Thursday, August 21, 2014

Back to School: 10 Religious Liberties Students Need to Know



Before students order their books and stock their backpacks, they need to think about preparing their most valuable back-to-school tool yet:  knowledge of their religious liberty rights.

The number of religious liberty attacks increases each year, and yet, many cases go undetected due to lack of knowledge.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of students don’t even know their rights and as a result can’t identify or stand up to attacks on their religious freedoms.

So before students make those last minute runs to Target and Staples, we at Liberty Institute encourage them to prepare now for the battles they might encounter this school year:

1.    Students have the right to First Amendment protections in public schools.

The First Amendment protects students’ freedom of speech and freedom to express their religious beliefs.  Just because they walk through the school doors does not mean students lose these rights.

2.     Students have the right to read their Bibles at school during free reading times.

The Bible is a book.  If students can read other books of their choice at school, they can read the Bible too.

3.     Students have the right to pray before an athletic competition, school assembly, or other extra-curricular activity. 

Prayer is private speech, and private speech is protected under the First Amendment.  So if it is student initiated, student led, and not disruptive, then students have the right to pray privately or as a group.  Think of it this way, if students can talk freely, then they can pray.

4.     Students have the right to pray during free time, such as lunch or  recess.

Again, if students can talk freely, then they can pray.  As long as they are not disruptive and it is during non-instructional time, they have the right to pray.

5.     Students have the right to talk about religion with teachers and school employees.

During school, if a student starts the discussion, he or she can talk about religion with any school teachers or employees.  Outside of school, students can talk about religion with anyone at anytime.

6.     Students have the right to talk about God in class or school assignments.

If it fits the assignment, then students can talk about God. If students are writing a paper about their hero and God is their hero, then they have the right to write about God.

7.     Students have the right to start a religious club at their public school.

If non-religious extracurricular student clubs are allowed, then religious clubs are allowed. The club must be student initiated, student run, and voluntary, but a club is a club. The word “religious” in its title makes no difference.

8.     Students have the right to distribute informational flyers and use school resources for their religious club.

A religious club must be treated the same way a non-religious club is treated.  If a non-religious extracurricular club can do something, like use the school’s bulletin board or pass out flyers, a religious club can too.

9.     Students have the right to wear jewelry and clothing that expresses their religious beliefs.

If students’ clothing complies with the dress code, then it is their constitutional right to wear a T-shirt displaying their beliefs. So if you are allowed to wear a shirt with your favorite sports team logo, then you can wear a shirt with a religious message.

10. Students have the right to share their faith with their peers.

If students can talk about the latest celebrity gossip or new hit single, they can talk about God.  As long as they are not disruptive and remain civil, anytime they are free to talk with their friends they are also free to talk about God with their friends.

Just because someone is a government official or in authority doesn’t mean their word is the law.  Many times well-meaning individuals are misinformed or misguided.  For example, we all know where the term “separation of church and state” appears in the Constitution:  Nowhere.  The First Amendment says the school’s job is to protect each student’s freedom of religious expression and not force one particular religion on anyone.

HELP PROTECT OUR NATION’S STUDENTS AS THEY GO BACK TO SCHOOL

If we do not stand up and speak out, this country will soon be stripped of all personal freedoms.  Freedom is not an eternal gift won after a battle or preserved after a declaration. It is a constant battle calling us to be proactively engaged, that we may prevail.

Through your financial and prayer support, you make it possible for Liberty Institute to offer FREE, easy-to-understand back-to-school resources that students—and teachers—can download now at our Back-to-School page.  They include:

·      Know Your Religious Rights Kit – fully equips students, parents, and teachers to know their religious liberties in public schools and be prepared to defend and restore their rights when they come under attack.

·      Student Bill of Rights in Schools Brochure – a condensed version of our “Know Your Religious Rights” kit that gives a quick overview of students’ rights when it comes to religious speech, expression, or practice in public schools.

·      Teachers Guide – gives instructors great guidelines for how they can maintain their First Amendment rights—including freedom of religion and speech—in schools.


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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.

Navy Bans Bibles in Navy Lodge Guest Rooms Nationwide - Then Does an About Face and Reverses!


Liberty Institute’s Director of Military Affairs Michael Berry responds . . .


Last week, Liberty Institute Senior Counsel and Director of Military Affairs Michael Berry expressed outrage at a U.S. Navy decision to remove Bibles from Navy Lodge guest rooms.  Although the Navy does not pay for these Bibles (The Gideons International has donated free Bibles to the military for placement in military base hotels and lodges for years), it chose to remove them because of a demand letter it received from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The FFRF complained that one of its members was offended by the presence of a Bible in their guest room.  In response, the Navy Exchange Service Command (NEXCOM) issued a directive to remove all Bibles from its Navy Lodge guest rooms. 


But within mere days, the firestorm of controversy that erupted from its decision caused the Navy to reverse their decision.  Just days after experiencing an overwhelming public response in support of keeping the Bibles in guest rooms, the Navy did an “about face” and ordered that the confiscated Bibles be returned to Navy Lodge guest rooms.

The Navy’s rapid reversal likely occurred because it conflicted with recent shifts in the right direction in the battle for religious freedom in the military—most notably a Department of Defense Directive issued earlier this year to partially roll back attacks of religious liberty for service members. 

Berry, who has briefed members of the U.S. Congress on religious freedom and led the defense of service members targeted for their religious beliefs, said the Navy’s decision was an odd contrast to a recent Department of Defense Directive.

"The Department of Defense recently strengthened the rights of service members to observe their religious beliefs,” said Berry, referring to the DOD’s directive.  “How is that possible when the Navy decides that Bibles are no longer allowed in guest rooms?  It appears that the Navy does not want its Sailors to enjoy religious freedom.”

Berry pointed out that the Department of Defense has said the military “will accommodate individual expressions of sincerely held beliefs” when it does not interfere with mission accomplishment, or good order and discipline within the military.  The DOD also confirms that “a Service member’s expression of sincerely held beliefs […] may not be used as the basis of any adverse personnel action, discrimination, or denial of promotion, schooling, training, or assignment.”

The DOD Directive also stated that it places “a high value on the rights of members of the Military Services to observe the tenets of their respective religions or to observe no religion at all.”  Issued earlier this year in response to growing pressure from Liberty Institute and other organizations, the Directive was hailed as an important step toward restoring the religious liberty that existed in the military since before our nation’s founding.

NAVY GOES AWOL BY CAVING TO ANTI-RELIGIOUS DEMANDS

Unfortunately, the Navy did not take the significance of the Directive to heart, instead choosing to bow to the pressure of the FFRF’s demands.  But the reversal of the Navy Lodge Bible ban demonstrates the power of organizations like Liberty Institute, and the growing movement to restore religious liberty in the military.

Berry commented on the back-and-forth battle religion in the military.  “Many of our military’s religious traditions and observances pre-date America’s founding, but groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation want to erase that history,” Berry said.  “The Navy Lodge incident is just the latest in a well-documented pattern of hostility against religion in our military.”

Liberty Institute has been steadfast in our fight against religious hostility in the military, and we will continue to fight for those who sacrifice so much for our freedoms.  Liberty Institute’s Armed Forces Religious Freedom Project offers legal expertise to decision-makers and legal defense to members of the military whose faith is under fire.  Liberty Institute established a Military Religious Freedom Hotline at 1-800-259-9109 for any member of the armed services who needs legal help due to religious discrimination.

A few of our most notable clients include:

         Airman Phillip Monk:  Senior Master Sergeant Phillip Monk was fired for his religiously informed beliefs about homosexuality.  Although he had faithfully served 19 years in the Air Force, it made no difference to his commander, who accused him of breaking the law and relieved him of his position.

         Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial:  For more than 20 years, the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial has been the subject of a lawsuit, now involving the ACLU.  In a troublesome turn, a federal judge ordered that the memorial’s cross be taken down (staying his order pending our appeal).  We will not stop our defense of this cherished veterans memorial, and we recently filed a petition for a rehearing en banc with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

         Houston National Cemetery:  In 2011, Liberty Institute represented a diverse group of plaintiffs against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for removing religion from our national cemeteries.  In Houston, TX, the VA banned religious language from funerals, converted the cemetery’s chapel into a storage room, censored a pastor’s prayer, and even prohibited volunteers of the National Memorial Ladies from saying “God bless you.”  In the end, Liberty Institute won the case, which caused a change in policy at national cemeteries all over the country.

HELP PROTECT RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN THE MILITARY

Liberty Institute’s Armed Forces Religious Liberty Project continues to offer legal help to secure the freedom for our servicemen and servicewomen to express their religious beliefs without fear, harassment, or punishment.  We continue to advise the U.S. government, service members, the media, and all Americans about the law concerning religious liberty for service members and veterans. 

But, despite their importance, this war cannot be won with just one or two victories.  In order to see this battle through to victory, we need the continued financial support of friends like you. 

Our in-house constitutional attorneys and nationwide network of top of class volunteer attorneys have won at all court levels, and against all opposition.  And with your help, we can continue winning against foes like the ACLU, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and others who seek to destroy religious liberty in our nation’s military.

For more information and helpful resources, please visit our military pages:

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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.

Humanists Demand Georgia High School Football Staff Stop Praying at School

Coaches, students, and community boldly respond with MORE prayer, while Liberty Institute dispatches attorney to community to offer assistance . . .



Recently, Chestatee High School in Gainesville, Georgia, received a demand letter from the Washington, D.C.-based American Humanist Association, insisting that the school’s football coaches stop participating in team prayer and referencing the Bible.  The letter pointed an accusatory finger at the coaching staff, and threatened the school with legal action, citing team schedules and rosters with references to Scripture, and a photograph of the coaches joining hands with the team in prayer.

The Gainesville community’s bold response?  An impromptu prayer rally on the school football field that drew a crowd of over 200 participants.

The letter threatens the school with legal repercussions unless the coaching staff discontinues its participation in student prayer and removes Scriptural references —including a cheerleader banner emblazoned with the Biblical allusion, “iron sharpens iron.”

Students and parents of Chestatee High School aren’t having it, and a number of families and players on the team have spoken up in defense of the coaches.  The school indicated it would look in to the complaint and has affirmed it will uphold the religious rights of its students.

To offer immediate assistance, Liberty Institute dispatched Senior Counsel Roger Byron to Gainesville, Georgia this week.  Byron is meeting with impacted families and local community leaders offering to Liberty Institute’s help in standing up for religious liberty.

SMALL-TOWN INCIDENT GARNERS NATIONAL INTEREST

The story of the demand letter and the passionate community response has swept local and national news outlets, with coverage from The Gainesville Times, The Huffington Post, and Fox News, just to name a few.

In his commentary, “Georgia town to atheists: Stop bullying our kids,” Todd Starnes asked Liberty Institute Managing Director of Strategic Litigation Hiram Sasser to weigh in on the issue.

Sasser confirmed that “teachers and coaches who are not on contract time and in their individual roles as citizens may in fact pray with students after school.” 

ANTI-RELIGIOUS GROUPS HAVE DONE THIS BEFORE

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time religious expression has been attacked in our nation’s schools.  In fact, Liberty Institute is currently in the process of defending the Kountze High School cheerleaders from an attack on their free speech and religious liberty rights.

The cheerleaders are waging a long and tiresome legal battle to defend their right to display religious messages on their run-through banners at football games.  Not unlike the demand from the American Humanist Association sent to Chestatee High School, the charge against the Kountze cheerleaders came from the out-of-town Freedom From Religion Foundation in the form of a demand letter. 

Liberty Institute won the case at the trial court, but the opposition appealed the decision and the Beaumont Court of Appeals declared the case moot.  Liberty Institute is seeking review of the case by the Texas Supreme Court in order to guarantee the private speech rights of the Kountze cheerleaders and develop precedent for future students.

KEEP PRAYING . . . It’s Not Over

Religious liberty battles such as these are fought constantly in American courtrooms—while countless other instances of religious oppression go unreported and unknown.  With financial and prayer support from friends like you, Liberty Institute will continue to be a front-line presence in these fights in our nation’s school, and work diligently to defend the First Amendment.

As always, please continue to pray for Liberty Institute and the work that we do, that our staff attorneys and national network of outstanding local volunteer attorneys will be equipped with the right tools and arguments to defend religious freedom in this country. 

Also, please share with students about Liberty Institute’s free, easy-to-understand resources to help students and teachers know their rights to religious expression.  They include:
  • Know Your Religious Rights Kit – fully equips students, parents, and teachers to know their religious liberties in public schools and be prepared to defend and restore their rights when they come under attack.
  •  Student Bill of Rights in Schools Brochure – a condensed version of our “Know Your Religious Rights” kit that gives a quick overview of students’ rights when it comes to religious speech, expression, or practice in public schools.
  • Teachers Guide – gives instructors great guidelines for how they can maintain their First Amendment rights—including freedom of religion and speech—in schools.

And if you feel called to do more, please consider giving a donation to Liberty Institute, in order to fund our efforts to fight this battle in our nation’s schools, in the public arena, in the church, in the military and beyond.  For every $1 we spend on a case, we receive approximately $6 in pro bono legal time by our volunteer attorneys—and that means the impact of every dollar you contribute is multiplied!


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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.