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.”
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.
March Madness Foul: The Freedom From Religion Atheist Group Attacks Top NCAA Basketball Teams Over Chaplains
MADISON, Wis., March 27, 2015 /Christian Newswire/ — March Madness is sweeping the United States for the NCAA Basketball Championships. At the same time, the Freedom From Religion (FFR) is harassing six teams for having chaplains.
Louisville, Wichita State, Maryland, Oklahoma, Kansas and Virginia are being pressured to provide FFR their financial records. However, the chaplains are not being paid by the universities to do Christian work. (Global Dispatch)
Last fall, FFR did the same to top NCAA football teams throughout the United States, but their charges were found to be false. They were attacking Christian leaders for working with athletes in their spare time on a voluntary basis.
“Freedom From Religion claims they support freedom of speech, but they continue to attack Christians,” states 4 Winds Christian Athletics President Steve McConkey. “They were founded in the 1970s because they did not like pro-life people and the founder was part of the Zero Population Growth movement to control the population. Not your average citizens.”
Steve McConkey is the President of 4 Winds Christian Athletics (4 WINDS). Steve and his wife started working in world-class track and field ministries in 1981. 4 WINDS was formed in 1988 and expanded to all sports in 2014. Steve regularly appears on worldwide radio and is frequently quoted in articles throughout the world.
“If enough Christians and institutions stand up, Freedom From Religion will not be able to bully people,” says McConkey. “When a society loses it Christian foundation, eventually no one benefits, even atheists. Christians need to pray and realize this is a spiritual problem as non-believers want to impose their made-up morality on others.”
Steve has a Master of Public Health from Western Kentucky University with honors and a BS-Public Health from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Steve became a Christian in 1976 after reading the New Testament.
He was born in Des Moines, Iowa, but moved to NW Wisconsin after the sixth grade. Ministry headquarters have been in Eugene, Dallas-Fort Worth, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and now in Madison, Wisconsin where Freedom From Religion is located. Steve operates Big Planet Watch and Track and Field Report at BigPlanetWatch.com.
According to an article at the Global Dispatch, Freedom From Religion says, “One in three Americans under the age of 30 identifies as nonreligious, making it very likely these chaplains are imposing their religion on students who are not religious and just want to play basketball.”
“The governor should be as free to issue prayer proclamations as the founders of America and Colorado were,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Joel Oster. “State and federal courts all over the country have repeatedly upheld and recognized such proclamations as a deeply rooted part of American tradition and history.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed suit in 2010 to challenge the constitutionality of the prayer proclamations, which Colorado’s governors routinely issue on the National Day of Prayer each year. After a lower court ruled against FFRF, it appealed to the Colorado Court of Appeals, which reversed the ruling. The Colorado attorney general then appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court.
The brief Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys submitted in Hickenlooper v. Freedom From Religion Foundation argues that the Colorado Supreme Court should look to the appropriate U.S. Supreme Court precedent, Marsh v. Chambers, which upheld the constitutionality of legislative prayer practices.
As the brief explains, the U.S. Supreme Court “reasoned that the long and unbroken history of legislative prayer in both the states and Congress dating back to the Founders indicated that the Founders would not have seen this as a violation of the Establishment Clause. The historical evidence showed ‘not only…what the draftsmen intended the Establishment Clause to mean, but also…how they thought that Clause applied to the practice authorized by the First Congress–their actions reveal their intent.’”
Although the lawsuit challenges the proclamations under the Preference Clause of the Colorado Constitution, Colorado courts interpret that clause “by looking at the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution and the body of federal law that has construed it,” as a 1986 Colorado Supreme Court ruling explains.
“As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor once observed, government acknowledgments of religion that date back to the adoption of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause cannot be said to violate it,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot. “We trust the Colorado Supreme Court will recognize the enormous weight of history and legal precedent on this subject and will uphold the governor’s freedom to issue prayer proclamations just as Colorado’s governors and officials have done since territorial days.”
- Broad support for prayer reflected in numerous briefs at Supreme Court (faithinspires.wordpress.com)
- W.Va. asks court to OK prayer in legislative session (times-news.com)
- Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia notes capitalism ‘more Christian than socialism’ (theglobaldispatch.com)
is now able to resume this wonderful tradition started over 60 years ago.”
- U.S. Marine Turned Attorney: There’s A War On Christmas In Detroit (detroit.cbslocal.com)
- Thousands Rally to Save Nativity Scene (vineoflife.net)