Thursday, January 22, 2015

PUNCH BACK! Federal Government to Appeal Preliminary Injunction Granted to Insight for Living Ministries

Liberty Institute continues fight against the HHS Abortion Pill Mandate on behalf of IFLM, as well as for CMA colleges and retirement communities in Florida federal court



Last week, the U.S. government submitted a notice of appeal of a federal district court’s decision to grant a preliminary injunction from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Abortion Pill Mandate to Liberty Institute’s client—Insight for Living Ministries (IFLM).  The matter of the preliminary injunction will now proceed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

In November 2014, a U.S. Magistrate Judge in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas granted a preliminary injunction to IFLM, the Bible-teaching ministry of well-known ministry leader, Pastor Charles R. Swindoll, founder and senior pastor-teacher of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas.

The preliminary injunction ensures that the international Bible-teaching ministry does not have to comply with the mandate nor pay a massive $100 PER DAY PER EMPLOYEE fine while the case makes its way through the court system.  However, the federal government now seeks to have that temporary protection revoked.

Liberty Institute is also fighting back against the Abortion Pill Mandate on behalf of four retirement communities and two colleges associated with the Christian and Missionary Alliance (“CMA”) denomination.  Our staff attorneys and local volunteer attorneys will be in a Florida federal court tomorrow for a preliminary injunction hearing.

“Despite court loss after court loss, the Obama Administration continues to be relentless in seeking to require faith-based organizations to violate their religious beliefs.  Apparently, that will continue until the Supreme Court  again takes up this issue and rules that the Abortion Pill Mandate’s so called ‘religious accommodation’ violates federal law,” said Liberty Institute General Counsel Jeff Mateer.  “As result, we are going to be in litigation representing ministries like Insight for Living Ministries and the CMA ministries for the next several months, and perhaps even longer.”

WHY DOES THE ABORTION PILL MANDATE MATTER?

The Abortion Pill Mandate emanates from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as “ObamaCare,” that requires group health insurance plans to provide coverage for all FDA-approved contraceptives, including some that are abortifacients such as Plan B (the “day after pill”) and Ella (the “week after pill”).

Every organization that is not a church or a denomination, that either has more than fifty employees or that has fewer than fifty employees but nevertheless provides group health insurance, must follow the Abortion Pill Mandate and provide health insurance coverage for all FDA-approved contraceptives—including the abortifacients.

The Abortion Pill Mandate only exempts churches, church denominations, and church auxiliaries, and there is no exemption to the Abortion Pill Mandate for any other ministry or religious non-profit.

FORCING RELIGIOUS MINISTRIES TO VIOLATE THEIR FAITH

The Abortion Pill Mandate does include a so-called “religious accommodation” for ministries and religious non-profits that are opposed to funding abortifacients.  But the “accommodation” has severe problems.  Under the so-called “religious accommodation”:

  • Religious ministries and colleges must transfer to an insurance company the ministry’s authority to provide the mandated contraceptives to its employees.

  • The insurance company then uses that legal and moral authority to provide the organization’s employees the abortion-inducing drugs the ministry objects to providing.

  • Somehow, the Obama Administration claims neither the employer nor employee would pay for the abortion-inducing drugs.

  • Even more remarkably, the Obama Administration thinks this solves any conscience problems.

But IFLM, and the other Christian colleges and retirement communities and ministries Liberty Institute is representing, disagree and assert that the “accommodation” still requires them to cooperate in and facilitate the provision of a service that violates their Christian faith and forces them to abandon their religious beliefs.

“The Obama Administration thinks the ‘religious accommodation’ solves any conscience problems,” said Matthew Kacsmaryk, Liberty Institute’s Deputy General Counsel.  “But it still requires faith-based organizations like Insight for Living Ministries and the CMA ministries to formally and materially cooperate in the provision of abortion-inducing drugs or services.”

STAND WITH US TO PROTECT THE RIGHTS OF FAITH-BASED MINISTRIES

In efforts to protect the rights of Christian non-profits, schools, and organizations seeking relief from the mandate and its “religious accommodation,” Liberty Institute filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of IFLM in October 2014.  Also that same month, Liberty Institute brought a similar lawsuit on behalf of four CMA retirement communities—Shell Point Retirement Community, the Alliance Community for Retirement Living, Chapel Pointe at Carlisle, and Town and Country Manor—and two CMA colleges—Simpson University and Crown College.

As these lawsuits challenging the Abortion Pill Mandate continue to make their way through the legal process, Liberty Institute remains committed to defending the religious liberty rights of IFLM, the CMA ministries and our other clients, so that people of faith do not have to violate their religious conscience and abandon their sincerely-held religious beliefs.

Please pray as we move forward.  And please donate now as we continue to represent and defend IFLM, the CMA ministries, and other clients that are challenging the Abortion Pill Mandate.
Thank you!





Other stories:

"Don't Tear Me Down" Project Helps Cities and Towns Defend Monuments and Veterans Memorials


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.

"Don't Tear Me Down" Project Helps Cities and Towns Defend Monuments and Veterans Memorials

Matching Grant doubles all online gifts given by January 31 to help save public displays of our national religious heritage



Today, like never before, cities and towns across our nation are being threatened with lawsuits from anti-religion legal bullies.  Organizations like the ACLU, Freedom From Religion Foundation and American Humanist Association are trying to tear down monuments, veterans memorials, and any public display containing religious imagery or text.

Tragically, these losses are needless because the law is on the side of religious freedom.  That’s why Liberty Institute has launched a campaign to enable localities to fight back and win with our legal assistance.

“DON’T TEAR ME DOWN” PROJECT

Liberty Institute is raising a financial war chest—called “Don’t Tear Me Down”—to defend towns and municipalities who stand up to anti-religious Goliaths and ensure that they are financially protected.

A generous friend has already offered a $50,000 Matching Grant to double all online gifts given to the “Don’t Tear Me Down” project by January 31, 2015.  We need the help of all friends of Liberty Institute to match this grant to help protect our nation’s religious heritage and save monuments and memorials across America—including those at the heart of these current Liberty Institute cases:

  • Maryland World War I Veterans Memorial (“Mothers’ Memorial”) — The American Humanist Association sued to have the historic Maryland World War I Veterans Memorial in Bladensburg, Maryland, struck down as unconstitutional and removed in Bladensburg, Maryland.  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, Maryland.  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 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.  Read more.  

  • Ten Commandments Monument on the Oklahoma State Capitol Grounds —The ACLU filed a state court lawsuit in August 2013 to see the removal of the Ten Commandments monument from 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.  Read more.

NATIONAL MEDIA COVERAGE HELPS SPREAD THE WORD


Liberty Institute’s Director of Litigation Hiram Sasser talked about the growing national crisis—and Liberty Institute’s plans to help towns and municipalities defend their memorials and monuments at no charge—last week on FOX News’ The Real Story w/Gretchen Carlson (Click below to watch the interview).



In his interview, Sasser shared about a recent Liberty Institute case that exposes what anti-religious bullies are trying to do in King, North Carolina:

  • The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in King, North Carolina—a city of approximately 7,000 people—is a statue of a soldier kneeling by a grave marked with a cross.

  • Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AUSCS) filed a lawsuit  against the city of King, on behalf of a resident named Steven Hewett, to have the memorial removed.  The anti-religion group alleged that the statue violated the U.S. and North Carolina Constitutions because it contains religious imagery and sits on public land.

  • Liberty Institute represented The American Legion who intervened in this case to help save the veterans memorial from destruction.

  • Recently, the town of King, North Carolina, caved and plans to remove this treasured statue, saying that “the cost of proceeding to trial would greatly exceed the City’s insurance policy limits” which were estimated to be more than $2 million.

“If the finances had been there,” Sasser explained to Carlson in the interview on FOX News, “I think the City would have been able to continue on and win. . . . Cities are finding that their insurance carriers just don’t have enough coverage in order to defend against these lawsuits.  Not only does the City have to pay their own out-of-pocket expenses, but if they lose they have to pay the plaintiff’s side.”

FOX NEWS ANCHOR URGES VIEWERS TO TAKE A STAND

After interviewing Sasser, Carlson’s “My Take” follow-up segment allowed the Fox News anchor to address the viewer with her commentary that “common sense has to factor into the equation.”

“What’s happening now is that complainants know they can rattle towns into submission because of the litigious consequences,” Carlson said.  “And so they work with supportive organizations to do just that, and slowly but surely we all have to decide if we’re going to continue to let them win.”

Watch Carlson’s entire “My Take” below.


HELP STOP THE DESTRUCTION AND RAISE A FINANCIAL WAR CHEST

Liberty Institute has won at all court levels, including the U.S. Supreme Court, where we helped save the Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial cross when the ACLU tried to tear it down.  Our national network of the “best of the best” attorneys in America from 24 of the top 50 law firms work with us to defend religious liberty at no charge.

But we need to raise a financial war chest to defend these towns like King, North Carolina and help put an end to the easy victories of the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and FFRF.  Never again should a veterans memorial or monument be torn down.

Please give by January 31, 2015, so that the $50,000 Matching Grant DOUBLES every dollar you give to the “Don’t Tear Me Down” project.  With every case we win, more religious symbols and actions are preserved!


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 15, 2015

UPDATE: Citizens Fight Back with Petition Drive to Repeal City of Plano’s Unconstitutional Anti-Religious Liberty Ordinance




Pastors and elected officials in Plano, Texas join effort to gather 3,800 signatures by January 19, 2015 deadline

Last week, on Wednesday, January 7, a coalition that included Liberty Institute’s General Counsel, Jeff Mateer, Texas State Representative (District 66) Matt Shaheen, and Plano-area pastors held a press conference to speak against a recently enacted anti-religious liberty law by the City of Plano, Texas, and to rally support for a petition to repeal the ordinance.  Over 3,800 signatures must be collected by Monday, January 19, 2015 to have the City Council immediately repeal the law or put the ordinance to Plano’s citizens for a vote.

“This ordinance threatens religious liberty.  It creates special privileges based upon sexual orientation and gender identity that go way beyond anything provided by federal or state law,” Mateer said at the press conference, as reported by Dallas/Fort Worth news station Fox 4 News.  Mateer, along with Liberty Institute Counsel Cleve Doty, explained more about the dangers of the new ordinance in an opinion-editorial which ran in the Plano Star Courier this past Tuesday.

PUNISHING CITIZENS FOR EXERCISING THEIR FAITH

In December, the City of Plano, Texas—the ninth largest city in one of America’s largest states—voted to adopt an unlawful and unconstitutional ordinance that violates the religious liberty rights of ordinary citizens.  Of the revised policy of an ordinance the City first passed in 1989—and which the City renamed as “Equal Rights Policy”— the City Council Agenda Item says: 

The City Council desires to rename and expand the City’s policy to afford equal human rights to individuals regardless of U.S. military/veteran status, genetic information, sexual orientation and gender identity in addition to the other protected characteristics.  . . .” 

The penalty for not complying with the ERO is listed as:

“Any violation of the provisions or terms of this section by any person, firm or corporation, shall be a misdemeanor offense and shall be subject to a fine in accordance with Section 1-4(b) of the City Code of Ordinances for each offense.  Every day a violation continues shall constitute a separate offense.”

PART OF A NATIONAL PATTERN

“Yes, this is happening in a city that happens to include our national headquarters, but it’s not just a ‘local issue,’” said Kelly Shackelford, Liberty Institute President, CEO and Chief Counsel.  “This fits a pattern of religious discrimination we are fighting across the country, and every battle has potentially broad precedent.”

Shackelford cited similar cases that include Fayetteville, Arkansas and Houston, Texas, one of the largest cities in America, and cases around the country where government officials have demanded that family businesses and employees be punished for simply trying to exercise their faith beyond the four walls of their church or in their homes.

Shackelford said, “This is the new wave of hostility to religious freedom:  the government forcing you to agree with its opinion of your religious beliefs—or else.” 

ORDINANCE THREATENS BUSINESSES AND NONPROFITS

“Because this ordinance has been passed, we could see people of faith in danger of losing their businesses if they do not comply and abandon their traditional religious views of marriage and sexuality,” said Mateer.  “This could deprive the homeless, the hungry, and the battered from getting help from faith-based organizations who receive any funding or assistance from the City, but who cannot agree with this discriminatory ordinance.”

Under the City’s new “Equal Rights Ordinance” (ERO):

  • Anything any business owner or employee says or does to another person regarding the person’s gender, sexuality, or “identity” may be a CRIME.  

  • The City of Plano CRIMINALIZES the beliefs of Christians, Jews, Muslims and others’ beliefs about men and women.

  • Unelected city bureaucrats will determine whether citizens’ statements and actions are “unjust.”

  • Citizens are subjected to CRIMINAL SANCTIONS for their beliefs on topics affecting much of human interaction.

A GATHERING STORM OF RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION

Plano’s unlawful ordinance is not the only one like it.  Similar laws across America have already resulted in:

  • Putting an Oregon bakery out of business

  • Shutting down a New Mexico photography business

  • Subjecting a florist in Washington State to government attacks that threaten to destroy her business

Though the threats to religious liberty are serious, there is still opportunity to stand up for First Amendment rights, as shown by the repeal of a similar ordinance in Fayetteville, Arkansas this past December.

We can win, but only if supporters of religious liberty take action and get involved. 

STAND UP TO PROTECT RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

The City of Plano’s “Equal Rights Ordinance” is a direct attack on our freedoms of speech and religion, and we are asking everyone across the country to pray with us today—as more and more cities are considering and passing their own unlawful ordinances that violate the constitutional rights to freedom of religion and speech.

Also, if you live in Plano, Texas, you can help repeal this ordinance!  If you are registered to vote in the City of Plano, please:

  • GO to a petition-signing location before Monday, January 19, 2015 (visit www.planoequalrights.com for locations and times).

  • SIGN your name to the “Plano Equal Rights for All” Referendum Petition.  

  • TELL your friends and loved ones and anyone else you know who is registered to vote in the City of Plano.  More than 3,800 signatures are needed to put this unlawful ordinance on the ballot.

  • GATHER signatures on behalf of the referendum; any registered voter who is eligible to vote in Plano elections may gather signatures.  Just follow the instructions.  (Go to www.planoequalrights.com for forms and instructions.)

Thank you for joining with us through your prayers and financial support to preserve religious liberty and the rights of all Americans to free exercise of religion and freedom of speech and expression!





Other stories:

5 FACTS You Need to Know About Religious Liberty in America 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.

5 FACTS You Need to Know About Religious Liberty in America Today



Today, Liberty Institute is currently working on over 100 legal matters in at least 20 states, representing people of all faiths whose religious liberty rights are being threatened. 

Organizations including the ACLU, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, American Atheists, government officials, and many more are spending millions each year to destroy your religious freedom in courts across America—from local jurisdictions all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court!

It’s a daunting situation for people of faith in this ongoing battle—for people like you who want to freely worship and express their sincerely held religious beliefs and take full advantage of the First Amendment freedoms guaranteed to us all in the U.S. Constitution.  That’s why we want you to know these five facts about the current state of religious liberty in America:

FACT #1:  Hostility against people of faith is at an all-time high.

A war is currently raging in our nation that threatens to eradicate our religious freedoms.  Hostility against religious liberty has reached an all-time high, and those attacks are increasing at an unprecedented rate.
           
A few years ago, Liberty Institute sensed that the attacks on religious liberty in our country were dramatically increasing, so we decided to catalog these attacks on religious liberty.  In 2012, we released our first edition of The Survey of Hostility to Religion in America that documented nearly 600 incidents.  Every incident was sourced to either a reported court decision or media source.  In 2014, we completed our third edition which documents almost 1,400 incidents of religious hostility.  That’s an increase of 133 percent in just two years!  It’s undeniable that no part of our country is immune from these attacks.  

FACT #2:  The assault on the religious liberty rights of our children and teachers in public schools is led by misinformation and disregard of established precedent.

Outside anti-religion groups like the ACLU and Freedom From Religion Foundation—which alone sends out approximately 1,000 demand letters each year, yet only filed three lawsuits in 2014—are intent on intimidating and bullying school districts and others seeking to suppress religion in our public schools.  More times than not, these demand letters misinform and misstate the law, and even more troubling is that lawyers who represent school districts often are uniformed about the current state of the law.

A student speech case example:

Kountze Cheerleaders ­­(Kountze, Texas) — In an effort to share positive and uplifting messages with their football players, the middle school and high school cheerleaders in Kountze, Texas, made a decision to paint Bible verses on run-through banners at games.  Their inspirational signs were suddenly banned after the superintendent received a complaint from FFRF.  Liberty Institute defended the cheerleaders at the district court and won.  The school district appealed the case, but we are confident that liberty will once again prevail at the Texas Supreme Court.

A teacher right’s case:

Walt Tutka v. Phillipsburg School District (Warren County, New Jersey) — A school district fired substitute teacher Walt Tutka for handing a Bible to a student who had requested it.  On behalf of Tutka, Liberty Institute filed a Charge of Discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  After a grueling two-year legal fight, last month we received the EEOC’s Final Determination letter, finding that Tutka was discriminated against by the school district.

FACT #3:  Powerful and well-funded forces are seeking to purge religion
from public life.

There are those who are fully committed to remove any mention of God or religion from our public life.
  • Groups like the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Military Religious Freedom Foundation, American Atheists, American Humanists and other secularists and ant-religion groups.
  • Even our own government—the current administration in Washington, D.C.—has been hostile, if not the most hostile administration to religious liberty in our nation’s history!
Leaders such as President Obama and Hillary Clinton speak of “Freedom of Worship.”  This is a deliberate choice of words, not an accident.  Freedom of Worship refers to what we do in the four walls of our churches and places of worship.   It seeks to restrict us to inside those four walls.  Our Founders did not choose “freedom of worship.”  Instead, our Constitution grants us “Free Exercise.”

We not only have a right to believe, but we can live and act upon our beliefs. 

Churches and religious ministries are under attack when they seek to engage culture.  We saw this recently in Houston, Texas when the Mayor sought to subpoena the sermons of pastors.

People of faith in the workplace are being penalized because of their religious beliefs.  Employers are being mandated to take actions contrary to their religious beliefs—including flower shops, B&Bs, photographers, bakers, wedding chapels, and every employer who offers health insurance. 

Employees are being fired because of their religious beliefs.
  • Craig James v. Fox Sports (Dallas, Texas) — TV sports broadcaster Craig James was terminated by Fox Sports for views expressed during marriage prior to his employment during a political campaign.
  • Eric Walsh v. State of Georgia (Atlanta, Georgia)Dr. Walsh terminated by the State of Georgia for views expressed concerning marriage in sermons given at his church.
  • Bob Eschliman v. Shaw Media (Newton, Iowa) — Newspaper Editor-In-Chief Bob Eschliman was terminated by his employer for religious views concerning marriage expressed on his personal blog.

In these cases, we have filed employment actions and those investigations are pending.  And most recently in the news
, there is also the Atlanta Fire Department Chief Kelvin Cochran—a devout Christian man, who just last week was terminated because his boss objected to his religious beliefs.

FACT #4:  The attacks on faith and religious expression are now occurring
       even against members of our military and veterans.

            Veterans memorials are under attack:

We are fighting to protect these memorials which contain religious imagery that honor the selfless sacrifice and service of those who served. 

What’s more, even service members are also under attack.  The case of SMSgt. Phillip Monk relieved of his duties because he disagreed with his lesbian commander’s views concerning marriage.  Liberty Institute’s latest case of religious discrimination in the military involves Chaplain (Captain) Joseph “Joe” Lawhorn, a Chaplain in the military.  Chaplain Lawhorn was reprimanded for speaking about his religious beliefs—including how his Christian faith helped him counter depression—during Suicide Prevention training, and Liberty Institute has come to his defense.

FACT #5:  There is hope.  When we stand up for religious liberty we win.

We can and do win.  We win over 90 percent of our cases, because we are right on the law and we have a proven method that leads to success.  We employ a successful volunteer attorney model which allows Liberty Institute to partner with some of the top attorneys in the nation.  Our staff attorneys are subject matter experts, and our national network of volunteer attorneys are the best of the best living and working in the jurisdictions where cases are pending.

We work with 24 of the top 50 law firms in our nation today.  Our volunteer attorneys include world-class litigators like former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement (who has argued more at U.S. Supreme Court than anyone else currently living), U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (when he was in private practice), and former Texas Solicitor General Jim Ho.

We have the law and the formula for success on our side.  But we also need people of faith to stand up—people like Scott Rainey.

Pastor Scott Rainey stood up when he was told he couldn’t pray in Jesus’ name at Houston National Cemetery.  This led to veterans standing up when they were told they couldn't mention God during burial services at the cemetery.  This, in turn, led to a group of women who honored veterans at their funerals—the National Memorial Ladies—standing up when they were told they couldn't tell family members “God bless you.”  And this led to widows standing up to have God mentioned during their husbands’ burial services.

The end result was a great victory for not only Pastor Rainey, the VFW, The American Legion, the National Memorial Ladies, and three widows—but for over 21 million veterans and their families because our court win resulted in court-ordered national policy changes protecting the religious liberty rights of all Americans. 

WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Suffice it to say, one person can make a difference in the battle to restore religious liberty in America—starting with you!  Here’s what you can do:






Other stories:

UPDATE: Citizens Fight Back with Petition Drive to Repeal City of Plano’s Unconstitutional Anti-Religious Liberty Ordinance


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.