory rhetoric. We began to remind leaders in Congress, the Pentagon, the branches of service, and elsewhere that law, military codes, and court decisions guaranteed service members religious liberty and access to spiritual support. 

Members of the military who challenged attempts to suppress their religious liberty were protected by Liberty Institute. In one case, our client’s reprimand was torn up and he was assigned to educate other officers on conflict resolution regarding religious conscience conflicts! 
           
The year 2014 ended with a committee hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives where MRFF’s position was exposed as baseless overreaction. The Department of Defense and U.S. Air Force issued rulings that began to move back in the direction of religious liberty.  And 2015 began with our client, U.S. Army Chaplain Joe Lawhorn, protected after being punished for mentioning his faith in a suicide prevention training.

The tide may be turning. We are at a tipping point, and the next few years will be critical.

SAVING FAITH IN THE BUSINESS WORLD

Dr. Eric Walsh

A British lawyer recently described to me how religious freedom was lost in the UK when people of faith chose their incomes over their faith. That’s what we’re facing here in 2015—we’re at a tipping point.

I’ve mentioned the case of . The attack against Dr. Walsh is not only an attack on church and ministry, but it is a workplace attack as well. 

If Liberty Institute wins this very public case, it will send a message to other employers that such hiring and firing discrimination is against the law and unacceptable.

Likewise, if we win a similar case in —a victory against one of the biggest broadcast corporations in the world—employers will notice, and people of faith in the workplace will be emboldened.

These are “tipping point” cases. 

But it doesn’t end there. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in favor of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood in their challenges to the ObamaCare Abortion Pill Mandate set up a cascade of challenges to government infringement upon religious liberty.

The battle for the faith in the marketplace is erupting. For example, the Supreme Court may or may not rule in favor of nationally-imposed same-sex marriage, but the of any decision will determine whether religious liberty is sheltered from an adverse marriage decision in the marketplace.

America is deciding whether we are going to go the way of the United Kingdom, or whether our roots of faith are deeper and our spiritual backbone stiffer.

WE CAN WIN

We can win in every area if people of faith are willing to stand up. We have the lawyers, so the key ingredients are clients—brave Americans choosing to insist on their rights—and other Americans willing to donate resources to make sure people of faith get the best legal representation.



Ask for Kelly Shackelford’s Eye-Opening New Book—for Free!

America is entering a period that nationally known attorney Kelly Shackelford calls “a tipping point.” In this period, your religious freedom will either be saved or lost.

In , Kelly gives you a concise, information-packed, eye-opening review of where and why the battle will be won or lost . . . and what you can do to stand.






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, February 26, 2015 11:16:00 AM

OUR HERITAGE MATTERS: Protecting America’s Public Religious Expressions of Faith



On the night of February 17, the council chamber of a small American city was packed to standing-room-only capacity. The crowd was tense. Their city’s tradition of beginning every council meeting with prayer was under attack. The out-of-towner sternly warned that the city was violating the Constitution. 

The verdict: No compromise. The city would not cave in to the bully tactics of the secularists. And, as the mayor publicly acknowledged, the council was given confidence through the legal guidance of Liberty Institute. Prayer would continue before city council meetings.

This scene is only one example of growing rebellion against the “big bad wolves” who threaten to use lawsuits to blow down the heritage of religious freedom ingrained in American society. And increasingly, cities and towns across America seek Liberty Institute’s steady hand to guide and advise them in securing their religious rights.

THIS LAND IS OUR LAND

The targets of such intimidation are cities, towns, and schools across our nation. They are under constant threat of lawsuits from anti-religion legal bullies. Powerful, well-funded organizations such as the ACLU, Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Atheists, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and others are trying to intimidate American citizens and cleanse our nation of its religious heritage.

Their threats include challenges to: 
  •  Praying in public
  • Displaying Nativity scenes or menorahs
  • Displaying the Ten Commandments
  • Including religious words or symbols on veterans memorials or governmental buildings such as county courthouses and state capitols

All the targeted expressions are part of America’s heritage—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, a vital element. Those trying to tear them out, singling them out just because these expressions are religious, insult the history of the communities they are attacking. This is not a defense of freedom of religion, but a discriminatory attack on religion and America’s heritage.

Our Founding Fathers would cringe. They would recoil if they could see the intimidation tactics these anti-religion bullies are using to try to silence our nation’s expression of faith. But those who carefully crafted our First Amendment freedom would also be proud to see concerned Americans like you stand with us against these anti-religion attacks.

STANDING UP FOR AMERICANS

Through the ongoing support of friends like you, Liberty Institute has been able to assist towns, schools, and citizens in other vulnerable locations in protecting their religious liberty rights. Recent work includes helping:

  • The State of Oklahoma to protect the Ten Commandments monument on the Oklahoma State capitol grounds — The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a state court lawsuit in August 2013 to see the removal of the Ten Commandments monument on the Oklahoma state capitol grounds. The Oklahoma Legislature and Governor previously enacted legislation authorizing Liberty Institute to represent the State of Oklahoma alongside the Oklahoma Attorney General to defend the State in this type of case involving a Ten Commandments monument. After a judge ruled the monument to be constitutional in September 2014, the ACLU appealed the case, and Liberty Institute is ready to continue its defense. Additionally, American Atheists filed a lawsuit in federal court (the ACLU lawsuit was in state court). Liberty Institute is also serving as counsel for Oklahoma alongside the Oklahoma Attorney General in the federal lawsuit.  
  • The students and families in a community south of Dallas/Ft. Worth to protect dedication plaques with religious references on two schools — Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to the Midlothian Independent School District (ISD) complaining of two long-standing dedication plaques with a religious reference for their respective schools. FFRF was irritated that the plaques, which had hung for almost two decades, had a religious message and could be seen by students at two elementary schools in one of America’s largest metro areas. The plaques, emblazoned with the “offensive” words, “Dedicated . . . to the education of God’s Children and to their teachers in the Name of the Holy Christian Church Soli Deo Gloria,” have been affixed to the school buildings for the past seventeen years, but only recently became the subject of a freedom of speech debate. Liberty Institute’s preliminary investigation led to the finding that the school district created a limited public forum for the plaques relating to the topic of the building dedication.  The plaques at issue were private speech, and the First Amendment prohibits the government from censoring private speech simply because of its religious viewpoint. Liberty Institute congratulated the Midlothian ISD on their courage and their desire to follow the Constitution.
  • The families of 49 fallen World War I servicemen near Washington, D.C. to protect the memorial that honors their sons —The American Humanist Association sued to have the historic Maryland World War I “Mothers’ Memorial” in Bladensburg, Maryland, struck down as unconstitutional and removed. One of the oldest World War I memorials in the United States, the memorial’s cross honors 49 fallen servicemen from Prince George’s County. Ten mothers of these fallen sons were instrumental in having this “Mothers’ Memorial” erected in 1925. On behalf of our client, The American Legion, Liberty Institute filed a motion to intervene in this lawsuit and a federal Court granted this right to intervene which allowed The American Legion to join the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission as a defendant in the matter to protect the historic memorial. 

PROTECTING ONE CITY COUNCIL’S 25-YEAR TRADITION

Which brings us to the scene that began this article. Earlier this month, Liberty Institute came to the aid of the City of Nacogdoches, Texas—known as “the oldest city in Texas”—which had received a complaint from a non-resident about the city’s 25-year tradition of beginning its city council meeting with prayer.

“When the city council received a threat from an outsider,” Liberty Institute Senior Counsel Mike Berrysaid, “they were justifiably concerned that their tradition of opening city council meetings with an invocation might be stopped.”

But when the city reached out to Liberty Institute for counsel, we were able to help them create an invocation policy. 

“We met with the city council and answered their questions regarding the constitutionality of invocation policies—including questions about the May 2014 Supreme Court case of , which held that invocations before government meetings are constitutionally permissible,” Berry continued. (Liberty Institute filed an amicus brief in that major Supreme Court victory for religious freedom.)

We drafted an invocation policy for them to review,” he said. “The Mayor motioned that the Council adopt the policy, and last week, in a standing-room-only meeting, the Council unanimously voted in favor of adopting the policy we drafted. The Mayor publicly acknowledged Liberty Institute’s role in guiding them through this legal minefield, and thanked us in front of all present.”

Because of Liberty Institute’s expert legal advice, the City of Nacogdoches can now stand with confidence knowing that the Constitution supports their historic practice of opening city council meetings with prayer—and this right is now memorialized in the writing of the city’s invocation policy.

HELP LIBERTY INSTITUTE PROTECT AND RESTORE RELIGIOUS LIBERTY FOR ALL

Simply put, our nation’s religious heritage and traditions matter, and Liberty Institute never backs down in our efforts to protect public religious expression of faith—including, among others:

  • Public prayer before government meetings
  • Religious wording on plaques and memorials
  • The display of Ten Commandments and Nativity scenes or menorahs on public and private property
  • The expression of “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance
  • The use of “In God We Trust” in government buildings and documents
  • State laws that protect religious liberty

The law is on the side of religious freedom, and that’s why Liberty Institute wants to help localities fight back and win with our legal assistance. Thank you for your gift today to help support this crucial effort, and please continue to pray with usas we fight the counter-efforts of anti-faith organizations that want remove public religious expression across America.






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, February 26, 2015 11:16:00 AM

HOSTILITY ON THE RISE: Will You Be the Next Victim of Religious Workplace Discrimination?





Amidst growing hostility toward religion, more questions than ever before have arisen concerning what kind of religious expression is allowed in the workplace—and to what extent. 

More and more Americans—just like you—are contacting Liberty Institute and asking for help to know what their rights are in the workplace (click here to download our FREE “7 Things Every Business Person of Faith Should Know” resource). That’s why protecting religious liberty in the workplace is a major area of emphasis for Liberty Institute, and why we’re taking legal action in our current cases to help defend the religious liberty rights of hard-working people, including:





Dr. Eric Walsh, a respected health official who was terminated for religious beliefs expressed in his church – Dr. Eric Walsh is a leading public health expert and ordained lay minister. In 2014, the State of Georgia enthusiastically hired Dr. Walsh as a senior official in the State’s Department of Public Health (DPH). Radical activists attacked the State of Georgia for employing Dr. Walsh, due to his biblical views about marriage and human sexuality. State officials requested copies of sermons Dr. Walsh had preached at his local church and began an internal review of the sermon content. Incredibly, as email records demonstrate, immediately after senior government officials reviewed his sermons, the State of Georgia DPH terminated Dr. Walsh—doing so in a harsh voicemail in which officials laughed about his termination. We filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC on behalf of Dr. Eric Walsh against the State of Georgia Department of Public Health for unlawfully terminating him based solely on his religious beliefs. EEOC has launched an investigation into the case. Read more.





Chaplain (Captain) Joseph "Joe" Lawhorn, a military chaplain who was punished by the Army over a lifesaving, anti-suicide message – Chaplain (Captain) Joseph “Joe” Lawhorn’s Brigade Commander called him away from his family on Thanksgiving Day. The Colonel questioned him regarding a suicide prevention presentation Lawhorn 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 sent a letter to the Colonel requesting a religious accommodation for Chaplain Lawhorn—so he may do his job and fulfill the mantra of the military chaplain to “bring God to soldiers, and soldiers to God.” We have also requested that the Letter of Concern be removed from Chaplain Lawhorn’s files, as it has the potential to prematurely end his stellar Army career (which includes earning the prestigious Army Ranger tab). Read more.



Craig James, a TV sports analyst who was terminated when his employer learned he had publicly expressed commonly-held religious beliefs concerning marriage prior to his employment during a political campaign – Fox Sports terminated sportscaster Craig James for expressing his religious beliefs regarding traditional marriage . . . over a year before his employment began.  While running for a vacant U.S. Senate seat in Texas in 2012, James was asked during the campaign—as all political candidates usually are—about his views on same-sex marriage and homosexuality. As a Christian, James expressed his deeply held religious beliefs and stated that he would not support same-sex unions. Over a year later, in August 2013, James began his employment and appeared on air. The very next day, Fox Sports terminated James. Fox Sports’ Senior VP for Public Relations said that they “just asked ourselves how Craig’s statements would play in our human resources department. He couldn’t say those things here.” Liberty Institute filed a charge of unlawful religious discrimination by Fox Sports with the Texas Workforce Commission. During our investigation, we revealed damaging contradictions and admissions by Fox Sports’ executives. The Texas Workforce Commission is now investigating James’ claims. Read more.

Bob Eschliman, an award-winning newspaper editor from Iowa who was fired for expressing his religious beliefs on his personal blog – Bob Eschliman worked in the newspaper industry since 1998 and has won more than 70 awards for writing or editing—seven of which were at his most recent job as Editor-in-Chief of in Iowa.  Bob’s employer and the owner of , Shaw Media, encouraged its employees to be active on their individual social media accounts, which is by definition a personal expression of speech. There are also other employees of who operated private blogs and still retained their jobs with Shaw Media.  On April 28, 2014, Bob wrote a blog post in which he defended and explained his sincerely held theological beliefs regarding Scripture and the definition of marriage according to the Bible. Two days later, Bob was placed on indefinite paid leave, so that the company could investigate the blog post. Five days after that, Eschliman was fired without being given a reason for his termination and ordered to surrender his corporate effects and leave the building immediately. Liberty Institute is aggressively pursuing legal action through the filing of an EEOC complaint against a media company for their clear violation of law. Read more.




Walt Tutka, a former substitute teacher who the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found was the victim of discrimination by a New Jersey school district – The Phillipsburg School District in Warren County, New Jersey fired substitute teacher Walt Tutka for handing a Bible to a student who requested it. While holding open the door for a student one day, Tutka commented to the student that “the first shall be last, but the last shall be first.” The curious student asked Tutka several times for the source of the quote, and eventually Tutka showed the student the quote in his pocket Bible and simply did what teachers are called to do: educate students. Then, upon the student’s request and after further questioning, Tutka generously gave the student his own Bible. In October 2012, the school district abruptly terminated Tutka’s employment for giving the student a Bible. Liberty Institute filed a charge of discrimination on behalf of Tutka with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). After a grueling two-year legal fight, in December 2014 Tutka received the decision he deserved in the EEOC’s Final Determination letter which states that Tutka was discriminated against by his former employer. The EEOC is now seeking to reach a conciliation agreement with the school district. The school district has indicated that it is considering appealing the EEOC’s decision. Read more.

HELP DEFEND RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN OFFICES ACROSS AMERICA

These cases represent the growing hostility toward religious expression in the workplace. Make no mistake: these employers very specific laws that protect religious liberty in the workplace.  We expect to win.Yet in today’s hostile environment, offenses will continue unless people of faith educate themselves and others about their rights, and take a stand.

So what can you do?  First of all, you can empower yourself and know your rights as a business person of faith in the workplace.  Download Liberty Institute’s easy-to-follow FREE resource:  “7 Things Every Business Person of Faith Should Know.” Read it and share it with your friends.

Then, commit to stand with Liberty Institute—the largest organization dedicated solely to preserving religious liberty in America, including in our nation’s workplaces. We are leaders in the fight to protect and defend freedom of religion from increasing attacks, and we win over 90% of our cases.  But we need your help to continue seeking justice for clients like Dr. Eric Walsh, Chaplain Joe Lawhorn, Craig James, Bob Eschliman and Walt Tutka.

Please pray as we work to protect and restore the rights of these clients and others who are facing discrimination by their employers because of their religious expression. And please give financially to help fight for religious freedom. Because of Liberty Institute’s volunteer attorney model, every $1 you give translates into approximately $6 of legal impact, and we are grateful for your support!






Other stories:

KNOW YOUR ENEMIES:  The 5 Foes of Your 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.

Thursday, February 19, 2015 11:07:00 AM

KNOW YOUR ENEMIES: The 5 Foes of Your Religious Liberty






Ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu once said: 

When it comes to the battle for religious freedom, knowing our enemies means knowing their goal:  a new secular America where religious freedom—and thus religious influence—is removed. Powerful organizations are spending millions to destroy your religious liberty, and they’re using the legal system to assail your religious liberty from one corner of America to another. 

Here is a roster of some of the most dangerous private opponents of religious freedom:


AMERICAN ATHEISTS (AA)
Cranford, New Jersey
Annual Budget:  $2.1 million

Founded in 1963 by the notorious Madelyn Murray O’Hair, American Atheists strive for “complete and absolute separation of church and state” and the eradication of religious influence in government. AA has filed numerous lawsuits against crosses, Ten Commandments displays, religion in the U.S. military and schools. In addition to legal action, they erect anti-Christian billboards, operate a national network of local chapters, hold conventions and demonstrations, and have their own TV channel.





AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION (ACLU)
New York, New York
Annual Budget: $120 million

The largest and most sweeping private opponent of traditional people of faith today, the ACLU was founded in 1920 by Soviet sympathizer, Roger Baldwin, and has 100 staff and more than 2,000 volunteer attorneys across the country. Though giving token support to religious liberty, the ACLU’s overall record includes legal attacks on school prayer, Bible reading, religious clubs, and study about the Bible; prayer at public gatherings; Ten Commandments memorials; pro-life activity; veterans memorials with crosses; and family businesses trying to operate according to their faith.




AMERICAN HUMANIST ASSOCIATION (AHA)
Washington, D.C.
Annual Budget: $3 million

American Humanist Association seeks to purge religious influence on America, conducting mass media campaigns attacking faith in God. Since 2006, AHA’s Appagnani Legal Center has sued to remove crosses and religious imagery, stop prayer, and attack “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. AHA has its own publication, conventions, and state chapters.



AMERICANS UNITED FOR SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE
Washington, D.C.
Annual Budget: $5.8 million

Launched in 1947, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has aggressively launched legal, media, and legislative attacks on virtually any contact between religion and government. They have worked to ban “God” from graduation speeches, shut down the activity of prison ministries, outlaw school vouchers allowing parents to send children to religious schools, and tear down veterans memorials. They also constantly lobby Congress and threaten religious activity in local communities.





FREEDOM FROM RELIGION FOUNDATION (FFRF)
Madison, Wisconsin
Annual Budget: $3.1 million

FFRF sends more than 1,000 letters annually to smaller cities, school districts, and other governmental bodies in a campaign to eradicate all public acknowledgement of God. Although their letters almost never result in an actual lawsuit, and they are almost always wrong about the law, they often win by sheer intimidation. They have 20,000 members in all 50 states, a radio show, a public relations arm, and an outreach to youth.

Of course, these organizations are joined by institutions within the U.S. government such as the IRS, Department of Justice, Department of Health and Human Services, and the White House. They are also joined by state and local officials and, increasingly, large corporations that also violate lawful religious liberty.
                                                                                                                           

LIBERTY INSTITUTE DEFEATS THOSE WHO WANT TO STEAL YOUR FREEDOM

The “5 Foes of Religious Liberty” have a war chest of more than $125 million per year; governments and giant corporations have virtually bottomless budgets. Yet Liberty Institute has an over 90 percent win rate against such opposition. A sample of our victories includes the following:


  • Defeated Americans United for Separation of Church and State when it tried to censor God from graduation.  We won a massive federal appeals court precedent.
  •  Defeated the ACLU at the U.S. Supreme Courtwhen the ACLU tried to tear down the Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial Cross.
  • Defeated Freedom From Religion Foundation multiple times, including protecting then Governor Rick Perry’s right to participate in a public prayer rally.

Thanks to your ongoing financial and prayer support, Liberty Institute has defeated all these foes of religious freedom—and are part of each victory!






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, February 19, 2015 11:07:00 AM

VICTORY! New Jersey Court Dismisses Humanist Lawsuit Challenging the Pledge of Allegiance






Last week, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Monmouth County, granted a motion by The American Legion to dismiss a lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance under the New Jersey Constitution. Liberty Institute, with our volunteer attorneys, represented the local, state, and national American Legion in the matter.

“We are pleased the Court granted our client The American Legion’s motion to dismiss the case,” said Liberty Institute General Counsel Jeff Mateer. The unmerited assault on the Pledge of Allegiance and the rights of New Jersey school children to honor God and country is unfortunate and we are thankful that the law has once again been upheld.”

DEFENDING THE PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE’S “UNDER GOD” FROM ATTACK

In March 2014, American Humanist Association, representing anonymous plaintiffs, sued the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District for conducting the daily, voluntary recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in its schools in accordance with New Jersey law.

The lawsuit sought to have the Pledge’s inclusion of the phrase “under God” declared unconstitutional under the New Jersey Constitution, even though the United States Supreme Court has repeatedly described the “under God” wording in the Pledge of Allegiance as constitutional.

In September 2014, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Monmouth County, permitted The American Legion to become a party in the lawsuit to defend the Pledge of Allegiance. The largest veterans service organization in the nation with approximately 2.3 million members, The American Legion has supported and promoted the Pledge for almost 100 years, including working to ensure the enactment of a 1954 law that added “under God” to the Pledge.

“UNDER GOD” INTEGRAL TO AMERICAN AND NEW JERSEY HISTORY

In his opinion, Judge David Bauman discussed both America’s and New Jersey’s long history of acknowledging and relying upon God as the one who secures our liberty.

After citing examples of this history such as the Preamble to the New Jersey Constitution and Benjamin Franklin’s appeal to prayer during the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention, Judge Bauman wrote:




We applaud today’s outcome of the Court the attack on the school and the Pledge,” said Roger Byron, Liberty Institute Senior Counsel. “This past May, the U.S. Supreme Court yet again used the Pledge of Allegiance as an example of a clearly lawful practice.”

This lawsuit is the second time the American Humanist Association has challenged the Pledge of Allegiance in state court.  Both times, first in Massachusetts and now in New Jersey, the Pledge was upheld.

JOIN WITH US TO PRESERVE RELIGIOUS LIBERTY IN AMERICA

The attacks on the Pledge of Allegiance are not the only attempts to scrub references to God from America’s schools. Liberty Institute clients who have suffered religious discrimination in the school include:

  • Kendra Turner A high school student at Dyer County High School in Dyersburg, Tennessee, Kendra Turner was kicked out of class for saying “bless you”—a banned phrase written by the teacher on the classroom white board.  Read more.

  • Brooks Hamby – High school salutatorian Brooks Hamby’s graduation speech was censored by the Brawley Union School District in Brawley, California. Read more.

  • Kountze Cheerleaders – Middle school and high school cheerleaders in Kountze, Texas, decided to paint inspirational messages from the Bible on run-through banners used at school football games. After receiving a complaint letter from Freedom From Religion Foundation, the school district banned the religious messaging. Read more.

With a victory rate of over 90%, Liberty Institute is committed to defending religious liberty in the school, the church, the military, and the public arena.

Please pray with us and please consider making a donation today to help us to continue winning crucial religious liberty cases across America. Thank you for your support!







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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, February 12, 2015 10:07:00 AM

Latest ‘Undeniable’ Reveals 133% INCREASE in Religious Hostility Attacks in America



Even though the 2014 edition of , catalogs 133% more attacks on religious freedom in our nation today (since we released our first survey three years ago), it also has the power to inform motivate.

We’ve carefully documented each instance of religious hostility and included citations to court cases, links to news articles, or reports from organizations involved in the incidents. And friends and fellow concerned Americans who have read through the thousands of incidents listed in have a wide range of responses

  • . . . that the survey shined a light on a growing problem.
  • . . .at how much religious persecution occurs in the United States.
  • . . . that incidents included in this survey could actually happen.

It’s certainly eye-opening (
DOWNLOAD your free e-book copyof Undeniable now), but it’s also the very information that opponents to religious liberty in America—organizations including the ACLU, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Military Religious Freedom Foundation, and —don’t want you to see. Because when youbecome informed about the unprecedented assault on our First Freedom in America, then you will be equipped to take a stand with us and fight for our freedoms to express and live out our religious beliefs.

MEET THE VICTIMS

In these pages, we bring Americans face to face with hostility to religion, so that the crisis is, as the title says, We have found that in light of such irrefutable evidence, more Americans are taking action to stop the hostility.

But awareness is the critical starting point. introduces Americans to the victims of religious hostility. Cases include:
  • A five-year-old girl ordered by a public school employee to stop praying over her lunch (page 203).
  • Heart-broken families of veterans banned by the U.S. government from praying or using religious words at the funerals of their relatives (page 10).
  • A church shut out of relocating to a spiritually-needy area by religion-hostile officials (pages 7 and 283).
  • A decorated combat veteran because he wouldn’t agree with his “politically-correct” commander that same-sex marriage was okay (page 355).
  • High school cheerleaders ordered to remove uplifting Bible verses from their football game banners (pages 4 and 189).

You will also “meet”: A high school valedictorian for mentioning God in her graduation speech (page 144); A property owner in an open field near a highway (page 70);  Veterans struggling to stop the ACLU and related groups from (pages 348, 351). 

The good news? In all but two of the above cases, Liberty Institute stopped the religious hostility dead in its tracks. And in the cases we haven’t won yet, we are confident of victory.

COMPILED BY LEADING EXPERTS

Overseen by an editorial team including Liberty Institute President & CEO Kelly Shackelford, General Counsel Jeff Mateer, and Senior Counsel & Director of Research and Education Justin Butterfield, the newest edition of categorizes almost 1,400 attacks in four key sectors of society: 

Attack on Religious Liberty in the Public Arena

This category covers all attacks on exercising religious liberty in public, including challenges to praying in public, challenges to publicly displaying Nativity scenes or menorahs, and challenges to displaying the Ten Commandments. This past year has also seen high-profile attacks on religious liberty in the public arena as the government threatens to shut down any company that refuses to fund abortion-inducing drugs because of religious convictions. Some of the most recent attacks in the public arena include:

  • Chevrolet Dealership Challenges Obamacare’s Abortifacient Coverage Mandate – No. 2:13-15487 (S.D.W.V. filed Jun. 24, 2013)Joe Holland Chevrolet is a family-owned Chevrolet dealership whose stated purpose is “to glorify and honor God by being faithful stewards for all that is entrusted to us.” Because of the Holland family’s strong religious beliefs regarding abortion, Joe Holland Chevrolet does not want to fund abortifacient drugs like Plan B (the “day-after pill”) and Ella (the “week-after pill”) as required by Obamacare’s HHS Mandate. Liberty Institute is working with Joe Holland Chevrolet to fight the government’s requirements that the Holland family’s company fund these abortion-inducing drugs.
  • Texas Department of Transportation Bans Private Ten Commandments Sign – Jeanette Golden placed a sign displaying the Ten Commandments on her private property near Hemphill, Texas. When the Texas Department of Transportation (“TXDoT”) learned of the sign, however, they deemed it to be  an illegal “outdoor advertising sign” and ordered it removed. After attorneys from Liberty Institute sent a demand letter to TXDoT on behalf or Ms. Golden, however, TXDoT rescinded their order, changed their rules, and agreed that the sign could remain on Ms. Golden’s property.
Attacks on Religious Liberty in the Schoolhouse

These cases primarily involve school officials prohibiting students or teachers from sharing their faith or exercising their religious free speech rights.  Some of the most recent attacks in the schoolhouse include:

  • School District Bans Students from Bringing Signs with Religious Message to Sporting Events – No. 09-13-00251 (Tex. App.—Beaumont 2014)
    The Kountze High School (KSH) cheerleaders wanted to display encouraging messages at sporting events. The cheerleaders decided that the best way to encourage the players was to write Bible verses on the “run through” banners. Freedom From Religion Foundation discovered that the cheerleaders were writing Bible verses and sent a letter to Kountze I.S.D. demanding that the school district stop the cheerleaders. The superintendent of Kountze I.S.D. then banned any student group, including the cheerleaders, from bringing signs with religious messages to sporting events. The cheerleaders sued the school district to protect their free speech and religious liberty rights. A state district court judge held that the cheerleaders’ speech is protected and may not be censored by the school district. The case is on appeal to the Texas Supreme Court.
  • Teacher Confiscates Student’s Bible and Calls Parents in Front of Class – A Florida fifth grader had his Bible confiscated during free reading time. After the teacher took the Bible, she called the student’s parents in front of the class to tell them that the student was not allowed to read religious books in her classroom. After Liberty Institute confronted the school with evidence that they violated their own policies, the school apologized to the boy.
Attacks on Religious Liberty of Churches and Ministries

The past ten years have seen an explosion in cases involving local governments discriminating against churches, particularly in the local governments’ use of zoning laws and granting of permits.  Some of the most recent attacks of churches and ministries include:

  • Mississippi Town Tries to Stop Church from Moving into Abandoned Downtown Property – No. 12-60052 (5th Cir. 2012)
    Opulent Life Church in Holly Springs, Mississippi, wanted to move into a larger facility as it had nearly outgrown its present meeting place. Once the church found a new property, however, it also discovered that the city would not allow the church to move into the new property without getting permission of sixty percent of all property owners within a one-quarter mile radius of the proposed site—a requirement that applied only to churches and to no other type of organization or business.  Liberty Institute filed a lawsuit against the City of Holly Springs on behalf of Opulent Life Church for violating the Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. After a precedent setting victory at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the case settled, allowing the church to move into its new property.
  • Christian Ministry Workers Threatened with Jail Time for Serving Local Homeless and Elderly - For over five years, Isaiah 61 Ministries, a well-established nonprofit Christian ministry in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, served their local community by providing weekly meals, toiletries, clothing, and other forms of assistance to homeless men and women, as well as to the poor and elderly. Then, without warning, the Dauphin County Commissioners threatened to arrest ministry workers and volunteers if they continued their ministry on county property. Liberty Institute stepped in and sent a demand letter to the Dauphin County officials informing them of their unconstitutional conduct and requesting that the workers be permitted to continue their acts of Christian charity on public property.
Attacks on Religious Liberty in the Military

Religious freedom in the military is protected by the U.S. Constitution, Department of Defense regulations, service branch regulations, and case law. Nevertheless, recent attacks on our service members’ religious freedom ignore this law and tradition. Some of the most recent attacks in the military include:

  • MMRF Condemns Government Involvement in National Day of Prayer – Military Religious Freedom Foundation sent a letter to the Pentagon demanding that government official abandon all association with the National Day of Prayer. The U.S. Military responded by making clear its intention to continue its participation in the observance.
  •  Air Force Officials Remove Bible Verse from Cadet’s Whiteboard – A cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, wrote a Bible verse on the personal whiteboard posted on his door, but official removed the verse after receiving complaints that the mere presence of the verse was offensive. When other cadets rose up in protest by writing Bible verses of their own on their own whiteboards, Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MMRF) wrote a letter to the U.S. Air Force Academy demanding that the verses be removed. Liberty Institute responded by pointing out the cadets’ religious rights.

A TIME TO STAND AGAINST HOSTILITY

While the new 2014 edition of shows that attacks on religious liberty are dramatically increasing in the United States—both in the frequency and in the severity of the attacks—this survey also shows that together, we can make a difference.

When those persons and organizations—like Liberty Institute—stand up for religious liberty and fight back, we win. When you join with those who value religious liberty and actively engage the cultural and legal battle against secularism, you push back the secularists’ agenda.

Please inform others and help make them aware bysharing the 2014 edition of DOWNLOADyour free copy of Undeniable now. And please continue to stand with us through your ongoing donations and prayer support.  Thank you!







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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, February 12, 2015 10:07:00 AM

VICTORY! Judge Rules Orthodox Jews Have Right to Peaceful Worship in Private Home




On Wednesday, February 4, 2015, Liberty Institute won another victory in an ongoing national battle against hostility toward local houses of worship.

At a hearing for a motion for summary judgment, Collin County District Court Judge Jill Willis ruled that members of a small Orthodox Jewish community have a right to continue meeting in a far north Dallas, Texas home for private worship.

Rabbi Yaakov Rich is hopeful that Congregation Toras Chaim will no longer face hostility in the neighborhood home where the Orthodox Jews peacefully meet.

“We are thankful that this distressing season has ended with a favorable ruling, protecting our right to worship” said Rabbi Rich.  “I am incredibly grateful that Liberty Institute successfully defended our case, and that the law has upheld our right to live out our faith within our homes.  I pray that today marks the beginning of a new era of tolerance and peace in our community.”

“We are grateful that the District Court upheld these members’ religious liberty rights,” said Justin Butterfield, Liberty Institute’s Senior Counsel and Director of Research and Education.  “We are thankful that these Jewish families will no longer be under attack for exercising their right to worship God as prescribed by the tenets of their faith.”

TARGETING RELIGIOUS ACTIVITY IN A PRIVATE HOME

A local homeowners association (HOA) and the past president of the HOA, Mr. David Schneider, had brought a lawsuit attempting to ban the congregation from peacefully meeting to study the tenets of their faith in a private home.

Congregation Toras Chaim has been meeting to study and pray in an area under the authority of the homeowners association since February 2011.  The tenets of the Orthodox Jewish faith instruct members not to drive or ride in a car on the Sabbath or on Jewish holidays.  For this reason, Congregation Toras Chaim members must meet within walking distance of their homes.

For two years, the homeowners association had full knowledge of the congregation’s religious activities in the neighborhood, and took no action.  Then in 2013, the congregation relocated to another home in the area near Schneider.  Soon, Schneider filed a lawsuit against Congregation Toras Chaim and the owners of the residence where they were meeting.

ATTORNEYS STEP IN TO GUARD RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

Schneider contended that the congregation’s religious activities violated the neighborhood’s residential-only restrictive covenant. Yet the HOA had not taken enforcement actions against several other non-residential uses of property in the area it governed, including a shed in Mr. Schneider’s own yard that violated the rules.

Further, banning the congregation would have constituted a “substantial burden” on its members’ free exercise of religion, thus violating two key laws:  the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLIUPA)both passed to protect against hostility to religion.

Liberty Institute attorneys stepped in.  Liberty Institute’s staff and volunteer litigators are top specialists in using laws and court precedents to defend houses of worship against growing attacks.  In 2013, Liberty Institute won a major federal circuit court victory for Opulent Life Church in Holly Springs, Mississippi, securing protection for countless thousands of congregations.

GRIEVANCES AGAINST A BLIND PERSON . . . AND YOUNG MOM!

Undaunted by such facts and laws, Schneider and like-minded friends took control of the HOA board, and dragged the association into the lawsuit against the small Jewish congregation, despite protests from many HOA members who opposed the suit.

Complaints cited by Mr. Schneider and his allies against Congregation Toras Chaim included petty grievances such as:

  • Looking “unusual” and “odd” when congregation members exit the home
  • Having to stop a vehicle for a woman pushing a baby carriage to cross the street
  • Having to stop a vehicle for a blind person to cross the street

Thankfully, Liberty Institute’s arguments prevailed in court and religious liberty won another victory.

THIS OUTCOME MATTERS

“If you can’t practice your religious beliefs within the walls of your own home—including having regular gatherings with a handful of fellow believers—then what good is saying Americans have religious freedom?” said Liberty Institute President and CEO Kelly Shackelford.

That’s why this outcome matters.  Since Orthodox Jews do not drive on Saturday (the Sabbath) and must walk to worship, and since no other viable alternatives within walking distance exist, if they had been thrown out of the neighborhood the congregation might have disbanded.  That would have been tragic.  Not only for them, but for America.

Said Shackelford, “Remember, religious rights are the foundation of all rights.  When anyone loses this freedom, we all lose.”

Thank you for standing with us and with houses of worship like Congregation Toras Chaim through your support today!


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 06, 2015 8:34:00 AM

City BANS CHURCH from Outreach to Kids . . . on Its Own Property!



At a hearing this past Wednesday, February 4, 2015, Liberty Institute, along with our volunteer attorneys, argued for the religious liberty rights of First Presbyterian Church of Auburn, New York.

In July 2014, the City of Auburn sent a cease-and-desist order demanding that the church stop their outreach to the kids in their community through a Glee Camp on church property!  The City said that since the camp charged a fee for its summer Glee Camp it violated the city’s zoning ordinances.

LIBERTY INSTITUTE RUSHES TO DEFENSE OF CHURCH

In response, Liberty Institute and volunteer attorney Andy Leja of Hiscock & Barclay LLP, filed a brief in December 2014 on behalf of the church, defending it from the cease-and-desist order.  At this week’s hearing, we argued that the city’s unlawful enforcement action should be dismissed because it violates the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act (RLUIPA).  Auburn City Court Judge David B. Thurston took the case under advisement and a decision is forthcoming.

“We are encouraged by today’s proceedings and are hopeful that Judge Thurston will dismiss the city’s attempt to use its zoning laws to punish churches for serving the kids and families in the community,” said Liberty Institute Director of Litigation, Hiram Sasser.

He added, “The First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act protect a church’s fundamental and constitutional right to use their own property to engage in acts of worship and community service.”

AT RISK:  A TRADITION OF SERVING CHILDREN AND FAMILIES

From its campus within an R-2 Residential Zoning District, First Presbyterian Church has conducted many outreach programs—including hosting veterans groups, prayer groups, grief support groups, youth and marriage retreats, and music festivals—to the surrounding community where the church has been located since 1975.

One of the church buildings is a 36,000 square-foot mansion that was constructed by Theodore Case, the inventor of sound recordings placed on film. When the home, which sat adjacent to the church’s property, became available for purchase, First Presbyterian Church saw this as an opportunity to acquire the home and expand the congregation’s outreach to the surrounding community.

For the past three years, First Presbyterian Church has donated this part of its campus to host a musical theater summer camp—Glee Camp—to serve the community’s local children and their families.  In order to offset costs of instructors and materials for the three-week-long session that includes singing, dancing, and acting classes, young campers paid a fee.  The church made no profit from hosting the Glee Camp and, in fact, lost money.

But making money was never the intent of Glee Camp, as Rev. Eileen Winter explained in her affidavit:





THE MUSIC AND THE OUTREACH MUST PLAY ON!

While the matter remains under advisement, Rev. Winter has hope that First Presbyterian Church will be able to hold the Glee Camp on church property this coming summer.

“First Presbyterian Church has had a wonderful relationship with our community for over two hundred years,” said Rev. Winter.  “We look forward to Judge Thurston’s ruling with the hope that we can put this behind us and get back to our primary goal of serving God by serving our community.”

Liberty Institute is committed to standing with First Presbyterian Church and all churches, synagogues, and religious organizations in the defense of religious liberty—including these houses of faith and Liberty Institute clients that have faced discrimination:

  • Cornerstone Church by the Bay—When Cornerstone Church by the Bay acquired property in Bayview, Texas, it requested permission from the town to use its property as a church and school.  But in June 2014, after denying Cornerstone’s request, the Bayview Board of Aldermen unanimously voted to ban churches and schools from the area where Cornerstone’s property sits—despite allowing nonreligious institutions in that exact same area.  Last fall, a United States District Court Judge issued a preliminary injunction, and the favorable ruling allows the church and school to use their own property in their ministries.

  • Congregation Toras Chaim—For over three years, this small Orthodox Jewish community in far north Dallas, Texas has peacefully met in a private home each week to worship.  Though the house of faith has been careful to be a good neighbor to the community, Congregation Toras Chaim became the victim of a lawsuit, filed last year by a neighbor and the homeowners association.  This week, however, a judge dismissed the lawsuit which allows the congregation to continue studying the tenets of faith in a private home.

  • Opulent Life Church—When the church searched for larger space to rent in the downtown area of Holly Springs, Mississippi, the city required churches, and only churches, to obtain the approval of 60 percent of local property owners and also the mayor before they were allowed to occupy their new space.  Following Liberty Institute’s intervention and a landmark decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, a settlement was reached with the city and Opulent Life Church was able to permanently move to a larger, downtown Holly Springs location.

HELP PRESERVE THE FREEDOM TO SERVE IN ANY COMMUNITY

The government should never use zoning laws to punish churches like First Presbyterian Church in Auburn, New York, for engaging in acts of worship or ministering to kids and families in their communities.

That’s why we’re counting on friends like you—through your ongoing financial and prayer support—to help unleash our national network of volunteer attorneys who know the local territory and how to win.  Every $1 you contribute translates to $6 in (free) legal time, meaning every dollar you donate goes a long way to help bring down Goliaths like the ACLU, Freedom From Religious Foundation, and anti-religious governmental entities.

So thank you for standing with Liberty Institute, with First Presbyterian Church, and that want to serve their communities nationwide today!


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 06, 2015 8:34:00 AM

WE SALUTE YOU! Liberty Institute Celebrates SMSgt Phillip Monk’s Retirement

Last week, Liberty Institute was honored to participate in our client Senior Master Sergeant Phillip Monk’s retirement from the United States Air Force.

Members of our legal team, including President & CEO Kelly Shackelford, General Counsel Jeff Mateer, Chief Operating Officer David Holmes, Director of Litigation Hiram Sasser, Senior Counsel and Director of Military Affairs Mike Berry, as well as Lt. Gen. (Ret.) William G. “Jerry” Boykin were on hand to celebrate with the 20-year U.S. Air Force veteran, who served as a First Sergeant at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, and whose entire career was threatened by discrimination based solely on his personal religious beliefs.

PERSECUTION NEARLY DESTROYS AN HONORABLE CAREER

SMSgt Monk engaged Liberty Institute in the summer of 2013, after he had suffered religious discrimination by his then-commanding officer.  In accordance with his role as the Squadron First Sergeant, SMSgt Monk advised his commander—a lesbian—on a disciplinary matter involving an Air Force instructor who was accused of making objectionable comments about same-sex marriage. SMSgt Monk conducted an investigation and, after finding that the instructor meant no harm by his comments, SMSgt Monk suggested they use the incident as a way to teach about tolerance and diversity.

But SMSgt Monk, a devout evangelical Christian, was told that he wasn’t on the same page as his commander—and that “if he didn’t get on the same page, they would find another place for him to work.”  This commander then asked SMSgt Monk whether he agreed that objecting to same-sex marriage violates military regulations and is discrimination.  Not wanting to upset his commander, SMSgt Monk tried to avoid answering.  But when SMSgt Monk could not give the answer his commander wanted, she relieved him of his duties and told him he was “no longer allowed to be physically present” in the building in which his unit was based.

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, the Air Force investigator abruptly read SMSgt Monk his Miranda rights, accusing him of the military crime of making false official statements.  In other words, the Air Force accused SMSgt Monk—a combat veteran with 19 years of service at that time—of lying and fabricating his story.  But thanks to Liberty Institute’s rapid response in defense of SMSgt Monk, the Air Force cleared SMSgt Monk of any crimes, avoiding potential court-martial or disciplinary action.  In February 2014, the Air Force presented SMSgt Monk with a prestigious award for his performance and conduct, and in May 2014, the Air Force approved SMSgt Monk’s retirement request.

CELEBRATING RETIREMENT RELIGIOUS LIBERTY VICTORY

To recognize SMSgt Monk’s 20 years of service and retirement from the U.S. Air Force, a celebration was held at SMSgt Monk’s home church, Village Parkway Baptist, Church in San Antonio, Texas, on Friday, January 23, 2015. 

Following the ceremony, Liberty Institute was honored to host a special retirement dinner with many of SMSgt Monk’s family and friends in attendance.  And on Sunday, January 25, 2015, SMSgt Monk was again recognized at the Village Parkway Baptist Church morning service—which included special remarks from Aaron and Melissa Klein (business owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa who declined making a cake for a same-sex wedding and are now fighting legal action brought against them by the State of Oregon), Liberty Institute’s Mike Berry, Texas State Senator Donna Campbell, Village Parkway Baptist Church Senior Pastor Dr. Steve Branson, and Lt. Gen. Boykin.

Please click here to view our Flickr photos from the events honoring SMSgt Monk's retirement.

THANK YOU FOR MAKING RELIGIOUS FREEDOM VICTORIES POSSIBLE!

Without the support of friends like you—people who believe in the cause of religious freedom and defending people of faith who are undergoing persecution for their faith—SMSgt Monk may not have been able to celebrate 20 years serving in the U.S. Air Force and retire in good standing with the U.S. Air Force. 

You make it possible for Liberty Institute to maintain a more than 90% win rate with a team of full-time constitutional attorneys, that work with some of the top litigators in the country who volunteer their time to help advance the mission of defending our nation’s first freedom.

For SMSgt Monk, for all members of the military, and for every American who cherishes their First Freedom, we thank you.  And we thank you for your continued financial support and prayers as you stand with Liberty Institute to help protect the constitutional rights of people of faith!





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

Thursday, January 29, 2015 10:22:00 AM

PRESSURE! Member of Congress Demands Answers from Army about Punished Chaplain


Last week, Representative Doug Collins (R-GA) sent a sharply-worded letterto the U.S. Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence Deputy Commander, Brigadier General John F. King, at Fort Benning, Georgia regarding the Army’s violation of Liberty Institute client, Chaplain (Captain) Joseph “Joe” Lawhorn’s religious liberty rights.

Chaplain Lawhorn was punished last fall after conducting suicide prevention training for his fellow soldiers, during which he shared his own personal testimony of how his Christian faith had helped him counter depression.  Chaplain Lawhorn received a prolonged ovation and many accolades—and a complaint from a single atheist soldier. 

The complaint led to an article in a prominent liberal online publication which then led to a Thanksgiving Day interrogation by Chaplain Lawhorn’s Brigade Commander, Colonel David Fivecoat.  Called away from his family’s holiday celebration, Colonel Fivecoat admonished the Chaplain because his suicide prevention presentation was too Christian in its approach.  Colonel Fivecoat subsequently issued Lawhorn a “Letter of Concern” to be placed in Chaplain Lawhorn’s file.  This serious action has the potential to prematurely end the Chaplain’s stellar Army career, which includes earning the prestigious Army Ranger tab.  It also has a chilling effect on religious freedom because it sends the clear message that can talk about their faith.

SEEKING PROMPT ATTENTION TO THIS MATTER

“With suicide rates soaring in the Army, particularly within the Army Rangers, Chaplain Lawhorn’s message was potentially lifesaving,” said Mike Berry, Liberty Institute Senior Counsel and Director of Military Affairs.  “And yet he was punished for it.  But what Colonel Fivecoat did is against the law.  It violates federal law and military regulations. . . . U.S. Army regulations not only chaplains to draw upon spiritual examples in formal suicide prevention efforts—they the very use of spiritual examples Chaplain Lawhorn employed.”

On behalf of Chaplain Lawhorn, Liberty Institute sent a letter to Colonel Fivecoat, demanding that the Army remove the Letter of Concern from the Chaplain’s file.  In addition, we sent a second letter seeking religious accommodation for Chaplain Lawhorn to enable him to care for “the spiritual well being of every soldier with whom [Chaplain Lawhorn] comes into contact.”

Rep. Collins—who also happens to be a military chaplain serving in the Air Force Reserve—strongly echoes Liberty Institute’s demands on behalf of Chaplain Lawhorn in his letter.  And as a Member of Congress who represents the district in which Chaplain Lawhorn was assigned during the incident, Rep. Collins has a an obvious interest in this matter.  In his letter, Rep. Collins asked to hear back from Brigadier General King by Monday, February 9, 2015. 

REP. COLLINS MAKES 5 KEY POINTS REGARDING CHAPLAIN LAWHORN’S PUNISHMENT

Rep. Collins offers 5 key points in his letter, regarding the unlawful violation of Chaplain Lawhorn’s religious liberty rights:

  1. According to Army Regulation 600-20, requests for religious accommodation must be responded to within 10 working days. After Chaplain Lawhorn’s request for religious accommodation was submitted on December 17, 2014, Colonel Fivecoat should have followed the Army Regulation and approved or disapproved the request informally or in writing “within 10 working days of receipt.”  But he did not.

  2. Chaplain Lawhorn acted in accordance with DOD Instruction 1300.17, paragraph 4b.“Unless it could have an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, and good order and discipline,” reads the instruction, “the Military Departments will accommodate individual expressions of sincerely held beliefs.”

  3. Chaplain Lawhorn’s presentation was reviewed by the Battalion’s Equal Opportunity (EO) Advisor and found consistent with AR 600-20 policy.In addition to AR 600-20, AR 600-63, Paragraph 1-26 directs chaplains to “share information, trends, best practices, lessons learned, and training developments” when conducting suicide training.”

  4. The issuance of a Letter of Concern to Chaplain Lawhorn sends the wrong message to other military chaplains and service members.From his own experience as a military chaplain, Rep. Collins understands that “military chaplains continue to play an important role as religious and spiritual leaders to our men and women in uniform and their families.”  If those who are serving to meet the spiritual needs of service members see that Chaplain Lawhorn is prohibited from fulfilling his responsibilities as a chaplain, then, Rep. Collins said, “this could have a chilling effect on the candid religious, spiritual, and secular advice other chaplains might wish to offer.

  5.  Even though it was a local, non-permanent filing, the Letter of Concern should be completely withdrawn from Chaplain Lawhorn’s file.“The Letter of Concern runs contrary to the right to the free exercise of religion,” Rep. Collins wrote.  This right, he said, is one “that Army Chaplains are supposedly tasked with defending.”

SUPPORT CHAPLAINS’ RIGHTS TO DO THEIR JOB

As pressure builds on the U.S. Army to follow their own code as well as the U.S. Constitution in the matter of Chaplain Lawhorn, this case is occurring within the backdrop of a larger struggle to defend and restore religious liberty in the U.S. military after years of “political correctness”—a struggle in which Liberty Institute is at the “tip of the spear” and making encouraging progress. 

In the past two years, Liberty Institute has successfully protected the careers of service members threatened for their religious beliefs, and has briefed key members of Congress about what the law itself says regarding guarantees of religious freedom in the military. 

In the ongoing effort to protect Chaplin Lawhorn, Liberty Institute is grateful for the support of Rep. Collins—as well as many fellow service members and U.S. Army Rangers, Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition, and Rabbi Dovid Becker, Director of Chaplain Services for Yeshiva Pirchei Shoshanim (YPS).  This broad and growing coalition is standing with Chaplain Lawhorn and his rights, as an Army chaplain, to care for the spiritual well being of service members and incorporate religious expression when conducting suicide prevention presentations as an authorized suicide prevention instructor.

Please join with them today and stand with Chaplain Lawhorn and all chaplains through your prayer and financial support.  The law is on the side of our nation’s military chaplains—and the religious liberty of all members of the Armed Forces—and we must not give up the fight to ensure they can continue fulfilling the mantra of the military chaplain to “bring God to soldiers, and soldiers to God.”  Thank you!


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, January 29, 2015 10:12:00 AM

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