Tuesday, November 24, 2015

We Can Win: Why Now is the Time to Stand for Religious Freedom

Editor’s note: Kelly Shackelford explains why America is at a tipping point in the battle for religious freedom, and why he believes people of faith hold the key to victory. The following is adapted from his e-book: A Time to Stand 2015: Why Saving Religious Freedom Depends on What People of Faith Do Next.

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In 2015, Americans arrived at a tipping point. We entered a time when religious liberty will either be saved or lost. At the end of this period of time, which could be a year or more—but likely not longer than five years—America will be traveling one of two paths.      
We either will be on a path of restored religious liberty, having repelled the most severe assault on religious freedom in the history of our republic, or we will be on a path to becoming a nation devoid of religious liberty and its vital benefits.
It could go either way. We’re seeing things we have never seen before. Clearly, we have entered a period of trial for the future of religious freedom.

On a human level, the main determiner of America’s religious future will be people of faith, the very targets of growing discrimination. Even after decades of judicial activism and liberty-hostile legislation—even after a cultural war on religious belief from the worldly fortresses of secularist education, media, government and much of corporate culture—the law is still decisively on the side of religious freedom.
If people of faith stand up courageously and make use of these laws, their religious freedom can be saved.

I advise you not to buy into the constant barrage of negative hype through the media. Religious liberty is not dead. Keep in mind two crucial factors:

First, major federal and state statutes and court decisions are waiting to be used to reaffirm religious liberty. Second, skilled attorneys stand ready at the defense.

People of religious faith need to know they have it within their power to win the battle. And with that knowledge, they must then make the courageous decision to fight. If they do, I believe events will tip in their favor.
In one strategic sector of society after another, we are facing dramatic battles:


When a regime hostile to religious freedom wants to discredit and silence a faith, one of their first steps is to eradicate public symbols of that faith.

Some are pushing hard for that goal today.

Currently, Liberty Institute is defending veterans memorials on public property that are under attack because they contain traditional religious imagery, something that goes back through the history of America. In a key battle, the American Humanist Association is suing to tear is down the historic Bladensburg, Maryland WWI Veterans Memorial.

A local branch of the American Legion erected the memorial in 1925 to honor the 49 men of Prince George’s County, Maryland who died serving in WWI. The memorial was supported and partly funded by the mothers of those fallen veterans.

The American Humanist Association is suing to tear down the memorial simply because it is in the shape of a Latin cross—a symbol used during wars—specifically WWI—to signify the graves of fallen service members.

Should this historic veterans memorial fall, more will be targets. On the other hand, winning that case will protect all the other memorials. The war will be won. We are nearing the tipping point.

One synagogue currently under attack is Congregation Toras Chaim, an Orthodox Jewish home synagogue facing relentless discrimination and harassment from their own neighborhood and city.

After peaceably meeting in private homes for years, the members of the small congregation received unfounded complaints from a neighbor, threatening their right to gather together and worship. Fortunately, Liberty Institute helped Congregation Toras Chaim achieve legal victory in the first lawsuit. Now, the City of Dallas is attacking Toras Chaim again, attempting to shut down the Jewish families’ right to freely exercise their religious beliefs by meeting in a private home for worship.

Other examples of persecution of churches and ministries include the federal government’s insistence that Christian ministries facilitate in providing insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, even when that violates their sincerely held religious beliefs.

We are representing several such ministries, including Insight for Living Ministries, the Bible-teaching outreach of Dr. Chuck Swindoll.

The law is on the side of religious liberty for Congregation Toras Chaim, Insight for Living Ministries, congregations, and the others we represent. But brave people of faith like Rabbi Rich, Dr. Chuck Swindoll, and others must be willing to stand. We’re at a tipping point, and what people of faith do in the near future will determine the outcome.


Sixty million students are also living at a tipping point for religious freedom and influence in the public schools where they spend so much of their time and energy. Ironically, most students of faith and most educators simply aren’t aware of lawfully protected religious liberty rights in the schools.

Bremerton High School in Washington State suspended assistant football Coach Joe Kennedy for privately praying after football games—something he had done without complaint for seven years. The school district’s verbiage and legal demand letters to Coach Kennedy prove that they are acting according to a grave misinterpretation of the First Amendment and case law precedent.

Imagine an America where public school students do routinely openly express their faith in schools without fear of opposition by school authorities. Imagine an America where public schools do protect faith as a daily, positive aspect of student life. That America could happen. We are at a tipping point.


In the shadow of a major victory for U.S. Navy Chaplain Wes Modder, who nearly lost his career for abiding by his faith in the military, a Marine waits to see if the highest military court will uphold her right to religious freedom.

Lance Corporal Monifa Sterling was told in 2013 to remove a Bible verse she had posted in her private workspace. When she refused, she was court-martialed, and told that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act didn’t apply. Her case is now before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF).

If CAAF refuses to uphold Sterling’s religious liberty in this case, it could have damaging ramifications for other members of the U.S. Military. If we win, it will be a landmark precedent covering all who serve in our military. We are at a tipping point.


Liberty Institute is representing Dr. Eric Walsh, one of top healthcare administrators in the United States, in a legal action against the state of Georgia, who fired him because of what he preached in his church as an ordained lay minister.

If Liberty Institute wins this very public case, it will send a message to other employers that such hiring and firing discrimination is against the law and unacceptable.

These are “tipping point” cases.


We can win in every area if people of faith are willing to stand up. We have the lawyers, so the key ingredients are clients—brave Americans choosing to insist on their rights—and other Americans willing to donate resources to make sure people of faith get the best legal representation.

America is entering a period that we call “a tipping point.” In this period, your religious freedom will either be saved or lost. It's a key time to be alive and to make the difference.

Note: Early next year, be on the lookout for A Time To Stand 2016, an updated report from Kelly Shackelford on the state of the battle for religious liberty.

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.

They Walk Among Us

In a two-part series, Liberty Institute President and CEO Kelly Shackelford shares his reflections surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday.

Dear Friend of Religious Liberty,

This week you and I—along with millions of Americans—have given thanks. And hopefully, we have remembered 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.

But there are others. Today we walk in the presence of modern pilgrims and patriots—some of them still children. 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 Coach Joe Kennedy, a client of Liberty Institute. He is a retired Marine and a beloved high school assistant football coach in Bremerton, Washington, who worked hard to cultivate a culture of community, unity, and brotherhood among his players. But Joe Kennedy is also a Christian. And just last month, he was suspended for his personal practice of praying at the 50-yard line after games. He isn’t backing down, determined to show what it means to stand up for something.

I think of U.S. Navy Chaplain Wes Modder, who was threatened with the termination of his 20-year career for merely counseling as a chaplain according to his beliefs. He 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 Chaplain Modder put it on the line. And by God’s grace, we helped protect him and are using the leverage of that victory.

I think of sixth-grader Mackenzie Fraiser, members of two Fifth Ward churches, Lance Corporal Monifa Sterling, the Kountze Cheerleaders and other brave clients we have or are representing. 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. Many of them were bullied. But they 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 post-Thanksgiving request to you, as the turkey settles and we bask in the love of our family and friends:

Please take a moment this weekend 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, Lt. Col. Charles Pudil and Chaplain Wes Modder 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.


Kelly Shackelford
President & CEO

P.S. Liberty Institute will begin the month of December with a goal of receiving $3.1 million by the end of 2015. We desire to stay on our projected budget in our mission to win history-shaping legal victories that defend and restore religious liberty in America. If you are led to help us get a head start with a year-end gift today, your impact will be significant as a modern-day “pilgrim and patriot.” I thank God for you.

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.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thanksgiving Reflections Part I: Thankfulness and Remembrance

In a two-part series, Liberty Institute President and CEO Kelly Shackelford shares his reflections surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday.

Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations; ask your father, and he will show you, your elders, and they will tell you. Deuteronomy 32:7

With Thanksgiving Day less than a week away, we at Liberty Institute are committed to thankfulness. But we also recognize that thankfulness requires remembrance.
We thank our volunteer attorneys, our clients, and our supporters because we remember how their involvement has made our work possible.
We thank our veterans because we remember their sacrifice to defend our freedom and our home.
We thank God because we remember what He has done for us—as a nation and as individuals.
So in the week leading up to a holiday that is so easily overshadowed by turkey, football, and commerce, let me encourage you to take a moment to remember the history behind Thanksgiving Day itself.
As Holocaust survivor and writer Elie Wiesel wrote, “Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.”
President George Washington’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation offers timeless wisdom for our nation’s future, and invaluable insight into our nation’s past. Read it here as you join Liberty Institute in remembrance of our heritage and thankfulness for our freedom. 
By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor-- and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be-- That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks--for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation--for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war--for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed--for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted--for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions-- to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually--to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed--to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord--To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us--and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go: Washington

President George Washington recognized the importance of pausing on one day, together as a nation, to offer thanks for our blessings.

These are difficult times in our nation and the world, but his sentiment written over two hundred years ago is still true today.

Even as we fight to restore religious freedom, we must take time to pause with thankfulness, realizing what a rare blessing it is to have the freedom to defend our freedom.

May your coming week be filled with remembrance and thankfulness.

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.