Friday, July 31, 2015

PUBLIC RELIGIOUS EXPRESSION UNDER FIRE! Rowan County Appeals Lawsuit Over Prayer Before Commissioners’ Meetings


Liberty Institute and its high profile volunteer attorney Allyson Ho appeal on behalf of County’s right to continue what the Supreme Court says is “part of the fabric of our society”



This week, along with The Gibbs Law Firm and Alliance Defending Freedom, Liberty Institute and its high-profile volunteer attorney—Allyson Ho, the only female lawyer who has argued two cases in the last Supreme Court of the United States’ term—filed a brief at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in the case of Lund v. Rowan County, defending the right of the Rowan County, North Carolina commissioners to open their meetings in prayer after the prayer was challenged by The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

“PART OF OUR HERITAGE AND TRADITION”

For many years, the Rowan County Commissioners opened their meetings with legislation prayer—an activity, as described by Supreme Court Justice Kennedy in his opinion in Galloway v. Town of Greece, that “has become part of our heritage and tradition, part of our expressive idiom, similar to the Pledge of Allegiance, inaugural prayer, or the recitation of ‘God save the United States and this honorable Court’ at the opening of this Court’s sessions.”

Rowan County allowed each commissioner, on a rotating basis, an opportunity to offer an invocation or lead a moment of silence at the beginning of each commissioners’ session—which also includes a call to order and the Pledge of Allegiance. Each commissioner decided whether to open with a moment of silence or a prayer (of which the content was also his or her decision). No one was required to participate in the invocation. They could remain seated, leave the room, or arrive after invocation.

But in March 2013 on behalf of three Rowan County resident, the ACLU objected to the invocations. After a two-year legal battle, a federal court ruled that the Rowan County Board of Commissioners violated the Constitution with their prayer practice before meetings. Liberty Institute and its allied attorneys are now appealing this ruling.

“We are honored that someone of Allyson Ho’s reputation and accomplishment is leading this appeal for our client,” says Hiram Sasser, Liberty Institute Deputy Chief Counsel. “Her extensive experience before the United States Supreme Court is impressive and extremely helpful on this issues.”

Ms. Ho is nationally recognized as a “superstar appellate lawyer” as noted in Chambers and Partners. After earning a Ph.D. from Rice University and a J.D. from University of Chicago Law School, Ms. Ho clerked for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and currently serves on the bipartisan Federal Judicial Evaluation Committee. Most recently, Ms. Ho served as lead counsel in Liberty Institute’s successful defense of the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial in San Diego, California.

LEGISLATIVE PRAYERS DO NOT OFFEND THE ESTABLISHMENT CLAUSE

In its 52-page brief, Liberty Institute asserts that the legislative prayers offered by the county commissioners do not offend the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment under Chambers v. Marsh and Galloway v. Town of Greece—but resolve this case and require a reversal.

·      Chambers v. MarshIn 1983, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Nebraska Legislature’s practice of opening its sessions with prayer by a chaplain paid by the State did not violate the Establishment Clause.

·      Galloway v. Town of Greece—In 1984, the United States Supreme Court ruled that governmental bodies may open their meetings in prayer—delivered by local, volunteer clergy—without violating the Establishment Clause, including prayers with specific religious references.

Liberty Institute applies the rulings of these two cases further in three key points of its argument:

1.     Opening legislative meetings with prayer does not violate the Establishment Clause.

The plaintiffs challenged the contents of the prayers that opened and solemnized the Rowan County Commission’s meetings. But the Supreme Court, in Galloway v. Greece, held that opening town meetings with faith-specific prayers does not violate the Establishment Clause. Once the Supreme Court decided Greece, this should have been an easy case to resolve in Rowan County’s favor. The district court reversibly erred in concluding that Rowan County’s legislative prayer practice falls outside of Greece and Marsh merely because legislators deliver the prayers. As the Supreme Court explained in Greece, it is perfectly permissible for legislative prayer to “reflect the values [legislators] hold as private citizens,” and “an opportunity for them to show who and what they are.”

2.    The county’s legislative prayers do not fall outside of Marsh and Greece and cannot be viewed as “coercive.”

In Greece, the Supreme Court clarified that legislative prayers are constitutional so long as they do not “over time” show that the invocations “denigrate nonbelievers or religious minorities, threaten damnation, or preach conversion” … The district court did not identify a single prayer—let alone a pattern of prayers over time—that denigrate[d] nonbelievers or religious minorities, threaten[ed] damnation, or preach[ed] conversion.” … Plaintiffs were simply asked to stand for the opening ceremony—including the invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance—and, as Justice Kennedy anticipated in Greece, and the record establishes here, plaintiffs were not required to participate in the invocation.

3.     Marsh and Greece affirm a tradition of legislative prayer.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in Greece quotes Marsh and asserts that “‘in light of the unambiguous and unbroken history of more than 200 years, there can be no doubt that the practice of opening legislative sessions with a prayer has become part of the fabric of our society.’” The Rowan County commissioners’ opening prayers are part of the tradition of legislative prayer affirmed in Marsh and Greece, and the district court’s contrary judgment should be reversed. Any other result requires the banning of prayer proclamations by all elected officials, including mayors, governors and the President of the United States.

FIGHTING BACK AGAINST INCREASING ANTI-FAITH EFFORTS

The law is on the side of religious freedom, and that’s why Liberty Institute wants to help Rowan County commissioners and other localities fight back and win the battle to protect public religious expressions of faith—including, among others:

·      Public prayer before government meetings
·      Plaques and memorials
·      The display of Ten Commandments and Nativity scenes or menorahs on public and private property
·      The use of “In God We Trust” in government buildings and documents
For more information about Liberty Institute’s legal services or to request legal help, visit www.libertyinstitute.org/take-action/request-legal or call (972) 941-4444.





Public prayer is as old as America—and part of American life. Please consider a donation to help defend public prayer in this important case and others. It makes a difference. 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.

RESOLVED: Shaw Media, Bob Eschliman Reach Settlement Honoring Religious Liberty


Employment dispute amicably resolved after Liberty Institute client—an award-winning journalist—was fired over a year ago




This week, Liberty Institute announced that their client, Bob Eschliman, and Shaw Media amicably resolved an employment dispute with a confidential settlement agreement. The settlement follows Eschliman’s termination from the Newton Daily News over a year ago.

Bob Eschliman released the following statement upon the resolution of this matter without resorting to litigation:

“My family and I are pleased that we have been able to resolve this matter with Shaw Media in a way that is beneficial to all parties involved. We are thankful for the very positive resolution to this situation.”

Hiram Sasser, Deputy Chief Counsel for Liberty Institute and attorney for Eschliman, said: “Shaw Media showed true leadership in respecting free speech and religious liberty in the resolution to this matter. Our client is very happy with the outcome and appreciates the manner in which Shaw Media resolved this dispute. Religious liberty in the workplace is an important issue in our nation today.”

He added, “Companies who find themselves in similar situations should follow Shaw Media’s good example in resolving these situations in an amicable manner.”

HOW IT ALL STARTED

As Liberty Institute’s Liberty Watch newsletter previously reported, Bob Eschliman is an award-winning journalist who had worked for the Newton Daily News in Newton, Iowa as the Editor-in-Chief since 2012. Eschliman had begun a personal blog before his employment with the newspaper on which he shared his own personal thoughts, and he made his employer aware of his blog. Last spring, Eschliman wrote a post on his personal blog defending his religious views regarding Holy Scripture and the institution of marriage.

But, a public outcry eventually led to Bob’s dismissal from his position as editor-in-chief of the Newton Daily News.  In an editorial published the next day, the president of Shaw Media, who is also the owner of the Newton Daily News, explained that Bob had been terminated because of the opinion he expressed on his personal blog, calling into question his ability to lead the Newton Daily News.

In July 2014, Liberty Institute, along with volunteer attorney Matthew Whitaker—a former United States Attorney and partner in the Des Moines law firm of Whitaker, Hagenow, & Gustoff, LLP—filed an official charge of discrimination with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of Eschliman. The charge before the EEOC was dismissed prior to last week’s settlement.

RELIGIOUS LIBERTY IN THE WORKPLACE

In July 2014, a Des Moines Register newspaper columnist wrote an op-ed implying that journalists with Christian views—like Eschliman—might not be able to approach stories objectively and should leave the secular world of journalism.

In a response published in the same newspaper the next month, Liberty Institute Senior Counsel Jeremy Dys and volunteer attorney Matthew Whitaker defended religious liberty. They cited the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a law which protects Americans from unlawful religious discrimination.

Despite laws protecting religious liberty, attitudes of religious discrimination in the workplace are on the rise. Other Liberty Institute clients include:

  • Dr. Eric Walsh—A public health official with an exemplary career, Dr. Walsh was hired by the Georgia Department of Public Health, but was
    terminated after State employees watched videos of several sermons that Dr. Walsh delivered in his church. 

  • Craig James—A TV sports analyst, James was terminated when his employer learned he had publically expressed his religious beliefs concerning marriage.

  • Walt Tutka—Tutka, a teacher, was fired for quietly giving a Bible to a student upon the student’s request. In December 2014, the EEOC found that Tutka was discriminated against by his employer.

However, Americans in the workplace—including employees, employers, and business owners—do have religious liberty rights. Liberty Institute has produced a FREE downloadable resource, titled “7 Things Every Business Person of Faith Should Know,” which informs and equips people of faith in the business world to know their rights and freely exercise their faith at work.






One of the most important battles for religious liberty today is securing the legal rights of people of faith in the workplace—outstanding Americans such as Bob Eschliman. Liberty Institute provides such clients with some of the best lawyers in America at no charge. Please give a donation to celebrate this victory . . . and to help defend more men and women of faith. 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.

Friday, July 24, 2015

WORKPLACE DISCRIMINATION: Media Coverage Swells after Liberty Institute Client Sues Ford Motor Company


Liberty Institute files lawsuit against second-largest U.S.-based automaker after client is terminated for expressing his sincerely held religious beliefs



The story of a man who was unlawfully fired for expressing his religious beliefs is gaining national coverage after Liberty Institute filed a lawsuit on his behalf earlier this month. The lawsuit alleges that a corporate giant and one of its contracting companies violated clear federal and state laws prohibiting religious discrimination against employees.

“We are hopeful that all Americans, both employers and employees, will become aware that the law protects the sincerely-held religious beliefs of employees,” said Jeff Mateer, General Counsel for Liberty Institute. “Employees don’t leave behind their religious liberty rights when they enter the workplace, and employers must respect these legal rights or face consequences.”

The media coverage involves Mr. Thomas Banks, who worked for Ford Motor Company and one of its contracting companies, Rapid Global Business Solutions.   Mr. Banks was fired last August after respectfully expressing his sincerely-held religious views in his comment in an online, intra-company forum. Little did he know that exercising his First Amendment rights to freedom of religion and free speech would cost him his job.

While the story is appalling, it is not isolated. Cases like this are now catching the attention of news outlets—and stirring the indignation of Americans everywhere.

MEDIA COVERAGE EXPLODES

Since the lawsuit was filed earlier this month, the story has resulted in abundant media coverage from news outlets across the nation. Here’s what some of these sources are saying about the case:

·       Mitch Albom, a local talk radio show host on WJR 760AM in Detroit, Mich., asked his listeners whether they agreed with the termination. The general consensus among the callers was that it was unjustified.

“If you don’t want people to complain about something, why are you having a comment section?” Albom asked, referencing the space at the bottom of the company’s article specifically intended for employers’ discourse. “It just seems weird to me that you can actually be let go for that [commenting].”

·       Patch.com covered the story, quoting the lawsuit:

According to the federal court petition, [client Thomas Banks] supports workplace inclusion and diversity.

“Banks respects others, even those who disagree with him, as he has throughout his career, and merely hopes for the same respect in turn,” the complaint says.

Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act protects individuals whose religious freedoms are violated, but sexual orientation and gender expression are not protected classes. Numerous attempts to expand the law have failed.

·       WTSP.com, a news website in Tampa Bay, Fla., shared the story from Detroit Free Press:

DETROIT (Detroit Free Press) -- A contract engineer is suing his employer, as well as Ford (F), for discrimination . . . .

Thomas Banks of Ypsilanti, Mich., filed a federal lawsuit against Rapid Global Business Solutions, an engineering and employment service in Troy, and Ford, where he had been on assignment at a Dearborn plant for more than three years.

Banks, who identifies himself as a Christian, claims his civil rights were violated because he was fired Aug. 4, 2014, after speaking up in defense of his religious beliefs . . .”

 UNLAWFUL DISCRIMINATION EXPOSED

On behalf of Mr. Banks, Liberty Institute—along with our volunteer attorney in Michigan, Timothy Denney—filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on January 28, 2015, charging Ford Motor Company and Rapid Global Business Solutions with religious discrimination and retaliation after the company fired Mr. Banks based on his religious beliefs. 

On July 10, with Liberty Institute and attorney Timothy Denney of Rickard, Denney, Garno and Associates by his side, Mr. Banks filed suit against his former employers.

“We are disappointed that Ford Motor Company terminated an employee solely because he expressed his faith to the company in a forum where input was solicited,” said Cleve Doty, Liberty Institute Counsel“Despite federal law protecting religious employees, Ford punished an employee for his beliefs rather than encouraging a truly diverse workplace where, like America, employees are free to express a wide range of religious and personal beliefs. At Ford, if you speak about your faith, you may be terminated—at least until Ford is held accountable."

DISCRIMINATION NOT WORTH IT

This incident is just one in a line of instances of competent employees being stripped of their jobs because they expressed their religious beliefs. But each is a violation of the law. And the employers who have stepped outside the law are being opposed by expert attorneys, putting employers on the defense for their discriminatory actions:

·      Dr. Eric Walsh – A respected health official terminated by the Georgia Health Department for religious beliefs expressed in his church.  Liberty Institute filed an EEOC complaint and has exposed embarrassing emails showing unlawful discrimination. We expect to win for Dr. Walsh.  

·      Craig James – A sportscaster fired by FOX Sports Southwest for his religious beliefs regarding traditional marriage. Liberty Institute subjected company executives to grueling interrogation, revealing damaging contradictions. Preparation of further legal action is under way.

·      Bob Eschliman – An award-winning newspaper editor from Iowa fired for expressing his religious belief on his personal blog. Liberty Institute is aggressively pursuing legal action against a media company for their clear violation of law.  

Employers are finding that engaging in religious discrimination is unwise from both a legal and public relations standpoint. And employees are being made aware that they have religious rights that can be defended, and that good lawyers and even the media will be interested when those rights are violated.

It’s part of the ongoing struggle to sustain America as a place where people of faith are welcomed in the workplace according to the law, and recognized for the immense contributions they bring.  



Please click here if you would like to give a donation to help defend and restore religious freedom.


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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.