Thursday, September 18, 2014

VICTORY! Arkansas State Allows Crosses on Helmets After Liberty Institute Blitzes



Arkansas State University (ASU) announced yesterday on Constitution Day—when we celebrate the freedoms our Founding Fathers secured for us—that it would allow memorial crosses on its team football helmets.  The University’s decision came after it found itself scrambling under a legal blitz by Liberty Institute following the school’s initial ban on the crosses.  The crosses were affixed to the helmets simply to memorialize a fellow player and an equipment manager, both of whom tragically died earlier this year.

The controversy exploded in the national media late last week as news of the ban spread. By early this week Liberty Institute stepped in to represent an un-named Arkansas State football player—a client who wanted to remain anonymous due to fear of retribution by University officials who acted on incomplete legal advice and cut up the student memorial helmet stickers.

Quoted in USA Today, Liberty Institute’s Litigation Director Hiram Sasser said of the decision, "This is the exact thing that we asked for. That's what our letter asked for and that is what we're receiving."

ARKANSAS STATE DECISION FOLLOWS THE LAW

Siding with the University’s initial ban was the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), an anti-religion group who routinely bullies government entities with erroneous but intimidating letters and threats.  The FFRF sent a letter to the University complaining about the crosses.

Regarding the FFRF’s position, Sasser stated, “We congratulate Arkansas State University for following the law—especially on Constitution Day—and rejecting the advice of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.  The FFRF simply counseled the University to purposefully engage in unconstitutional religious viewpoint discrimination.”

THE CROSSES ARE LEGAL—EVEN AT A STATE SCHOOL

The principle of protected private speech is well cemented in the Constitution and in landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

Liberty Institute’s demand letter to ASU cited five such Supreme Court decisions that protect student speech or prohibit viewpoint discrimination.  Banning private student speech because of its religious nature falls squarely within the kind of viewpoint discrimination deemed unlawful by the Court. 

Further, as said in our demand letter to ASU, ordering the defacing of the crosses by removing the vertical lines, as ASU did, “goes beyond mere viewpoint discrimination.”  These actions “exemplify a hostility to religion that violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”   This, also, is firmly grounded in recent Supreme Court decisions.  Liberty Institute’s letter further states:

“In Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668, 673 (1984), the Supreme Court said, ‘[T]he Constitution … affirmatively mandates accommodation, not merely tolerance, of all religions, and forbids hostility toward any. Anything less would require the callous indifference we have said was never intended by the Establishment Clause. Indeed, we have observed, such hostility would bring us into war with our national tradition as embodied in the First Amendment’s guaranty of the free exercise of religion.’ (internal cites and quotes omitted).”

Yet “callous indifference” and “war with our national tradition” is exactly what ASU initially did, goaded on by incomplete or misdirected legal advice.

A HEARTLESS POSITION BY THE FFRF

As in every case, beyond the legal controversy there are real people.  In this instance, the real people include:
  • Beloved equipment manager Barry Weyer and his family.  Weyer was killed in an automobile accident in June.
  • Former player Markel Owens, tragically killed in a shooting in January.
  • The un-named client was represented by Liberty Institute. The player remained anonymous to avoid the possibility of a hostile backlash by the University that could jeopardize his college career and beyond.

“It’s shocking,” says Sasser, “that the FFRF and others would be so insensitive not only to the law but to the people involved.  Here you have teammates trying to honor their friends.  This is what good people do.  We are gratified that the good people in the University, who were given legal advice that does not give a full and accurate representation of the law, changed their minds and did the right thing. The religious liberty and free speech rights of the students were vindicated.  And these fallen teammates will have another year on the field because of the courage and compassion of their friends.”

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Please be part of the continuing story of defending and restoring religious liberty in America.  You can do this by supporting Liberty Institute, the largest legal organization dedicated solely to defending and restoring religious liberty in America. 

You can support Liberty Institute’s legal efforts with a gift now.  Liberty Institute has more than a 90% win rate due to our unique legal model of recruiting the “best of the best” volunteer attorneys for each area of the country and each specialized field of the law.  Because our volunteer attorneys, who normally might charge more than $1,000 per hour, work free of charge on religious liberty cases, every $1 donated to Liberty Institute can result in as much as $6 worth of legal impact.

This victory demonstrates yet again that religious liberty wins when people stand up to defend it.


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.

VICTORY! Texas Changes Rule to Allow Ten Commandments Sign

Liberty Institute client now free to express her religious views on her own property . . .


Jeanette Golden is pictured here with her husband and pastor
in front of the Ten Commandments sign on her private property.

This week, Liberty Institute—on behalf of client Jeanette Golden of Hemphill, Texas—and the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) jointly announced an official change to TXDOT’s rules and regulations regarding private speech on private property.

Last year, Mrs. Golden chose to place a 6 x 12-foot sign on her private property displaying the Ten Commandments. Titled “God’s Ten Commandments” with a subtitle of “Jesus – With God All Things Are Possible,” the sign lists out the historic, biblical principles as found in Exodus 20:
  1.  Thou shalt have no other gods before Me
  2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image
  3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain
  4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy
  5. Honor thy father and mother
  6. Thou shalt not kill
  7. Thou shalt not commit adultery
  8. Thou shalt not steal
  9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor
  10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house or thy neighbor’s wife
But Mrs. Golden soon learned that her sign encouraging wholesome behavior was forbidden by state law.

RESTORING RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AND PROPERTY RIGHTS

In February 2014, Mrs. Golden received a removal notice from TXDOT stating that her sign was non-compliant with TXDOT rules for “outdoor advertising.”  TXDOT ordered Mrs. Golden to remove her Ten Commandments sign within forty-five days.

Wanting to protect her freedom of speech and defend her religious liberty, Mrs. Golden contacted TXDOT to find out what she needed to do to keep her sign.  TXDOT informed Mrs. Golden that she needed to obtain an outdoor advertising permit, a minimum $2500 surety bond, and an outdoor advertising license.  TXDOT also threatened that her failure to comply with these requirements could result in fines of between $500 to $1000, per day.

Mrs. Golden decided to take some time to consider her options.  She contemplated the substantial time and money it would take to satisfy TXDOT’s requirements.  But before she could even apply for an outdoor advertising license, she received correspondence from TXDOT’s Associate General Counsel stating that Mrs. Golden’s sign is located near a road that it is “statutorily prohibited from having signage at all and thus the sign cannot be permitted.”  In other words, TXDOT instituted an outright ban on all non-commercial signs along the road adjacent to Mrs. Golden’s property.  Commercial signs, however, are permitted.

Mrs. Golden then retained Liberty Institute to assist her.  We immediately sent a letter to TXDOT, explaining that the forced removal of Mrs. Golden’s sign from her private property violates both federal and state religious liberty and free speech law, including the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (TRFRA), the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), the U.S. Constitution, and the Texas Constitution. Liberty Institute requested that TXDOT rescind its removal order, and allow Mrs. Golden to maintain her sign without the requirement of a license, bond, or permit.

At that time, Liberty Institute Senior Counsel Mike Berry said in a statement: “It is outrageous that TXDOT is preventing Texans from having signs on their own private property.  Religious freedom and private property rights are some of the most sacred rights Texans and Americans enjoy, dating back to the founding of Texas and our nation.”

TXDOT AGREES: PRIVATE SPEECH IS PROTECTED SPEECH

TXDOT responded positively to Liberty Institute’s demand, acknowledging that its rule is likely unlawful.  In response, TXDOT agreed to revise its rules and regarding non-commercial signage on private property to protect individuals’ rights to freedom of speech.  Once the new rule becomes final, Texans like Mrs. Golden will be allowed to freely express their religious beliefs on their private property.

Prior to the rule change, only commercial signs were allowed with a license, bond, and permit.  But with today’s change in policy, signs that do not exceed 96 sq. ft. in size, sit on private property, and do not promote a business are exempt from the license, bond, and permit requirements.  Mrs. Golden’s Ten Commandments sign is 72 square-feet in size and therefore satisfies the exemption criteria.

In TXDOT's letter to Mrs. Golden announcing the new exemption, Associate General Ronald M. Johnson said:

"I personally would like to thank you and Liberty Institute for bringing this issue to our attention.  The rights of the citizens of Texas are better protected today because of all our efforts.  This has been a civics lesson in how democratic government is supposed to work and it would not have happened without you."

“I always believed in my heart there would be a change in the rules that would allow me to keep my sign, as well as other Texans wanting to express their religious views on their own property,” Mrs. Golden said.  “As it states on my sign, ‘With God, all things are possible.’”

Liberty Institute applauds TXDOT’s cooperation, and their commitment to amending Department of Transportation rules to reflect respect for our most sacred constitutional freedoms of religious freedom and private property rights.  Berry commended the ruling as a win that “will benefit all Texans who value liberty.

HELP PROTECT OUR MOST SACRED RIGHTS

Your help is crucial to continuing a legal defense for religious liberty and the First Amendment for Liberty Institute clients like Jeanette Golden. We fight hard in all areas—in our schools, in our churches, in the public arena, and in the military—and we succeed over 90% of the time in the local, state, and federal courts.  But we can’t do it alone.

Please, continue to pray that Liberty Institute’s constitutional attorneys are equipped with the proper tactics and wisdom to defend our First Freedom.  And please give financially today, that we might continue have the resources necessary to fight the difficult and expensive legal battles necessary to maintain our religious freedom in America.


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.

Liberty Institute Responds to Anti-Religion Group's Latest Attack on a Veterans Memorial


Memorial created by our client—an award-winning wood sculptor—is at risk of being defaced or removed . . .



This week, Liberty Institute—on behalf of its client, well-known and award-winning sculptor Dayle K. Lewis—responded to a demand letter sent to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation. 

The anti-religion group attacked Indiana’s newest veterans memorial in Whitewater Memorial State Park in Liberty, Indiana, claiming it is unconstitutional because it includes a small grave marker in the shape of a Latin cross.

RELENTLESS ATTACKS ON MEMORIALS HAVE TO STOP

“These relentless attacks on the nation’s veterans memorials have to stop,” said Roger Byron, Liberty Institute Senior Counsel.  “The display of this incredible memorial in Whitewater Memorial State Park—which is itself a veterans memorial—clearly is lawful.  As a veteran myself I want to thank the State of Indiana for honoring its veterans and remembering those who served.”

As the creator of this new memorial, Lewis donated much of his time and talent to sculpt a complex and multi-faceted work of art—composed of a giant eagle atop an immense perch, a life-sized U.S. Marine in dress uniform, the Flag of the United States, the Flag of the State of Indiana, and a combat soldier kneeling beside the grave of a fallen comrade marked with a small cross-shaped grave marker.  Immediately above the grave marker are the words “All Gave Some[,] Some Gave All.” 

Whitewater Memorial State Park “also houses numerous other prominent markers and memorials that honor military veterans,” explained Byron in Liberty Institute’s response letter to FFRF.  “By all accounts the cross on the new memorial depicts a historically accurate grave marker symbolizing the burial site of a fallen solider.”

GIVING FREEDOM FROM RELIGION FOUNDATION AN EDUCATION

To provide a more accurate legal analysis of the memorial’s lawful placement and display in Whitewater Memorial State Park, Liberty Institute pointed to several federal courts of appeals cases and three United States Supreme Court cases:
  1. Salazar v. Buono Decided just four years ago in a victory Liberty Institute helped secure, Salazar v. Buono is the most recent U.S. Supreme Court case involving a cross-shaped veterans memorial.  Salazar upheld the transfer of a veterans memorial to private ownership in a federal preserve.  As the Court explained, “a Latin cross is not merely a reaffirmation of Christian beliefs.  It is a symbol often used to honor and respect those whose heroic acts, noble contributions, and patient striving help secure an honored place in history for this Nation and its people.”
  2. Town of Greece v. Galloway The Supreme Court’s most recent First Amendment Establishment Clause decision, Town of Greece v. Galloway, clarified the proper standard and focus for all Establishment Clause matters.  Galloway upheld the constitutionality of prayer before government meetings.  The Court explained, “it is not necessary to define the precise boundary of the Establishment Clause where history shows that the specific practice is permitted.”  This includes the cross symbol, which has long been used to honor veterans in memorials and otherwise, and was used as a grave marker for identified and unidentified soldiers at least as early as the First World War.  Liberty Institute submitted an important friend of the court brief on behalf of noted theologians and scholars in this case.
  3. Van Orden v. Perry – As the Supreme Court explained in its recent decision upholding a similarly passive monument that contained both religious symbols and text—“[s]imply having religious content or promoting a message consistent with a religious doctrine does not run afoul of the Establishment Clause.”  Liberty Institute was involved in this major decision, as well supporting the Texas Attorney General in his argument before the U.S. Supreme Court.
A HUGE DISHONOR TO OUR VETERANS

Liberty Institute is no stranger to the fight to save our nation’s veterans memorials that are that are currently under attack from foes like the ACLU, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and more.  Each attack on a veterans memorial dishonors the veterans it was erected to commemorate, and that’s why we’re working to protect the Whitewater Memorial State Park veterans memorial and others, including:
  • Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial CrossA 29-foot cross surrounded by more than 3,500 plaques containing the photos, names and diverse religious symbols of our fallen service men and women, under attack by the ACLU, has been ordered torn down by a federal court.  Liberty Institute is appealing that decision.
  •  King, N.C. Veterans MemorialIn the City of King’s popular Central Park area, a memorial, depicting a combat soldier kneeling by the grave of a fallen comrade marked by a small cross-shaped grave marker, is under attack by Americans United for Separation of Church and State
  • Bladensburg WWI Veterans MemorialAfter standing for nearly 90 years without complaint, this memorial—known as the “Peace Cross” and located in the median of an intersection in Bladensburg, Maryland—is at risk of being torn down because of a lawsuit brought by the American Humanist Association.
GIVING BACK IN HONOR OF THOSE WHO HAVE GIVEN SO MUCH

It is Liberty Institute’s honor to defend many memorials across America, including the newest veterans memorial at Whitewater Memorial State Park, on behalf of those who have given their lives for this great country and for those men and women who are still serving today at home and abroad. 

But if this memorial must come down or be desecrated, then so too must the many veterans memorials across the country bearing religious imagery.  That’s why we need the help of friends like you today! 

Your continued financial and prayer support is vital.  So please donatenow to help defend veterans memorials and to restore religious liberty all across America—in our schools, in the public arena, in our churches, and in our military!



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.