Category Archives: Church & State
Texas Attorney General Releases Statement Supporting Justice of the Peace in Dispute with the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
March 23, 2017) Montgomery County, Texas includes many of the suburbs north of the City of Houston in the Southeast part of the state. A Justice of the Peace there, Wayne Mack has a guest chaplain program. These volunteers offer support and counsel at the scene of death investigations. These volunteers are also called upon to lead a brief prayer at the beginning of Judge Mack’s court proceedings.
Last year Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick asked the Attorney General for a legal opinion on Judge Mack’s practices. It is worth noting that Lt. Governor Patrick has always enjoyed a large amount of support from Texas’ Pro Family/Christian Conservative movement. So it is likely that he requested the opinion to grant Judge Mack a degree of legal cover, not to stop the practices. In August of last year AG Paxton released opinion KP-0109. In this six page opinion AG Paxton held that Judge Mack’s actions were in line with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Town of Greece V. Galloway, and other precedents, and therefore were not in violation of the state of federal constitutions.
On this past Tuesday March 21st. The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed suit against Judge Mack seeking to end his use of chaplains. Paxton responded the following day with an official statement saying
“Judge Mack is fully complying with the Constitution by adhering to the model for opening prayers the Supreme Court endorsed just a few years ago,” Attorney General Paxton said. “The Freedom from Religion Foundation’s quest to expunge any vestige of religion from public life flies in the face of the Supreme Court’s holdings. I am confident our courts will follow years of precedents and not indulge a litigious group’s plea to rewrite the Constitution.”
SAN FRANCISCO, April 26, 2016 /Christian Newswire/ — Thomas More Society attorneys filed an appeal last week with the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit for undercover journalist David Daleiden, arguing for reversal of a preliminary injunction that bars Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress from publishing undercover videos from the 2014 and 2015 annual meetings of the National Abortion Federation (“NAF”). Daleiden’s appeal assails the lower court’s decree as a blatantly unconstitutional “prior restraint” on free speech, based on repeated Supreme Court precedents that condemn such gag orders, most notably the famous Pentagon Papers case in which the Justices refused the federal government’s plea to stop publication of top secret files discussing the Vietnam war which had been leaked to the New York Times and Washington Post. The appeal brief also argues that release of undercover video of significant (if not paramount) public interest should not be suppressed, in order to protect the public’s right to know – a critical element of our professed democratic self-governance as an open and free society. Indeed, the United States Congress, numerous state legislators, and criminal investigators have subpoenaed and relied on Daleiden’s video releases to instigate hearings, new legal and regulatory initiatives, defunding measures, and also possible civil and criminal enforcement actions against the abortion industry. Congress itself had subpoenaed the suppressed videos and the lower court upheld that subpoena, which in turn led to a public hearing by the House Select Committee on Infant Lives, held last week.
This prejudicial censorship targeted at civilian investigator Daleiden threatens undercover journalism at large, explained Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society, a national non-profit law firm. “The National Abortion Federation (NAF) is working in tandem with Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers and promoters to suppress David Daleiden’s First Amendment rights and to shut down the resulting investigations focused on the abortion groups’ involvement in baby parts trafficking,” stated Brejcha.
The Society’s appeal, filed with California-based co-counsel, comes on the heels of the preliminary injunction entered by District Judge William H. Orrick of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. NAF had sought entry of this censorship in response to Daleiden’s public release of a series of videos exposing illegal and unsavory practices by Planned Parenthood and other abortion industry participants. NAF’s principal claim in its lawsuit, filed last summer, is that Daleiden and CMP violated the federal Racketeer Influenced & Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”), a 1970 federal law designed to combat organized crime.
About the RICO claims, Brejcha said, “These are totally inapposite charges in this scenario – charges that have been decisively rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court. Equally as other investigative journalists for so-called mainstream news media, such as CBS’s Sixty Minutes, regularly resort to undercover journalism tactics to ferret out hidden crime, citizen journalists like David Daleiden have every right to penetrate the criminal underworld to bring to light and open to public scrutiny evidence of potential criminal wrongdoing.”
Find additional background on the case at the following links:
- Thomas More Society Attorneys Defend Citizen Journalist Daleiden in Abusive Raid and Seizure (April 7, 2016)
- Planned Parenthood Files New Federal “RICO” (Racketeering) Lawsuit against David Daleiden (January 20, 2016)
- National Abortion Federation Lawsuit against David Daleiden Threatens Undercover Journalism at Large (December 17, 2015)
- Thomas More Society Defends David Daleiden as He Uncovers Abortion Industry’s Sale of Fetal Body Parts (August 27, 2015)
The Thomas More Society is a national not-for-profit law firm dedicated to restoring respect in law for life, family, and religious liberty. Headquartered in Chicago, the Thomas More Society fosters support for these causes by providing high quality pro bono legal services from local trial courts all the way up to the United States Supreme Court. For more information, visit www.thomasmoresociety.org.
The Georgia Governor’s Office announced yesterday that Gov. Deal was vetoing the Free Exercise Protection Act. The act was passed by the Georgia legislature in response to concerns by Christians in Georgia that they were too often being denied the right to exercise their faith in public.
Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council reacted with the following statement,
TEMECULA, Calif., Feb. 10, 2016 /Christian Newswire/ — Today, Calvary Chapel Bible Fellowship filed a complaint in federal court against the County of Riverside, California, based on the United States Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person’s Act of 2000.
Calvary Chapel Bible Fellowship, commonly known as “Calvary Wine Country,” is located in the region of California known as the Temecula Wine Country.
Calvary Wine Country opened its doors in 1996 when churches were once allowed to locate in the 17,900 acre Wine Country region – an area equal to 28 square miles. However, soon after Calvary Wine Country was approved, the County banned churches from the Temecula Wine Country, leaving Calvary Wine Country as a nonconforming use. Now, Calvary’s ability to expand its facilities for its flourishing congregation in the Wine Country is uncertain at best.
Calvary Wine Country plans to remain in the Wine Country and to build a larger sanctuary on its 28 acre adjacent property. However, the county’s zoning ordinances still ban churches and Calvary Wine Country is the only church in the Temecula Wine Country. Meanwhile, the County permits special occasion facilities, wineries, hotels, resorts, restaurants, and many other tourist related uses in the Wine Country.
Calvary’s pastor Clark Van Wick said, “It’s a tragedy to see our religious liberty eroded in this country where men and women have fought and died to protect our liberty. It’s un-American to see churches outlawed like we’re seeing here in the neighborhood I’ve lived in for 27 years.”
“This is a classic case for the federal religious land use law that protects churches and requires that zoning authorities treat religious assemblies on equal terms to other nonreligious assemblies,” said Robert Tyler, Managing Partner of Tyler & Bursch, LLP and counsel for Calvary Wine Country. He further commented, “Calvary Wine Country has long desired to just be a good neighbor, to work cooperatively with the county and to provide a place of worship for the thousands of residents that live in the Wine Country.”
Unfortunately, Calvary Wine Country has been the target of litigation by a “loose” organization named Protect Wine Country. Calvary Wine Country has had to fight a neighboring vintner, a special interest group, and other politically influential wineries just to continue its right to exist on its own property.
Robert Tyler commented, “It is ironic that Father Junipero Sera, the ‘Father of California Wine,’ planted the first known vineyard in California at the San Diego Mission de Alcala and vineyards graced the California Missions for many years. Today, however, Riverside County has determined that a church is no longer compatible with vineyards and has banned all religious assemblies from the Temecula Wine Country.”
Calvary Wine Country is represented by Advocates for Faith & Freedom in association with Tyler & Bursch, LLP. Robert Tyler filed one of the first lawsuits under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 on behalf of the Elsinore Christian Center located in Lake Elsinore, California. That suit resulted in a successful resolution wherein the City paid more than $1.6 million in settlement. Robert’s firm, Tyler & Bursch, LLP, has become one of the nation’s premier firms for handling religious land use cases on behalf of churches.
Advocates for Faith & Freedom is a nonprofit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting religious liberty in the courts. You can visit our website at www.faith-freedom.com.
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A copy of the Complaint can be found here.
The Texas Supreme Court decision highlights the ongoing struggle for religious liberty in America’s public schools
(Austin, Texas) Liberty Institute– In an 8-0 decision on Friday, the Texas Supreme Court issued a crucial decision in favorof the Kountze Cheerleaders, whose legal struggle began in 2012 when school officials opposed their right to paint Bible verses on sports banners.
The Supreme Court overturned a 2014 Texas court of appeals decision that had ruled the case “moot,” a decision which denied the cheerleaders the opportunity to defend their right to free speech and religious expression. The Justices ordered the Beaumont Court of Appeals to reconsider the case.
“This is an 8-0 victory for the free speech and religious liberty rights of all Texas students,” says Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of Liberty Institute. “We are delighted that the court considered this case so straightforward that it did not even require oral argument.”
“In light of today’s Supreme Court ruling,” he added, “we look forward to defending the Kountze cheerleaders at the Court of Appeals and resolving this case permanently in the cheerleaders’ favor”
The Court’s decision on Friday followed extensive briefing by Liberty Institute and its volunteer attorneys James Ho and Prerak Shah of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, LLP (who are serving as lead appellate counsel) and amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) briefs filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in October 2015, and U.S. Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornynin December 2015.
Justice Eva Guzman’s concurring opinion in favor of the Kountze cheerleaders accurately highlights the continuing struggle for religious liberty in America’s public schools. Justice Guzman agreed with Liberty Institute’s brief, and cited key free speech decisions—including landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions and past victories by Liberty Institute—that apply to the Kountze cheerleaders and make their situation a critical matter deserving special attention.
POSITIVE BIBLE VERSES BANNED FROM SCHOOL GROUNDS
In 2012, middle school and high school cheerleaders in Kountze, Texas, decided to paint positive and inspirational messages on run-through banners at football games. The decision to use Bible verses was made by the entire cheer squad and the students themselves. The cheerleaders and their families purchased all materials.
But after receiving a complaint letter from the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Kountze ISD superintendent banned the religious messages.
Supported by their parents and the community, the cheerleaders decided to fight for their free speech and religious liberty rights. That’s when the case exploded into the limelight, garnering nation-wide attention.
In September 2012, Liberty Institute and Beaumont attorney David Starnes filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Kountze cheerleaders and their parents, seeking a temporary restraining order (TRO) and temporary injunction to prohibit government school officials from censoring the cheerleaders’ religious speech.
The judge granted the TRO (and later a temporary injunction), allowing the cheerleaders to continue using the signs for the remainder of the 2012 football season.
In May 2013, Hardin County District Court Judge Steven Thomas granted the cheerleaders final judgment finding that the banners are “constitutionally permissible.”
But Kountze ISD appealed the District Court’s decision to the Texas Court of Appeals in Beaumont, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) jumped in to file a brief against the cheerleaders. In May 2014, the Beaumont Court of Appeals said that because Kountze ISD now stated it would allow the banners, the case was moot. The court of appeals’ decision, however, left unresolved the claim by the Kountze ISD that the cheerleaders’ banners were government speech subject to school censorship or an outright ban. On behalf of the cheerleaders, appellate lead counsel Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, LLP, David Starnes, and Liberty Institute sought a review of that decision from the Texas Supreme Court. The Court reversed the lower court’s decision without oral argument on January 26, 2016, sending the case back to the Beaumont Court of Appeals.
AT STAKE: STUDENTS’ FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION IN SCHOOL
As chronicled in Liberty Institute’s Undeniable: The Survey of Hostility to Religion in America, attacks against the religious free speech rights of students are escalating as more and more organizations send misinformation and legal threats to school officials.
But the law is on the side of religious freedom in schools. While the Texas Supreme Court ruling on Friday is a victory, the war for the permanent protection of the Kountze students’ rights is still ongoing. Liberty Institute vows to continue the fight on behalf of the Kountze cheerleaders at the Court of Appeals and beyond, if necessary, and to protect freedom for future students nationwide.
To learn more about the religious rights of students and teachers in school, read or download Liberty Institute’s free Religious Liberty Protection Kit forStudents and Teachers.
January 12, 2015
Nearly 28,000 petitions gathered in support of Chief, Religious Freedom
ATLANTA, GA — Tomorrow, Family Research Council (FRC) President Tony Perkins will join Atlanta area pastors and religious liberty advocates at a rally in support of former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran. Cochran was suspended and then fired because of a book he wrote for a men’s Bible study group at his Baptist church.
The “Standing for our Faith Rally” is scheduled to take place at the Georgia Capitol Rotunda at 1:30 p.m. FRC has gathered nearly 28,000 petitions over the last few days protesting the overreach of government authority that resulted in the Chief’s firing.
“The idea that the government can force public servants to surrender their First Amendment rights is outrageous,” said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.
“If a government will fire someone for their religious beliefs, no beliefs are safe from government regardless of how sacred those beliefs may be. Mayor Reed is sending a very clear message that Christians must check their faith at the door of public service.
“Increasingly, the expectation seems to be that anyone in public service shouldn’t serve in Sunday school, lead Bible studies, write books, or believe anything contrary to government dictates. I stand with Chief Cochran, Atlanta pastors and all those who cherish our constitutional freedoms of speech and religious freedom,” concluded Perkins.
WHO: Tony Perkins, President, Family Research Council
WHAT: Standing for Our Faith Rally
WHERE: Georgia Capitol Rotunda
WHEN: 1:30 PM — 2:30 PM ET Tuesday, January 13, 2015
Thomas More Society Wins Appeal for Catholic Homeschool Group
INDIANAPOLIS, Jan. 6, 2015 /Christian Newswire/ — Today, the Thomas More Society won an appeal on behalf of Fishers Adolescent Catholic Enrichment Society in the Indiana Supreme Court. The small Catholic homeschool group from Fishers, Indiana, had been disciplined by the Indiana Civil Rights Commission for alleged retaliation that resulted from a disagreement that began over a chicken dinner.
“In trying to control the affairs of a small religious homeschool group, the Indiana Civil Rights Commission far overstepped its authority,” declared Peter Breen, Vice President and Senior Counsel for the Thomas More Society. “Unfortunately, it took years of effort and hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney time in order to stop this outrageous government overreach. We’re glad that the Indiana Supreme Court has now ordered the Commission to stop its harassment and dismiss this case.”
Writing for the Supreme Court majority, Chief Justice Brent E. Dickson held that the Indiana Civil Rights Commission exceeded its authority by interfering in “an inter-group squabble” that did not relate to education, the only area in which the Commission can exercise its oversight. The Supreme Court held that the Commission should have dismissed the claims against the Catholic Enrichment Society as meritless and remanded the case, ordering the Commission to grant the Catholic Enrichment Society’s motion to dismiss.
The precipitating event took place in 2008, when a Catholic Enrichment Society parent requested a steak dinner for her daughter who planned to attend a dinner-dance at a contracted venue. The volunteer mothers who led the Catholic Enrichment Society decided that the parent should bring a meal for the child instead of having a steak dinner, when the rest of the participating children and families would receive chicken. Because the venue was charging by attendance, the volunteer mothers did not lower the ticket price for the child. The next day, on behalf of her daughter, the parent filed a complaint with the Indiana Civil Rights Commission, alleging that FACES had discriminated against her disability. After several other incidents involving the parent, the volunteer mothers of the Catholic Enrichment Society expelled that parent and her family from the eleven-family group. The parent then filed a further complaint with the Civil Rights Commission for retaliation.
The legal onslaught brought to bear by the government of the State of Indiana rapidly depleted the limited resources of the Fishers Adolescent Catholic Enrichment Society. The Thomas More Society took on the legal defense pro bono, at no charge to the families in the group. The group itself eventually ceased operations, as the families decided not to continue operations under the conditions imposed by the Civil Rights Commission.
“This was a case that the Indiana Civil Rights Commission had no business taking on. In doing so, the Commission usurped parental rights, destroyed a small religious group, and wasted taxpayer resources prosecuting a frivolous and petty complaint that it should have instead immediately rejected,” concluded Breen.
About the Thomas More Society
The Thomas More Society is a not-for-profit, national public interest law firm dedicated to restoring respect in law for life, family, and religious liberty. Based in Chicago, the Thomas More Society defends and fosters support for these causes by providing high quality pro bono legal services from local trial courts all the way to the United States Supreme Court. www.thomasmoresociety.org
ERIE, Penn., Dec. 17, 2014 /Christian Newswire/ — The Ratio Christi chapter at San Jose State University received a letter from the university stating that the club has been “de-recognized.” In the letter, school officials explained their actions to be in compliance with a new California State University Executive Order regarding how an organization selects its officers.
Ratio Christi, like many other campus Christian organizations, requires that chapter officers adhere to the Christian faith and biblical beliefs. This means that non-Christians, or Christians who do not feel it is necessary to follow New Testament principles as a guide for their daily lives, are not eligible for officer positions in the group. The State of California now deems this as “discriminatory” and punishable by de-recognition.
“Colleges and universities should be encouraging student leadership, not stifling it,” said Ratio Christi President Rick Schenker. “All college students, including religious students, should have the right to form groups around shared beliefs and choose leaders who reflect those beliefs without being shut down and kicked off campus. Imagine the College Democrats being required to have a Republican student leader, or the local chapter of PETA being required to have a meat-eating leader. The results of the Cal State policy are simply ridiculous.”
In their letter to the SJSU Ratio Christi chapter, school officials explained the consequences of being “de-recognized,” a list that ranged from not being eligible for student funding and financial services to not being allowed to participate in student organization fairs, ceremonies, or training.
Ratio Christi welcomes and invites all students to attend campus meetings. Atheists have attended the meetings. However, as a Christian student-led group, there are certain criteria for obtaining and maintaining leadership positions within the chapters, namely a faith in Jesus Christ and a lifestyle that is consistent with biblical principles. In order to be reinstated, Ratio Christi would have to give up their freedom to choose their own student leaders in accordance with these beliefs.
“Anyone is free to join the Ratio Christi chapter at San Jose State University, and these students should be able to independently choose leaders that embody the purpose of the club, not the ideology of a few college officials,” Schenker said. “The message the school officials are sending is a deeply disturbing one, and paints a grim outlook for the future of true education in this country.”
Ratio Christi is currently consulting legal counsel regarding this matter.
Ratio Christi Website: ratiochristi.org
Georgia Baptist Convention Defends Religious Liberty, Calls on Atlanta Mayor to Reverse Discipline of Atlanta Fire Chief
DULUTH, Ga., Dec. 16, 2014 /Christian Newswire/ — The Georgia Baptist Convention (GBC) is calling on the Christian community to “stand up for biblical principles and fellow believers who are punished or marginalized for their faith.”
The Duluth agency, which represents 1.4-million members statewide, felt called to respond to the recent 30-day suspension of Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran by Mayor Kasim Reed. The statement was issued by the GBC’s Public Affairs Committee on Dec. 9.
Cochran, on his own time and reflecting his personal religious convictions, penned a small self-published book for members of his church titled “Who Told You That You Were Naked?” The paperback drew the attention of the LGBT community for its stand on traditional marriage and sexual immorality.
Reed responded to the book’s statement, and the concern of the LGBT community, by suspending Cochran without pay, requiring him to attend sensitivity training, and prohibiting the distribution of the book on city property. His reprimand was released on Facebook where he immediately distanced himself from the Fire Chief’s book.
“I want to be clear that the material in Chief Cochran’s book is not representative of my personal beliefs, and is inconsistent with the Administration’s work to make Atlanta a more welcoming city for all of her citizens – regardless of their… religious beliefs,” according to the site.
No mention is made that Cochran’s statements are taken from Galatians 5:19-21 and includes definitions of, and warnings about promiscuity, idolatry, jealousy, hatred, strife, envy, dissensions, heresies, murder and drunkenness; among others.
Cochran wrote the faith-based book for men in his church as part of an ongoing Bible study that focused on sin and redemption through Jesus Christ. His opening acknowledgement states, “…my life is a testimony of the struggle with condemnation and how a man can grow from strength to strength, through diligent pursuit of fulfilling God’s purpose for his life through the Word of God.” He is a member of Elizabeth Baptist Church, which is affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention.
Upon learning of the punishment placed upon Cochran, the GBC’s committee responded by issuing its own statement defending the Fire Chief and calling on Reed to:
- Acknowledge Chief Cochran’s First Amendment Rights,
- Make a public apology for the suspension and grief it has caused the Chief and his family, and
- Restore Chief Cochran’s pay and reputation as an honorable Fire Chief.
“It is time for believers to stand up for their religious beliefs, biblical principles and fellow Christians who are punished or marginalized for their faith,” said Dr. J. Robert White, executive director, Georgia Baptist Convention. “GBC’s Public Affairs Committee’s statement is a call to action for all fellow believers to take a stand.”
The statement further calls upon Christians and people of faith across Georgia to sign the related petition on the Georgia Baptist Convention website, support Chief Cochran by purchasing his book on Amazon, and enlist as many churches and believers as possible to contact Mayor Reed to request that he reverse his decisions.
The Mayor can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at (404) 330-6100, or by mail at 55 Trinity Ave. Suite 2500, Atlanta, GA 30303.
About Georgia Baptist Convention
The Georgia Baptist Convention is made up of autonomous, cooperating churches that partner together through the Cooperative Program, special mission offerings and mission efforts to share Jesus Christ across Georgia, throughout North America, and around the world. Churches give through the Cooperative Program and the State Missions Offering to support the missionaries and ministries of the Georgia Baptist Convention. In turn, Georgia state missionaries provide assistance, training, encouragement, and support for the ministries of Georgia Baptist churches and associations. Churches are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention through their affiliation with the Georgia Baptist Convention. www.gabaptist.org