Thursday, February 26, 2015

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


Liberty Institute President & CEO, Kelly Shackelford

Liberty Institute President Kelly Shackelford’s new e-book now available


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: A Time to Stand 2015: Why Saving Religious Freedom Depends on What People of Faith Do Next.

 

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 devoid of religious liberty and its vital benefits.
        
It could go either way. We’re seeing things we have never 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 law 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 know 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 all 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.

But that can change rapidly. 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 could 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.

But in 2014, the momentum began to reverse in the right direction. 

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 Dr. Eric Walsh v. the Georgia Department of Health. 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 James v. FOX Sports—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 language 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 A Time to Stand 2015: Why Saving Religious Freedom Depends on What People of Faith Do Next, 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.

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



Liberty Institute squares off against legal groups trying to shut down prayer, and remove religious imagery and other expressions of faith across the nation

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. What would the council decide?

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 Berry said, “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 Town of Greece v. Galloway, 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 us as 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.