Thursday, July 24, 2014

President Obama Forces Ministries and Family Businesses to Choose Between Their Federal Contracts and Their Faith


Liberty Institute attorneys respond to President Obama’s callous disregard for religious liberty . . .



“President Obama’s executive order is another example of the administration’s callous disregard for people of faith."
—Matthew Kacsmaryk, Liberty Institute Deputy General Counsel

Imagine you are a small business owner who feeds your family and contributes to your community based on contract work with the federal government.  Imagine you are also a person of faith, who takes seriously scriptures appearing in your Bible or Torah.  Now imagine the United States government tells you to either deny an important moral tenet of your faith . . . or lose all your federal contracts.

On July 21, 2014, President Barack Obama signed an executive order that bans federal contractors, including small businesses and ministries, whose business practices and policies do not comply with the Administration’s understanding of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” 

The order includes faith-based relief organizations.  Though the details are still unfolding, experts predict that the executive order could ultimately impact approximately 24,000 businesses and 28 million workers.

CHOOSING YOUR FAITH OR YOUR FEDERAL CONTRACT

Liberty Institute Deputy General Counsel Matthew Kacsmaryk issued a statement in response to President Obama’s executive order. 

Under the executive order, the Secretary of Labor may require submission of a Compliance Report and supporting information stating that the contractor’s “practices and policies” do not discriminate on the grounds of an undefined “sexual orientation” class or undefined “gender identity” class, and that the signer will affirmatively cooperate with implementation of the Order.

“Though its full implications are still unfolding, President Obama’s executive order is another example of the administration’s callous disregard for people of faith,” said Kacsmaryk.  “From the HHS mandate to today’s executive order, the administration has consistently favored sexual revolution fundamentalism over the sincerely-held religious beliefs of Americans who simply seek to live out their faith in their day-to-day business practices.”

A troubling aspect was the refusal of the administration to consider the pleas of the faith community for commonsense religious protections.

Kacsmaryk noted, “Despite receiving myriad requests for a religious exemption—including two letters signed by over 170 leaders of Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Mormon organizations, charities, and colleges—the President refused to enact express written protections consistent with the longstanding American commitment to pluralism, diversity, and the accommodation of religious dissent.”

GOING AROUND CONGRESS, COERCING CITIZENS

The executive order comes after legislation known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) stalled in the halls of Congress.  The controversial ENDA law would have mandated discrimination against those business owners who do not conform to  the Administration’s understanding of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”

With this executive order, the President achieved through executive fiat what he could not achieve through the normal legislative process:  enactment of ENDA protections for an undefined “sexual orientation” class and an undefined “gender identity” class without religious liberties protections for millions of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Sikhs, and other faith-based traditionalists who adhere to millennia old definitions of marriage, sexuality, and gender. 

The bottom line?  The order is an attack on the very heart of the American ideal of religious freedom.  Said Kacsmaryk: “Faith-based contractors are left with a choice:  compete for federal contracts, or follow the teachings of their faith and the dictates of conscience.”

CONFORMITY CLOAKED AS “DIVERSITY”

Hiram Sasser, Liberty Institute’s National Director of Litigation said, “We once thought that the diversity of America was an asset.  This order crushes diversity and seeks to drive out those who disagree with the Administration’s viewpoint on a matter that is central to religious freedom and rights of conscience.”

Kelly Shackelford, Liberty Institute President & CEO, commented:

“This is another example of the increasing willingness of the government to reach into the most private sanctuaries of a person’s life and persecute him or her for ‘wrong religious thoughts.’

“This is especially dangerous when the punishment of these ‘wrong religious thoughts’ is to attack a person’s very ability to feed their family, follow their calling, and contribute to society as a business owner or employee.  It’s outrageous.”

Kacsmaryk added, “This religious intolerance will harm devout Christians, Jews, Mormons, and other faith-based traditionalists who provide exceptional social services to the federal government but dissent from the Administration’s about-face redefinition of marriage and gender identity.  This executive order is inconsistent with the longstanding American commitment to pluralism, diversity, and the accommodation of religious dissent.”

A WAY TO FIGHT BACK

Liberty Institute stands ready to defend the rights of people of faith in the workplace.  Our attorneys have launched legal action against a global corporation and numerous government entities for discriminating against people of faith for their religious views on issues like marriage, and we will advise and defend others targeted by unlawful religious discrimination.

“We encourage people of faith who are victims of discrimination not to simply assume they have no recourse,” said Shackelford.  “Liberty Institute has seen over and over again that standing against discrimination is most often the winning position in legal disputes—and we will continue to win, to secure the legal right to religious freedom in our laws.”

Please donate now to help Liberty Institute continue our winning strategy in the battles for religious freedom in America. 

Together, we can achieve victories in these and other cases as we take on opponents like the federal government, other government entities, and corporations who discriminate against 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.

LAWSUIT: Liberty Institute Sues City that Discriminated Against Church


Part of national effort to protect churches and ministries . . .



On July 22, 2014, Liberty Institute filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Cornerstone Church by the Bay, its pastor Hamilton Musser, and the Laguna Madre Christian Academy, against the town of Bayview, Texas for enforcing an illegal zoning ordinance prohibiting the church and religious school from operating on its own property.

For years, Cornerstone Church had to rent space in a nearby town to hold services.  Recently, however, it acquired property in Bayview to use as a church and school.  But in June 2014, in action specifically targeting Cornerstone Church’s use of its own property, the Bayview Board of Aldermen unanimously voted to enforce a zoning ordinance that completely bans churches and schools from the area where Cornerstone Church owns property—despite allowing similar nonreligious uses in the exact same area.

Because of Bayview’s zoning ordinance, the school continues to expend valuable resources renting a building in a nearby town despite the suitability of Cornerstone Church’s property for use as a church and school.

Hostile Discrimination Against the Church

“Bayview cannot prohibit religious institutions while blessing similar institutions that are nonreligious,” said Prerak Shah, a member of Liberty Institute’s volunteer legal team and an attorney at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP.  “The town’s actions not only harm Cornerstone Church, they desecrate a cornerstone of our Constitution.  This type of blatant discrimination against religious institutions by a heavy-handed government is what led our Founders to enact the First Amendment in the first place.”

Mike Berry, Liberty Institute Senior Counsel, expresses his gratitude for all of the volunteer attorneys who are helping to fight against this religious discrimination, and points to the significance of having one of the most revered and respected attorneys in Texas—retired Texas Supreme Court Justice Raul Gonzalez—as a member of the legal team.

“Justice Raul Gonzalez has the distinction of being the first Hispanic to serve on the court of appeals in South Texas, the first Hispanic to serve on the Texas Supreme Court, and the first Hispanic to be elected to a statewide office.

“It's like taking the field with an all-star team, and we are privileged to work with some of the best attorneys in the nation.”

We’ve Seen This Before:  Significant Victories in the fight

This is not the first time Liberty Institute has seen a town or city discriminate against the very people trying to help their communities.  We have successfully defended the rights of churches and ministries in many cases, including:

Opulent Life Church — When Opulent Life 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.  In a landmark decision , the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found the ordinance violated federal law, finding it  “inherently discriminatory.”  Following the appellate ruling, the U.S. District Court judge granted an injunction which allowed Liberty Institute to reach a settlement with the city before trial.  Opulent Life Church was able to permanently move to a larger, downtown Holly Springs location.

Plano Vietnamese Church — In need of expansion, Plano Vietnamese Baptist Church bought a new building which had previously been utilized as a church.  However, the city of Plano, Texas denied the congregation a certificate of occupancy because the property did not meet the arbitrary and discriminatory 2-acre site requirement for houses of worship in residential areas.  The site was 1.2 acres.  A Texas State District Judge ruled in favor of Pastor Le and his congregation, protecting this small church from this unlawful ordinance.

Isaiah 61 Ministries — After receiving threats from the Dauphin County Commission, Isaiah 61 Ministries, a non-profit Christian ministry to the homeless, poor, and elderly in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, was prevented from carrying out their work on public property.  Liberty Institute and Independence Law Center sent a demand letter to the Dauphin County Commission, who made the right decision by allowing Isaiah 61 and other ministries to continue their good work in the community.

YOU CAN HELP WIN MORE BATTLES!

Sadly, this type of discrimination and persecution continues to occur—due largely, Mike Berry adds, because of “a lack of appreciation for the valuable and cherished role that churches play in our communities.”  But through your commitment and support of Liberty Institute’s efforts to win the battles for religious freedom in America, you can help fight back. 

Please stand with us through prayer and your support today.  And if you know of a church or religious non-profit or school that can take advantage of Liberty Institute’s free “Religious Liberty Audits” to protect themselves before legal attacks, then please encourage them to contact us by filling out a legal request form online or calling our main number at 972-941-4444.


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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.

WE FIGHT BACK: Religious Discrimination in the Workplace


Liberty Institute’s legal team defends a journalist fired for his private religious views . . .



This week, Liberty Institute filed an official charge of discrimination with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of former Newton Daily News editor-in-chief, Bob Eschliman.

Eschliman, who worked for the newspaper in Newton, Iowa since 2012, was fired after posting his religious views on his private blog—which he had maintained prior to his employment at the Newton Daily News, and where he frequently shared his personal thoughts and writings in his off hours.

“Once I began to work at Newton Daily News,” Eschliman explains in his statement in support of his charge of discrimination, “I made them aware and was never asked to stop my private efforts there.”

UNLAWFUL AND OUTRAGEOUS RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE

Says Liberty Institute’s volunteer attorney, Matthew Whitaker—a former United States Attorney and partner in the Des Moines law firm of Whitaker, Hagenow, & Gustoff, LLP—“No one should be fired for simply expressing his religious beliefs.  In America, it is against the law to fire an employee for expressing a religious belief in public.  This kind of religious intolerance by an employer has no place in today’s welcoming workforce.”

At issue are Eschliman’s views he expressed on his private blog this past spring, defending his religious beliefs regarding Holy Scripture and the institution of marriage. 

When the Newton Daily News’ management—Shaw Media­—learned of Eschliman’s blog post a few days later, they placed him on indefinite paid suspension while investigating the matter.  On May 5, 2014, Eschliman was summarily fired and immediately escorted out of the building—without being permitted to gather his personal effects from his office.  The president of Shaw Media, the owner of Newton Daily News, issued a statement in an editorial published that same day ironically titled “Earning public trust our priority”: 

“While Mr. Eschliman is entitled to his opinion, his public airing of it compromised the reputation of this newspaper and his ability to lead it.  Mr. Eschliman has a right to voice his opinion.  And we have a right to select an editor who we believe best represents our company and best serves the interests of our readers.”

Eschliman responds:

“There is no question that I was fired for holding and talking about my sincerely held religious beliefs on my personal blog during my off-duty time from the comfort of my own home.

“Shaw Media directly discriminated against me because of my religious beliefs and my identity as an evangelical Christian who believes in Holy Scripture and the Biblical view of marriage.”

With the filing of Eschliman’s official charge of discrimination, the EEOC will begin an independent investigation of the former newspaper editor’s charges of religious discrimination and retaliation.  If the EEOC determines that Shaw Media is guilty of religious discrimination and retaliation, it may order broad relief, including back pay, front pay, and other significant damages for the unlawful conduct of Eschliman’s former employer.

FIGHTING FOR EMPLOYEES OF FAITH

Liberty Institute has stood and will continue to stand with clients being persecuted and their livelihoods threatened because of their personal beliefs and faith.  Recent clients include:
  • A teacher, Walt Tutka, who quietly gave a Bible—upon request—to a student.
  • U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sergeant Phillip Monk, was disciplined for refusing to state his religious beliefs on sexuality to a superior who disagreed with those beliefs.
  • TV sports analyst Craig James, whose was terminated when his employer learned he had publically expressed commonly-held religious beliefs concerning marriage—and did so off the worksite, over a year before his employment began. 

There’s a reason The Wall Street Journal has cited Liberty Institute in its coverage on religious discrimination in the workplace.  And we’ll continue this fight to help those being persecuted in the workplace for their faith. 

NOT JUST FIGHTING, BUT WINNING

The battle to defend religious liberty in companies and organizations rages on, but we know we can win with the support of friends like you.  When you stand with us and help fight back, you help achieve victories in the workplace—defending the freedom of religious expression for fellow Americans including Bob Eschliman, Walt Tutka, SMSgt Phillip Monk, and Craig James.

Your support helps continue Liberty Institute’s unique strategy which includes:

  • A Home-Field Advantage – Wherever the case is litigated across America, we have an advantage due to our national network of volunteer attorneys who know their communities and how to win.
  • All-Star Attorneys – Our network features only America’s best attorneys.  Many normally charge up to $1,000 per hour, yet they take religious liberty cases pro bono (free of charge).
  • Multiplied Impact of Every Dollar – For every $1 we spend on a case, we receive approximately $6 in pro bono (free) legal time given by our all-star attorneys across the nation.  

Please donate now to help continue the fight and protect the “free exercise” of religion in our nation—and if you or someone you know is experiencing workplace religious discrimination, please contact us today!


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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.