Thursday, July 2, 2015

In Celebration of Independence Day: Why Restoring Religious Liberty Should Be a “Personal and National Priority”



When Americans think about Independence Day, some of the first things to come to mind are fireworks, grilling out, and enjoying time with family and friends. But Independence Day is more than simply a day to relax. It’s a time to remember and reflect on America’s founding, the ideals that made America great—ideals that are under attack like never before in the nation’s history—and why it’s essential that America’s freedom is preserved.

RELIGION AND MORALITY: “INDISPENSABLE SUPPORTS”

In 1776, at a time in history when the liberty of the American colonies was under attack, America’s founders signed the Declaration of Independence. In it, they explained their reasons for separating from Great Britain and asserted American independence. The signers of the Declaration also recognized that “certain unalienable Rights”—including “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”—come from God, and that governments exist to protect those rights.

In 1791, after America secured her independence and established the Constitution, the Bill of Rights was ratified, with the First Amendment guaranteeing the protection of America’s most foundational freedoms, listing first the freedom of religion, then the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and petition.

In addition, in his Farewell Address in 1796, President George Washington recognized the importance of religion in society. He stated:

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens.”

UNPRECEDENTED ATTACKS ON RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

Yet in 2015, the freedom to freely practice and express religious beliefs in America is experiencing unprecedented attack, a hostility exacerbated by last week’s Supreme Court ruling..

In a few recent examples of anti-religious discrimination, Liberty Institute is currently defending U.S. Navy Chaplain Wes Modder, who faces the loss of his career for expressing his traditional, Biblical views when asked questions about faith, family, and marriage during private counseling sessions, and U.S. Marine Corps Lance Corporal Monifa Sterling, who was convicted at a court-martial for displaying a Bible verse in her workspace.

Other cases include the Bladensburg, Maryland World War I Veterans Memorial, which is under attack from a humanist group seeking to have it removed, demolished, or altered simply because it is cross-shaped, and Congregation Toras Chaim, a small Jewish congregation whose existence has been threatened by lawsuits not once, but twice—currently by the city of Dallas, Texas.

But despite the attacks, religious liberty can still be preserved—but only if Americans stand for their rights. For example, in this past year, Liberty Institute protected the religious freedom of First Presbyterian Church of Auburn, New York after the city ordered the church to stop operating a “Glee Camp” on its own property. In addition, Liberty Institute represented the American Legion in a successful defense of the “under God” wording in the Pledge of Allegiance in New Jersey. Recent victories for religious liberty also include state laws passed to preserve religious freedom in Arkansas, Texas, North Carolina, and Michigan.

MAKING THE RESTORATION OF RELIGIOUS LIBERTY A “PERSONAL AND NATIONAL PRIORITY”

This Independence Day, Liberty Institute shares an open letter to the people of America from its President and CEO, Kelly Shackelford, first published in the most recent edition of UNDENIABLE, Liberty Institute’s annual survey of hostility to religion.  

We hope this will help you pause this weekend and reflect on why religious liberty is essential to preserving a free society, why the escalating threats to religious freedom threaten all freedom, and why Americans must stand to protect their first and most essential liberty.  Shackelford writes, in part:

To my fellow citizens,

Freedom in America depends on the restraint and motivation supplied by religious activity such as prayer, Scripture reading, and open expression of religious beliefs. Prominent researcher, Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D., states, “A steadily growing body of evidence from the social sciences demonstrates that regular religious practice benefits individuals, families, and communities, and thus the nation as a whole.”

And yet the freedom to openly exercise your faith is under intolerant, growing, damaging attack. If this hostility is not identified, defeated, and deemed socially unacceptable, then we will forfeit the benefits of religion and freedom. We will risk watching our freedom and our American way of life destroyed.

President John F. Kennedy began his administration by declaring “the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.” President Ronald Reagan stated, “Freedom prospers when religion is vibrant, and the rule of law under God is acknowledged.”

But there is an accelerated attack against religious freedom in America today—and religion’s critical role in the survival and well-being of America is at great risk.

I hope you hear the alarm bell, awaken, and help put out the arsonists’ fire of hostility to religion set by an intolerant but powerful minority. Ironically, elements of this religion-hostile contingent are the very ones who pretend to be pro-freedom and deny the reality of their own attacks.

The vast majority of the hostility is unlawful. It succeeds only because of its own bluff and the passivity of its victims. The best attorneys stand ready to win for religious liberty in court—as Liberty Institute does with well over a 90 percent win rate. But in the end, hostility to religion can be defeated only if challenged by Americans like you. Let’s make the restoration of liberty a personal and national priority.

COURAGEOUSLY STANDING FOR FREEDOM

America’s Founders risked much to stand against Great Britain’s attacks on American liberty. In the conclusion to the Declaration of Independence, they stated:

“And for the Support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the Protection of DIVINE PROVIDENCE, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honour.”

This Independence Day, in reflecting on the founding of America and the freedom its citizens enjoy, may people of faith be inspired by the courageous stand of America’s Founders and boldly stand to protect religious liberty in America today.


Please click here if you would like to give a donation to help defend and restore religious freedom.



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, June 25, 2015

READY: Liberty Institute Prepares 5-Point Plan for Supreme Court Marriage Decision and Its Ramifications on Religious Liberty



In the next few days, the U.S. Supreme Court will announce whether it will impose a redefinition of marriage on all America in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges. The Court’s decision could:
  1. Impose a marriage redefinition nationally, all at once, by finding that there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.
  2. Decline to impose a national redefinition, yet find that states which do not allow redefined marriage must accept the same-sex marriages of those married in states where it is allowed. For practical purposes, this would spread a redefinition of marriage on a more gradual, state-by-state basis.
  3. Decline to impose a national redefinition and decline to require states to accept same-sex marriages of other states. Even this outcome would be fraught with hazards for religious freedom, since advocates of redefining marriage would put pressure on state governments to legalize same-sex marriage state-by-state, with religious freedom in the crosshairs of such a multi-state legal struggle.
The most difficult scenario, however, is the first one. For that reason, Liberty Institute submitted a much-praised friend-of-the-court brief (amicus brief) asking the Court to decline to redefine marriage because of the potentially severe impact upon religious freedom and free speech any such ruling could have.

This week, Kelly Shackelford, President, CEO & Chief Counsel of Liberty Institute, stated,

“Like many across America, I’m praying for the Court to do the right thing. But our main concern at Liberty Institute is preserving the rights of people of faith—including those whose religious beliefs don’t agree with what the Court might impose.”

To be ready for how any decision could impact religious freedom, Liberty Institute has prepared legal strategies ready to protect our foundational First Amendment rights no matter what the Court rules.

“No matter what the Court decides,” said Shackelford, “we are committed to defending and restoring religious liberty even as the battle for such key freedoms will expand and cases will multiply. There are solid measures that can be used to protect churches, ministries, employers, employees, students, teachers, and others whose faith tells them marriage is exclusively between one man and one woman. In fact, we’ve been preparing for months, helping organizations and individuals defend their religious liberty, and the results are promising.”

He added, “The Court’s decision won’t take us by surprise. We’re ready to defend and, if necessary, restore religious liberty across America.”

GAME PLAN TO RESPOND TO THE RULING’S IMPACT

Liberty Institute’s 5-point legal strategy to deal with the post-Obergefell America that will be here soon:
  1. Focus on the Courts. Elections are important. But right now, the attacks on religious liberty are moving too fast for an election to fix—and this will get worse if the Supreme Court imposes a national redefinition of marriage. We have won these key battles before and we must continue to win for religious freedom in court. And it must happen immediately.
  2. Use Existing Laws to Keep Winning. Liberty Institute litigators have a 90%-plus win rate, even in tough cases. We know how to use existing laws and court precedents to win legal cases. No matter what the Supreme Court rules in the marriage case, laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and numerous court precedents are on our side. The Court’s ruling will not change the truth that Americans have a constitutional right to speak and to act according to our beliefs.
  3. Use New Laws to Win. Our attorneys are advising several state legislatures and the U.S. Congress to make sure a plethora of new religious freedom laws are written in language that will withstand legal challenges. These laws will make it easier to win in court.
  4. Use Religious Liberty Audits to Protect Churches, Ministries, and Businesses. Liberty Institute attorneys are employing Religious Liberty Audits to enhance legal protection for organizations. These audits analyze an organization’s documents and practices, and then offer revisions to protect the organization from the new brand of “sexual liberty” attacks that can cripple the ability to minister.
  5. Expand Our Winning Formula. Liberty Institute wins. But now we must expand to meet the multiplied challenges of new hostility to religious freedom. One Liberty Institute staff lawyer can coordinate up to 20 volunteer litigators across the nation. We select strategic cases to create a ripple effect of freedom. We plan to add staff lawyers to expand the victims of unlawful religious discrimination we can help.
“The battle for religious freedom is escalating,” said Shackelford, “And it is a battle we are ready for and can win with expert legal strategy.”

THE MOST IMPORTANT INGREDIENT TO PRESERVING RELIGIOUS FREEDOM?

Shackelford told Liberty Institute friends in a special video, “The real key will be the response of people of faith like you. Will people of faith needlessly give up? Or instead, will people of faith stand up? Will people of faith be willing to assert their legal rights and push back? Will people of faith come together and support each other as we use the law to say ‘no’ to attempts to misuse this decision to erase our freedoms?”

“We can win,” he said, “if we stand.”



Please click here if you would like to give a donation to help defend and restore religious freedom.



Other stories:

Two Victories for Religious Freedom: North Carolina, Michigan Pass Laws to Protect Religious Liberty for Magistrates, Adoption Agencies

NOT ALONE: Reinforcements Support LCpl Monifa Sterling—Marine Court-Martialed over Bible Verse


YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE! 

To stand up for religious freedom in anticipation of the U.S. Supreme Court decision, please give generously to help Liberty Institute expand our capacity to defend more victims of religious discrimination. A $300,000 Matching Grant will DOUBLE your donation if given by June 30. Giving in response to this Matching Grant will help Liberty Institute hire more staff attorneys, recruit and coordinate potentially dozens of elite volunteer attorneys from major law firms, and win more cases. Please give now and make your gift go twice as far!




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.

Two Victories for Religious Freedom: North Carolina and Michigan Pass Laws to Protect Religious Liberty for Magistrates and Adoption Agencies

New laws take important steps toward protecting religious freedom for those with traditional, sincerely-held religious beliefs on marriage



This month, two states—North Carolina and Michigan—approved bills that protect the religious liberty of those who hold to the traditional, time-honored view that marriage is between one man and one woman, protecting some groups whose religious liberty is particularly at risk from a Supreme Court ruling imposing nationwide same-sex marriage.

North Carolina’s law, for which Liberty Institute gave advice on the wording, protects the religious freedom of the state’s magistrates, assistant registers of deeds, and deputy registers of deeds. Michigan’s law defends the constitutional rights of adoption and foster care agencies in that state.

Liberty Institute General Counsel Jeff Mateer applauded the actions by North Carolina and Michigan. “We’re encouraged to see states begin to specify religious liberty protections, so that citizens may continue to live and act upon their faith in all spheres of their lives whether it be in their place of worship, at work or in the public arena.”

The passage of North Carolina’s and Michigan’s new laws comes just before the Supreme Court is expected to rule on Obergefell v. Hodges, a group of consolidated cases challenging the constitutionality of state laws defining marriage as between one man and one woman and which could have wide ramifications for religious liberty.

NORTH CAROLINA: UPHOLDING THE RELIGIOUS FREEDOM OF GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS

North Carolina’s law asserts that magistrates, assistant registers of deeds, and deputy registers of deeds may not be removed from their positions for declining to officiate or issue marriage licenses if doing so would require them to violate their religious beliefs. The law states, in part:

“‘(a) Every magistrate has the right to recuse from performing all lawful marriages under this Chapter based upon any sincerely held religious objection. . . .’”

“‘(b) Every assistant register of deeds and deputy register of deeds has the right to recuse from issuing all lawful marriage licenses under this Chapter based upon any sincerely held religious objection. . . .’”

The law allows magistrates, assistant registers of deeds, and deputy registers of deeds to opt out of officiating marriages or issuing marriage licenses for “‘at least six months’” and protects those individuals from being “subjected to a disciplinary action, due to a good-faith recusal under this section.” The law also includes provisions to ensure that all couples who are legally allowed to marry will be able to obtain marriage licenses and that officials will be available to officiate legal marriages.

MICHIGAN: PROTECTING THE RIGHTS OF FAITH-BASED ADOPTION AND FOSTER CARE AGENCIES

Michigan’s new law (passed in a package of three bills: HB 4188, HB 4189, and HB 4190) protects the rights of faith-based adoption and foster care agencies in the state to operate according to their religious beliefs.

The law (HB 4188) affirms that private adoption and foster care agencies have the constitutional right of religious freedom and recognizes that “[c]hildren and families benefit greatly” from the services of both faith-based and non-faith-based agencies. Later, it states:

“(2) To the fullest extent permitted by state and federal law, a child placing agency shall not be required to provide any services if those services conflict with, or provide any services under circumstances that conflict with, the child placing agency’s sincerely held religious beliefs contained in a written policy, statement of faith, or other document adhered to by the child placing agency.”

It also guarantees that adoption and foster care agencies will not face “adverse action” from the government for declining to provide services that violate their religious beliefs.

BUILDING A FIREWALL FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM ACROSS AMERICA

Michigan and North Carolina aren’t the only states acting to preserve religious liberty. Arkansas recently passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)—despite the recent media and corporate backlash against RFRAs.

In addition, this month, Texas approved the Pastor Protection Act, a law that, among other things, affirms the right of pastors to decline to perform marriages that violate their sincerely-held religious beliefs. Liberty Institute Senior Counsel and Director of Research and Education Justin Butterfield testified on behalf of the legislation before the Texas House State Affairs Committee in April.  Liberty Institute Counsel Cleve Doty testified on behalf of the bill in front of a Texas Senate committee.

Oklahoma is also considering a bill to protect the rights of pastors, and that bill passed the Oklahoma State House on a vote of 88–7. Many other states already have protections like those in the Pastor Protection Act in place—including Washington, D.C.; Connecticut; Delaware; Rhode Island; Vermont; and Washington.

Liberty Institute advised more than 13 states and the federal government on the wording of laws to protect religious liberty, and remains committed to defending the rights of Americans to freely express their religious beliefs and live out their faith in the public arena, as well as in the military, the school, and the church.



Please click here if you would like to give a donation to help defend and restore religious freedom.
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.

NOT ALONE: Reinforcements Support LCpl Monifa Sterling—Marine Court-Martialed over Bible Verse

Outcry defending religious liberty in our nation's military is growing . . .



Help for a Marine punished for her religious expression is coming from all directions—potentially leading to a major case in the nation’s highest military court.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt filed a friend-of-the-court brief (amicus brief) earlier this month in support of Lance Corporal (LCpl Monifa Sterling, who was court-martialed in May for displaying a Bible verse in her personal workspace.

But the help doesn’t stop there. While LCpl Sterling waits to hear if the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) will hear her case, more notable names are joining the battle for her religious freedom—including the Attorneys General of four other states who added a letter of support to Pruitt’s friend-of-the-court brief.

WHY THIS FRIEND-OF-THE-COURT BRIEF MATTERS

Friend-of-the-court briefs add strength and legitimacy to cases, offering a third-person perspective that can be influential in guiding the court’s decision. Oklahoma’s brief makes the important argument that denying LCpl Sterling’s right to free exercise of religion will detrimentally inhibit the freedom of military members and American citizens in the future—something affecting every state in the nation, and of special concern to the top law officers of those states.

“This is a rare and unprecedented event. All of the military legal experts I’ve consulted tell me they’ve never seen a friend-of-the-court brief like this before. And it is extremely important to have support from respected legal experts—like State Attorneys General—in cases like this one,” says Liberty Institute Director of Military Affairs and Senior Counsel Mike Berry. “I am confident that the friend-of-the-court brief filed by the State of Oklahoma will go a long way in positively influencing the decision of the court to hear LCpl Sterling’s case.”

Oklahoma isn’t alone in its defense of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and LCpl Sterling’s religious freedom—four other state Attorneys General added their names to the amicus curiae brief through a motion to attach a letter of support. They include Attorney General Adam Paul Laxalt of Nevada, Attorney General Mark Brnovich of Arizona, Attorney General Alan Wilson of South Carolina, and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey West Virginia.

Their letter of support states: “As our respective States’ chief legal officers who have sworn an oath to defend and uphold the Constitution, we are equally mindful of the fundamental importance of the rights guaranteed therein—including religious exercise, which Congress has further protected through the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).” The addition of these State Attorneys General sends a clear message that religious freedom in the military is an issue of national concern.

PROTECTING A SERVICE MEMBER’S RIGHT TO RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

The chain of events that triggered this legal groundswell of support began with seven words printed on three small pieces of paper.

While stationed at Camp Lejune, LCpl Sterling, a devout Christian of Haitian descent, noticed that other service members placed various personal items in their work spaces at the military base. So she decided to express herself as well in her workspace by displaying one of her favorite Bible verses.

LCpl Sterling printed the paraphrased words of Isaiah 54:17: “No weapons formed against me shall prosper.” But after taping it in three different places in her workspace, LCpl Sterling’s supervisor—who also happened to be her former drill instructor—ordered her to remove the Bible verse, cursing at her in the process. When LCpl Sterling asked why, her supervisor said, “I don’t like the tone.” The brave Marine explained it is her First Amendment right to display the Bible verse and declined to take them down. Moreover, no other person in the unit ever complained about the verse.

The next day, LCpl Sterling discovered that her supervisor tore down the Bible verse and threw it in the trash. Adding injury to insult, the U.S. Government charged LCpl Sterling with the crime of failing to obey a direct order because she did not remove the Bible verse, although the law specifically does not require her to obey an unlawful order.

“If a service member has a right to place a Bible on their desk, display a secular poster or put a bumper sticker on their car,” explains Berry, “then LCpl Sterling has the right to display a small Bible verse on her computer monitor.”

A CRUCIAL DEFENSE OF THE RELIGIOUS FREEDOM RESTORATION ACT

Upon hearing LCpl Sterling’s case, both the trial and the appellate court said RFRA did not apply because displaying a Bible verse does not constitute religious exercise. Liberty Institute refutes that claim, arguing that such interpretation of RFRA unconstitutionally limits the First Amendment right to freedom of religion. Oklahoma’s friend-of-the-court brief agrees:

“Its failure to recognize the breath of protection offered by RFRA and similar state statutes jeopardizes the religious protections intended by Congress.  Such precedent can have severe consequences to people of faith in the Marines, including those that are citizens of Oklahoma.”

Oklahoma’s brief further explains why the courts’ previous narrow interpretation of RFRA is problematic:

  • “[T]he court . . . appears to have taken the overly narrow view that ‘religious exercise’ for the purpose of RFRA includes only those practices which a court can objectively locate in a systematic set of rituals or beliefs, completely discounting the adherent’s subjective and personal reasons for the practice. But such an inquiry violates even the narrow protections of the First Amendment, in which courts are warned not to ‘question . . . the validity of particular litigants’ interpretations of [their] creeds’ or to ‘say that what is a religious practice or activity for one group is not religion under the protection of the First Amendment. . . .’”
  • “[T]he people of the State of Oklahoma, in passing the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act (ORFA), have subjected to strict scrutiny all government actions that ‘inhibit or curtail religiously motivated practice.’ OKLA. STAT. tit. 51, § 252(7). Thus, the common intent of state and federal RFRAs was to protect acts or practices that are ‘religiously motivated’ or ‘engaged in for religious reasons.’”
  • “There can be no question that LCpl Sterling’s placement of the Biblical quotes around her desk was, at least partially, ‘religiously motivated’ and done ‘for religious reasons.’ . . . It would be of little comfort to her that a man in Palestine 3,000 years ago said ‘no weapon formed against [her] shall prosper’ unless she believed, by faith, that this man was a prophet and this promise had personal application to her life. Isaiah 54:17. Even if these were merely ‘personal reminders’ of that truth (slip op. 9), she only believes that truth and seeks to reminder herself of it because of her faith. Her acts thus were for ‘religious reasons’ or ‘religiously motivated’ and within the purview of RFRA. Indeed, the Bible itself encourages similar acts, commanding the people of God to write His words ‘on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.’ Deuteronomy 6:9.
In closing, Oklahoma’s brief cautions that, should the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces refuse to review the case, “members of the Marines Corps, including many Oklahoma citizens, will be deprived of the religious freedom protections intended by Congress in RFRA.”

NOT ALONE IN THE BATTLE

It is unconstitutional for the government to pick and choose what constitutes an expression of faith. Thankfully, five states have recognized that fact and have chosen to aid in supporting the rights of LCpl Sterling and all military men and women.

Learn more about service members’ right to freely express their faith according to The First Amendment, RFRA, and military code.



Please click here if you would like to give a donation to help defend and restore religious freedom.

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, June 18, 2015

PUSHING BACK: Liberty Institute Responds to Humanists’ Attempt to Destroy WWI Veterans Memorial

Liberty Institute and Jones Day file motion for summary judgment on behalf of The American Legion to defend historic cross-shaped WWI veterans memorial 



The Bladensburg, Maryland World War I Veterans Memorial honors
49 fallen World War I service men from Prince George’s County, Maryland.


This week, Liberty Institute and Jones Day, on behalf of The American Legion, filed a motion for summary judgment
  defending the historic Bladensburg, Maryland World War I Veterans Memorial. Filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, the motion is a response and cross-motion to last month’s attempt by the American Humanist Association (AHA) to have the memorial, which was erected by The American Legion in 1925, demolished, removed, or altered because it is in the shape of a cross.

“This monument was erected to honor the sons of Prince George’s County, Maryland who fell in the First World War. To see a group of humanists fight to demolish it, simply because they are offended by the memorial’s shape, is a disgrace,” said Jeff Mateer, General Counsel for Liberty Institute. “We hope the court will uphold the right to honor the County’s sons with this memorial and allow it to continue to stand in memory of the Bladensburg heroes.”

Liberty Institute and Jones Day represent The American Legion, The American Legion Department of Maryland, and The American Legion Post 131 of Colmar Manor, Maryland, in this matter.  

DEFENDING HISTORIC MEMORIAL FROM HUMANIST ATTACK

Last month, as part of their lawsuit challenging the historic Bladensburg, Maryland World War I Veterans Memorial, the American Humanist Association filed a motion for summary judgment, asking the Court, among other things, to order that the government remove the memorial from the property, completely demolish the memorial, or remove the “arms” of the memorial to make it a “non-religious slab or obelisk.”

In response, the motion filed by Liberty Institute and Jones Day asks the Court to uphold the constitutionality of the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial and rule against the humanist group’s lawsuit  Among the arguments in our motion:

  • An abundance of legal precedent supports the use of a cross shape as a proper memorial on government property.
  • Removing or altering this memorial would demonstrate the very hostility toward religion prohibited by the First Amendment
  • Tests used by the federal courts to uphold the First Amendment show that the Bladensburg Memorial is well within the requirements of the Constitution.

Two precedents cited include Van Orden v. Perry and Salazar v. Buono, cases in which Liberty Institute participated.  In Van Orden, the Supreme Court found that a Ten Commandments monument on the Texas Capitol grounds was constitutional.  In Salazar, the Court upheld the transfer to private ownership of the Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial (like Bladensburg, in the shape of a cross) and a plurality of the Court explained that a WWI memorial in the shape of a cross raises no constitutional concerns.

HONORING THOSE WHO SACRIFICED THEIR LIVES TO DEFEND AMERICA’S FREEDOM

According to an article by Richard Wilson published in Prince George’s Magazine in 1983, the Memorial Committee formed to raise money for the Memorial included ten mothers who had lost sons in the war. In 1920, Mrs. Martin Redman, the mother of the first sailor from the county to lose his life in World War I, became the treasurer for the committee. In a letter to Senator John Walter Smith, who had donated money for the cause, Mrs. Redman wrote:

“The chief reason I feel so deeply in this matter, my son, [W.]F. Redman, lost his life in France and because of that I feel that our memorial cross is, in a way, his grave stone.”

By 1922, a local post of The American Legion took charge of the effort, and the Memorial was erected in 1925. It bears the names of 49 fallen servicemen from Prince George’s County, other commemorative words and dates, and a quote from President Woodrow Wilson:

“The right is more precious than peace; we shall fight for the things we have always carried nearest our hearts; to such a task we dedicate our lives.”

The seal of The American Legion is prominently emblazoned on the two primary faces of the monument at the intersection of the cross arms, and the only other words inscribed on the memorial are “VALOR; ENDURANCE; COURAGE; DEVOTION” with one on each of the four sides of the monument.

Today, the Memorial sits in a public area amidst several other memorials commemorating other conflicts in American history and honoring those who served in them.

PROTECTING VETERANS MEMORIALS WITH RELIGIOUS IMAGERY ACROSS AMERICA

The Bladensburg, Maryland World War I Veterans Memorial case—or the similar Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial matter (also a Liberty Institute case)—could set precedent that either protects veterans memorials that use religious text or imagery or exposes them to further attack. Kelly Shackelford, Liberty Institute President and CEO, discusses this in his recent e-book, A Time to Stand 2015: Why Saving Religious Freedom Depends on What People of Faith Do Next. (Click here to download your FREE copy of A Time to Stand 2015 here.) Memorials affected by the outcomes of these cases could include the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the cross-shaped memorials at Arlington National Cemetery.

With a win rate of over 90%, Liberty Institute is committed to protect veterans memorials that honor the sacrifice and courage of America’s veterans and defend against attempts to scrub America of its religious heritage.




Please click here if you would like to give a donation to help defend and restore religious freedom.

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.