Tuesday, November 25, 2014

8 Days to a Victory: How Approval Was Won for the "Dare to Believe" Christian Club

School district follows the law and authorizes Liberty Institute client Liz Loverde's faith-based, extracurricular club



This week, Liberty Institute was notified that Wantagh Union Free School District officials in Long Island, New York, voted to recognize the “Dare to Believe” Christian club—affording it the same recognition and benefits as Wantagh High School’s 30 other approved extracurricular clubs—for the 2014-15 school year.  Liberty Institute and our client Liz Loverde give thanks that the school district was convinced to follow the law and that we were able to see victory in eight days.

“We are glad the school district has announced that it is doing the right thing by recognizing Liz Loverde’s club, ‘Dare to Believe,’” said Jeremy Dys, Liberty Institute Senior Counsel.  “It took a lot of courage for a 15-year-old girl to come forward that her principal said Christian clubs are illegal.  It is always a scary position for students to take a stand against government school authorities who hold significant power over their everyday lives.  We look forward to Wantagh High School respecting Liz’s religious liberty at school.”

DON’T TAKE “NO” TO YOUR RELIGIOUS LIBERTY FOR AN ANSWER

When Liz presented her four-page proposal to start her “Dare to Believe” Christian club to her high school principal, Liz was told “NO” because it was a Christian club.  But that didn’t stop her.  To  Liz, this was a serious matter, and in her proposal she shared her objective to reach out to her community through visiting nursing homes and holding toy and food drives.

Liz also wrote about her plan to share with her fellow teenagers that “love is louder than depression, self-harm, pressure, bullying, school, home life, addiction”—and other problems or struggles in their lives.  Liz also pointed to the difference learning about biblical principles made in her life and what she knew they could do for others.  Liz explained:

“Life appeared to me as something not worth having or living.  Maybe, right now, teenagers are feeling the same way I did, and saying that life has nothing for them and that no one would care if they lived or died.  Through ‘Dare to Believe’ Christian Club I want students to know that while they’re going through these tough times (depression, parents divorce, self-harm, suicide, anxiety, bullying, etc.), Jesus Christ offers them another view of life; a life that is truly beautiful.”

Liz was hopeful that her Christian club would receive the full recognition and benefits afforded to other approved extracurricular clubs at Wantagh High School, including Variation Club, a “gay-straight-everyone alliance,” W.A.R.R. (Wantagh Animal Rights and Recycling), and Rube Goldberg.  All of the high school’s more than 30 extracurricular clubs are allowed to make announcements and hang posters to advertise at the school.

But when the principal denied her request, this courageous 15-year-old didn’t back down.  Liz had seen a local television news report about a similar incident of religious discrimination involving Liberty Institute client John Raney—and his Students United in Faith club in nearby East Setauket, New York—and she knew we could help.

IT ONLY TOOK EIGHT DAYS TO ACHIEVE VICTORY 

Jeremy Dys, as well as Director of Litigation Hiram Sasser and our volunteer attorneys came together to defend and protect the religious liberty rights of Liz and her fellow students—and were able to see victory in this matter in just eight days.

Here’s how it happened:
  • DAY 1:  On behalf of Liz Loverde, Liberty Institute delivered a demand letter to the high school principal, and two other Wantagh Union Free School District officials demanding they reconsider denying Liz’s proposal to start her “Dare to Believe” Christian club at Wantagh High School in Long Island, New York.  We also demanded the school district approve Liz’s proposal, and grant official recognition to her club, Dare to Believe, in one week’s time.  Along with Jeremy Dys, Liz also spoke at a press conference on Monday afternoon, where she testified:  “Wantagh High School has over 30 clubs, and they wouldn’t recognize mine because it was faith based.”

  • DAY 2:  Along with Hiram Sasser, Liz was interviewed on Fox News’ The Real Story w/Gretchen Carlson.  “We’re going to hold the school’s feet to the fire,” Sasser said.  “And [if they don’t say yes to Liz’s club,] they’re going to have to go to the courthouse, and they’re going to have to have the law applied to them.”

  • DAY 3:  Liberty Institute’s #DaretoBelieve campaign quickly got the word out about Liz Loverde and encouraged everyone to sign the #DaretoBelieve Petition to send a message to the U.S. Department of Education—demanding they STOP ignoring the enforcement of religious freedom protections, as afforded to public school students in The Equal Access Act of 1984.

  • DAY 4:  At a Wantagh Union Free School District meeting, school officials discussed whether or not they would approve the Christian club, Dare to Believe, for the 2014-15 school year.

  • DAY 5:  Liberty Institute shared more detailed information about Liz’s story—including our demand letter sent to school officials and a synopsis of The Equal Access Act—with friends and supporters in our online Liberty Watch newsletter.  We continued to ask for signatures for the #DaretoBelieve petition, as well as for prayer and financial support to help fight this battle for religious liberty in our nation’s schools.

  • DAY 6:  Liberty Institute client John Raney and his fellow members in the Students United in Faith Club at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket, New York, sent their encouragement to Liz—and the students who want to form the Dare to Believe club—via a special video message.

  • DAY 7:  The #DaretoBelieve campaign was well on its way to reaching approximately 35,000 people via Twitter, seeing more than 51,000 impressions on Facebook, as well as garnering nearly 7,000 unique viewers on LibertyInstitute.org.  We also saw more than one hundred friends—including fellow high school students—show their grassroots support for Liz and her Christian club by sharing images of their handmade #DaretoBelieve posters on Instagram.

  • DAY 8:  Liberty Institute was notified that the school district did the right thing and recognized the Dare to Believe club for the 2014-15 school year.  We applaud the district for following the law!
MORE STUDENTS LIKE LIZ NEED YOUR HELP

We’ll never know victory—and how close it really is in many cases of religious liberty discrimination and violation—unless we stand up for our religious liberties in our nation’s schools.

When students—and teachers—know their rights in the classroom, they are empowered to boldly stand up for religious freedom and exercise their rights.  They’re equipped to stand up to the opposition and make a difference in their schools and in society at large as they freely live out the principles they believe.

Through your financial support and prayers, thank you for continuing to stand with Liberty Institute and courageous students like Liz.  Together, may we achieve many more victories for religious liberty for students—and all Americans—in the days ahead!


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! Federal Judge Grants Preliminary Injunction in Challenge to Law Banning Churches and Schools

Liberty Institute secures right for church and school to meet on their own property



On Monday, United States District Court Judge Andrew Hanen issued a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit brought by Cornerstone Church by the Bay, its pastor Hamilton Musser, and Laguna Madre Christian Academy against the Town of Bayview, Texas concerning the Town’s zoning ordinance, which bans the church and religious school from operating on their own property.  The favorable ruling prohibits enforcement of the unlawful ordinance, allowing the church and school to use their property in their ministries.

“We are very encouraged by the Court’s ruling,” said Jeff Mateer, Liberty Institute General Counsel.  “It is a victory for our clients and for the religious freedom of all Texans.  We are thankful that the court recognized that it is unlawful for the Town to interfere with the church’s use of its own property.”

Pastor Musser added:  “We are thrilled that the court upheld our right to use our building as a church.  We look forward to working with the Town and are confident that the Town will approve the plans of our church school, so that we can continue to minister to the surrounding community and the children and families of Laguna Madre Christian Academy.”

CHURCH BANNED FROM USING ITS OWN PROPERTY 

In July 2014, Liberty Institute, with our volunteer attorneys, 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 enacting and enforcing an illegal zoning ordinance that bans churches and religious schools from operating in the area where Cornerstone owns property.

For years, Cornerstone Church by the Bay had to rent space to hold services.  Recently, however, it acquired property in Bayview and requested permission from the town to use it as a church and school.  But in June 2014, after denying Cornerstone’s request, the Bayview Board of Aldermen unanimously voted to ban churches and schools from the area where Cornerstone’s property sits—despite allowing nonreligious institutions in that exact same area.

Even worse, the only other zone in the town in which the church could operate has no properties that fit Cornerstone Church’s needs.  This hostility truly put the church in crisis.

According to the complaint, “[A] motivating factor for retaining the building restrictions in Zone A [the zone where Cornerstone Church owns property] was to exclude Plaintiffs [Cornerstone Church] in particular from Zone A, due primarily to their religious nature.”  In other words, the Town targeted Cornerstone because it's a church!

A GROWING HOSTILITY TOWARD CHURCHES AND RELIGIOUS MINISTRIES 

The lawsuit alleges that Bayview’s zoning ordinance violates both state and federal law.  The illegal zoning ordinance defies the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (TRFRA), the United States Constitution, and the Texas Constitution.

Cornerstone Church is not Liberty Institute’s only client to face a “Not in My Backyard” attitude, whether from local hostility or discriminatory zoning ordinances.  Other Liberty Institute cases include:

  • Opulent Life ChurchWhen the 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.  Following Liberty Institute’s intervention and a landmark decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, a settlement was reached with the city and Opulent Life Church was able to permanently move to a larger, downtown Holly Springs location.
  • Congregation Toras Chaim For over three years, this small Jewish community in Dallas, Texas has met in members’ homes each week to pray and learn about their faith.  Though the small congregation has been careful to be a good neighbor to the community, Toras Chaim became the victim of a lawsuit, filed last year by members of the neighborhood homeowners association.  In April of 2014, Liberty Institute stopped an injunction that would require the congregation to cease meeting until the lawsuit was resolved, but the fight is far from over.

HOW CAN YOU HELP?

Churches and pastors are increasingly becoming targets of discrimination.  Zoning ordinances are being used against them.  Sermons are becoming tools of legal intimidation.  But the law is still on their side.

Liberty Institute is committed to defending the religious liberty of churches, synagogues, and other religious ministries from unlawful discrimination.

Please pray as we defend the religious freedom of Cornerstone Church, and please consider donating now to help us continue our efforts to preserve religious liberty in 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.

Pilgrims and Patriots - A Thanksgiving Message from Kelly Shackelford


Dear Friend of Religious Liberty,

This week you and I—along with millions of Americans—will give thanks.  And we will remember all those who sacrificed that we might have freedom of religion.

Who are these courageous Americans?

Some of them you will only read about in history books.  The Pilgrims.  The Signers of the Declaration of Independence.  The men who waded into Nazi fire on the beaches of Normandy.  They risked all for freedom—including freedom to openly exercise one’s faith in God.

But there are others.  Today we walk in the presence of modern pilgrims and patriots—some of them less than 10 years old.  These are Americans with whom you and I are very blessed to be connected.

I can think of some very immediate examples—

I think of Dr. Eric Walsh, a client of Liberty Institute.  He was one of the top health professionals in the nation, until his employer decided to destroy his career because of what Dr. Walsh preached in his church as an ordained lay minister.  But he won’t back down, and is fighting a legal battle not only for his freedom, but the freedom of others.

I think of Senior Master Sergeant Phillip Monk and  Lt. Col. Charles Pudil—two members of the U.S. military who risked their careers and future by blowing the whistle on violations of religious liberty.  They could have taken the easy way out, just as the pilgrims could have stayed in England and stayed quiet about their beliefs.  But that’s not what creates a free society.  So SMSgt. Monk and Lt. Col. Pudil put it on the line.  And by God’s grace, we helped protect them and are using the leverage of those victories.

I think of Liz Loverde, Audrey Jarvis, John Raney, Brooks Hamby, Angela Hildenbrand, Remington Reimer, Giovanni Rubeo, Erin Shead, the Kountze Cheerleaders and other brave students we have represented.  They stood up to the authorities and risked much by insisting on their religious freedom—and thereby are securing freedom for many more.  Many of them were threatened.  One of the Kountze Cheerleaders was harshly interrogated in a deposition to the point of tears.  But she wouldn’t back down.

The list goes on, like the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews Chapter 11, where the writer finally admits there are too many stories of faith to tell, saying, “And what more shall I say?  For time will fail me . . .”

So here’s my Thanksgiving request to you on this special day:

Please take a moment on Thursday to thank God for brave Americans like those I’ve mentioned—both those in the history books and those fighting for religious freedom today.  And please ask God for more of them!

Ronald Reagan said, “Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid.”

So I thank God for:
  • Our fearless clients.  Their courage is moving mountains as we defend and, yes, restore religious liberty in America.
  • Rewarding the faithfulness of such clients.  Just this month we’ve seen new evidence that the battle for religious liberty in the military—thought a lost cause by many just two years ago—is now moving in the right direction in large part because men like SMSgt. Phillip Monk and Lt. Col. Charles Pudil took the Pilgrims’ dangerous example and risked all for religious freedom.
  • Our Liberty Institute team.  Our staff attorneys, our entire Liberty Institute team, and our amazing volunteer attorneys across the nation.  
And I thank God for you and every single supporter.  Together, we are a vanguard of religious freedom—fighting to keep this promised land of liberty.  And we are winning.

Sincerely,

Kelly Shackelford
President & CEO


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, November 20, 2014

IT'S HAPPENED AGAIN! Another NY Public High School Denies Student's Faith-Based Club - "Dare to Believe"

On behalf of 16-year-old Liz Loverde, Liberty Institute is fighting back against this carbon-copy religious discrimination



Less than two months after high school student John Raney—and his Christian club, Students United in Faith—was unlawfully discriminated against at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket, New York, a gross violation of religious liberty rights has happened AGAIN in another New York public high school.

When 15-year-old Liz Loverde presented her proposal to have her “Dare to Believe” Christian club recognized as a student club at Wantagh High School in Long Island, New York, the high sophomore was told “NO” by her principal—because Dare to Believe is a Christian club.

On behalf of Liz, Liberty Institute delivered a demand letter this week to the Wantagh High School principal, and two other Wantagh Union Free School District officials demanding they reconsider their position, approve Liz’s proposal, and grant official recognition to her club, Dare to Believe, by Monday, November 24, 2014.

“LOVE IS LOUDER”

In her four-page club proposal, Liz also shared her objective to reach out to her community through visiting nursing homes and holding toy and food drives.

She wanted to share with her fellow teenagers that “love is louder” than depression, self-harm, pressure, bullying, school, home life, addiction—and other problems or struggles in their lives.  Liz also pointed to the difference learning about biblical principles made in her life and what she knew they could do for others.

Liz wrote:

“Life appeared to me as something not worth having or living.  Maybe, right now, teenagers are feeling the same way I did, and saying that life has nothing for them and that no one would care if they lived or died.  Through ‘Dare to Believe’ Christian Club I want students to know that while they’re going through these tough times (depression, parents’ divorce, self-harm, suicide, anxiety, bullying, etc.), Jesus Christ offers them another view of life; a life that is truly beautiful.”

But when Liz’s principal denied her request, this courageous 16-year-old didn’t back down.  She calmly approached her principal again and this time convinced the school official to present Liz’s club proposal to the board of education.

Liz thought she would soon see her club receive the full authorization and benefits afforded to other approved extracurricular clubs at Wantagh High School, including Variation Club, a “gay-straight-everyone alliance” club, W.A.R.R. (Wantagh Animal Rights and Recycling), and Rube Goldberg.  All of the high school’s more than 30 extracurricular clubs are allowed to make announcements and hang posters to advertise at the school.

SEPARATE . . . BUT NOT EQUAL

Liz was hopeful Dare to Believe would be able to have equal access just like the other clubs in her high school.  But only days after agreeing to present Liz’s proposal to the board of education, she called Liz to her office and told her she had changed her mind.

“I felt terrible,” said Liz at a press conference on November 17, 2014 which was held just hours after the demand letter was delivered.  “Wantagh High School has over 30 clubs, and they wouldn’t recognize mine because it was faith based.” 

Liz and her fellow students who want to have their Christian club recognized by the school as an official club have been denied equal access—and that’s a gross violation of The Equal Access Act of 1984 which was established to protect students in religious discrimination situations just like this 30 years ago.

“Students of faith in New York public schools have the same freedom to form and have the school recognize a religious club as other students,” said Jeremy Dys, Senior Counsel with Liberty Institute.  “School officials on Long Island do not seem to understand that The Equal Access Act of 1984 makes it illegal to deny students—and especially a minority of students—the right to form a Christian club on campus.”

“I HOPE YOU CAN COME AND HELP US”

Because Liz had seen a local television news report about the similar incident involving Liberty Institute client John Raney and his Students United in Faith club, she knew to contact us.  “In Ward Melville High School a similar thing happened, and they contacted Liberty Institute and they got a Christian club,” she said.  “I hope you can come and help us.”

Liberty Institute exists to help defend and protect the religious liberty rights of people and faith and will continue to work on behalf of Liz Loverde until the matter is resolved.

“All students have a right to meet on campus,” Dys also said at the press conference.  “They can’t be denied simply because of their faith.”

In an interview on Fox News’ The Real Story w/Gretchen Carlson, Liberty Institute’s Director of Litigation Hiram Sasser said:  “We’re going to hold the school’s feet to the fire and they’re going to allow this club.  They’re either going to do it the nice way by just simply saying ‘yes’ or we’re going to have to go to the courthouse, and they’re going to have to have the law applied to them.”

“We just want to study the Bible together and serve our classmates and community by exercising the same freedom that everyone else has at our school,” added Liz.  “Wantagh High School has more than 30 official student clubs.  Why won’t Wantagh recognize our faith-based student club?”

STAND WITH LIBERTY INSTITUTE CLIENT LIZ LOVERDE

This is outrageous religious discrimination against Liz and her fellow students who simply wanted to start their Dare to Believe club to learn more about biblical principles and participate in community outreach.  It is a clear violation of federal law, and it must stop immediately.

But we need your help!  Here’s how:

  • GIVE A DONATION – Help equip Liberty Institute to fight for the religious liberty rights of students in our nation’s schools with your donation today.  We can’t fight this battle alone, and we need the ongoing support of concerned Americans like you to help bring down Goliath opponents to our First Freedom—including the government, ACLU, Freedom From Religion Foundation and others!
  • PRAY WITH US – Please commit to pray for students like Liz Loverde that they would be unwavering in their courage to stand up for religious freedom—and that Liberty Institute’s constitutional staff attorneys and our national network of volunteer attorneys will be victorious as they defend and protect religious liberty for students and all Americans in our nation 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.

3 Things You Need to Know About The Equal Access Act


When high-school sophomore Liz Loverde submitted her proposal to start a “Dare to Believe” Christian club at Wantagh High School in Long Island, New York, her principal told her no!  But Liz was persistent, and explained to her principal that she had a right to start the club—thanks to The Equal Access Act, written into federal in law in 1984.  Liz’s principal still refused to allow the club, and therefore violated federal law.

Liberty Institute has chosen to stand beside Liz as she bravely fights for her right to equal access at her school.  The Equal Access Act gives Liz a right to form her club—but what exactly does the Act say?

Here are three things you need to know about The Equal Access Act:

1.  It’s against the law to deny a student club based on its members’ religious beliefs.

“It shall be deemed unlawful for any public secondary school which receives Federal financial assistance and which has a limited open forum to deny equal access . . . to students who wish to conduct a meeting within that limited open forum on the basis of religious, political, philosophical, or other content of the speech at such meetings.”

The Equal Access Act states that prohibiting a club because of its religious affiliation is unlawful. When Liz’s principal said that a club that focuses solely on the Bible would be prohibited at the school, the principal forbade the club’s existence based solely on the content of the speech of the students in the club.

2.  If a school already has one student-led, non-curriculum club that meets outside of class time, then it must allow others and cannot discriminate.

A public secondary school has a limited open forum “. . . whenever such school grants an offering to or opportunity for one or more non-curriculum related student groups to meet on school premises during non-instructional time.”

By allowing another non-academic club to meet, Liz’s high school has created a “limited open forum.”  Her school, therefore, cannot deny access to a Christian club if it does allow access to the Rube Goldberg Club, Wantagh Animal Rights and Recycling (W.A.R.R.), or Variation Club (a gay-straight-everyone alliance club).  And it allows all three to meet.

3.  For students who want to create a non-curriculum club, they must be afforded the same opportunities as other clubs.

If a school allows other non-curriculum clubs to meet during non-instructional times, it must do so for all clubs alike.  Schools must provide fair opportunities for any club to meet, and to do so they must uniformly provide:

  • “the meeting is voluntary and student initiated;
  • there is no sponsorship of the meeting by the school, government or employees;
  • employees of the school or government are present at religious meetings only in a non-participatory capacity;
  • the meeting does not materially and substantially interfere with the orderly conduct of educational activities within the school; and
  • non-school persons may not direct conduct, control, or regularly attend activities of student groups.”

WE’VE SEEN THIS BEFORE—AND WE’VE WON!

Less than a month ago, Ward Melville High School also prohibited a Christian club. Ward Melville school officials denied Students United in Faith—a religious club—to be recognized as a club on the school campus. Liberty Institute quickly sent the school a letter, explaining the illegality of their discrimination, and demanding that the school amend their decision. The school complied, and Students United in Faith now meets at Ward Melville High School as an official student organization.

We are confident that the principal and superintendent at Wantagh High School will react similarly, and that Dare to Believe will soon be a recognized student club and afforded all of the benefits of the high schools more than 30 other extracurricular student clubs.

That’s why on Monday, November 17, 2014, Liberty Institute sent a demand letter to Wantagh High School and the Wantagh Union Free School District, explaining that The Equal Access Act very clearly protects Liz’s right to form Dare to Believe.  We hope that the school district corrects their mistake and respond favorably.  In the event that they do not, however, Liberty Institute is fully prepared to defend Liz’s constitutional right to free speech, and her additional freedoms as outlined in The Equal Access Act.

Defending the rights of students like Liz is what we do at Liberty Institute.  Our top tier constitutional attorneys are experts on religious liberty, and our volunteer attorney network consists of some of the most successful and influential lawyers in the nation.

But resources like these don’t come cheap, which is why we need help from supporters like you.  Consider a gift to Liberty Institute today, and help play a crucial role in defending religious liberty in this great nation.




CLICK HERE to hear Fox News host Gretchen Carlson sound off on The Equal Access Act after a recent interview with Liberty Institute's Hiram Sasser and our client Liz Loverde.



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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.