Liberty Institute News
Ronald Reagan: A Champion for Religious Liberty

One of America’s most deeply read and thoughtful presidents, Ronald Wilson Reagan, was a leading champion for religious liberty. As the nation commemorates his 105th birthday this weekend, those who love religious liberty should remember this aspect of his heritage—and honor his memory by seeking to preserve the religious freedom for which he fought.


Evidence indicates that Reagan was one of America’s most spiritually grounded presidents. Trained early in life by his evangelical Christian mother, his speeches, journals and personal communications suggest that he never forgot the lessons she taught him. 

Reagan prominently laced speeches on domestic and foreign policy with references to the practical implications of doctrines such as sin and the fall (part of his case for limited government, law and order, and confronting evil in regimes like the Soviet Union), and the creation and dignity of every human being in image of God (part of his case for free enterprise and against abortion).

After renowned historian Douglas Brinkley spent six months meticulously examining and editing the private diaries Reagan kept while president, he noted:


In these diaries, one also finds Reagan:

·      Taking time to research evidence for the resurrection of Christ and drawing confidence from what he learned.

·      Praying through the night for good weather for a visit from the prime minister of India, whom Reagan was trying to draw away from the influence of the Soviet Union (“Today was supposed to be a rainy one & I’ve been praying since last night.”) The rain held off until just after an important outdoor ceremony that got the meeting off to a good start. 

These are two of many recorded instances of Ronald Reagan exhibiting an uncommon personal pursuit of God, and understanding the life-changing influence of faith.


Because Reagan personally understood religion, Reagan the statesman firmly grasped its value to a free society. And that made him a fierce opponent of threats to religious liberty. 

“Without God,” he said, “there is no virtue, because there’s no prompting of the conscience. Without God, we’re mired in the material, that flat world that tells us only what the senses perceive. Without God, there is a coarsening of the society. And without God, democracy will not and cannot long endure.”

For this reason, Reagan rebutted attacks on religious values as attempts to “abrogate the original terms of American democracy.”

Those “terms” were repeatedly articulated by America’s Founding Fathers, like John Adams, who stated in 1798,

(Adams’ words have been proven true. Multiple research studies show that individuals who regularly attend religious services are more likely to adhere to laws and be good citizens.)

To promote religious freedom in America, Reagan:

·      Supported both judicial and legislative action to restore prayer and other religious activity to public schools, including the 1984 Equal Access Act.
·      Left a federal judiciary populated with judges who made key rulings in favor of religious freedom. 
·      Accelerated the careers of countless champions of religious liberty and freedom through his Justice Department.

Most of all, Reagan attacked the widespread misinterpretation of “separation of church and state,” saying in 1983,

Indeed, Reagan saw religious freedom as crucial to the moral stability necessary for a society to afford less government and enjoy more political and economic freedom. 


Reagan stated in 1984,

Today, contrary to the view of Ronald Reagan, powerful forces in all branches of government and in the culture are questioning the value of religious liberty.

Some float the idea that religious freedom means limiting religious expression to the walls of one’s home or house of worship—and even some houses of worship are facing government interference and legal retribution for nothing more than operating according to their beliefs.

If Americans aren’t free to express their beliefs in public, all their freedoms are in danger.

But the fight is just beginning. Champions of religious freedom—like Liberty Institute—are battling in courts, state legislatures, the U.S. Congress, and the media—and they still have the law and influential court decisions on their side. 

As the nation’s largest legal organization solely dedicated to protecting religious freedom for all Americans, Liberty Institute has a victory rate of over 90 percent.

You can help Liberty Institute win even more victories—and honor religious liberty champion Ronald Reagan, by supporting our efforts with your prayers and financial support.

Other stories:

Liberty Institute Asks U.S. Supreme Court to Reverse Violation of Religious Conscience Rights in Washington State

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

Friday, February 05, 2016 5:06:00 PM

SILENCING FAITH? Liberty Institute Appeals After Court Denies Preliminary Injunction to Vintage Church

On Friday, Liberty Institute attorneys appealed on behalf of Vintage Church to Louisiana’s Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal.

The appeal was filed after the Jefferson Parish 24th Judicial District Court denied the church’s request for a preliminary injunction. The injunction would prevent Jefferson Parish from discriminatorily enforcing the noise ordinance against the church.

In 2015, Jefferson Parish banned Vintage Church’s tent services from exceeding noise levels of 60 dB—which is the equivalent of a “typical conversation, dishwasher, [or] clothes dryer” (American Speech-Language Hearing Association)—and barred the church from using any sound amplification, including microphones for preaching, for its 9:00 a.m. service. Jefferson Parish officials even issued criminal summons to the church’s executive pastor, fingerprinting him in front of church members.

While Jefferson Parish has banned the church from exceeding the noise level of a conversation, it allows exceptions for other loud noises such as power tools, construction and demolition noises, lawn mowers, and power generators.

The Parish’s discriminatory restrictions on the church have prevented Vintage Church from holding its worship services without the fear of running afoul of the law. In December 2015, Liberty Institute and volunteer attorney Roy Bowes filed a lawsuit to protect the church’s religious liberty rights.

Liberty Institute Senior Counsel Justin Butterfield said, “It is discriminatory—as well as ridiculous—that Jefferson Parish is demanding that Vintage Church remain below 60 dB while power tools, construction noise, and demolition noise are permitted to be much louder. We are confident that the Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal will vindicate Vintage Church’s rights under federal and state law.”


Vintage Church has two locations in the New Orleans Metropolitan area, one of which is in Metairie, Jefferson Parish, La. At its Metairie location, the sanctuary is undergoing expansion in order to accommodate the growing congregation. In the meantime, members are meeting in a tent on church property on Sunday mornings.

In October 2015, Jefferson Parish officials issued Pastor Matthew Brichetto, the church’s executive pastor, a criminal summons (a non-custodial arrest in which the pastor is considered under legal arrest but not taken into custody) after they measured the church’s service at over 60 dB—which is the equivalent of “typical conversation, dishwasher, [or] clothes dryer” (American Speech-Language Hearing Association).

The church hired a sound engineer to ensure their services were compliant. But in November 2015, the church was informed that they could not use any sound amplification system at the church’s 9:00 a.m. service. This included the microphone the pastor used to preach and speakers for worship music.

The church complied, but a few days later Jefferson Parish officials came to the church, claimed the sound was above 60 dB even without any sound amplification, and issued another criminal summons to the pastor. They even fingerprinted the pastor in front of members.

Jefferson Parish has banned the church from using any sound amplification before 10:00 a.m. and from ever surpassing noise levels of 60 dB. However, the parish’s noise ordinance allows power tools, lawn mowers, power generators, and construction and demolition activities—even at times earlier than the church’s 9:00 a.m. service. In addition, construction noises are given a 75 dB limit rather than the 60 dB limit applied to the church.


The parish’s restrictions have severely affected Vintage Church’s ability to hold worship services, which is an essential part of the church’s religious activities. For example, without a microphone, the pastor cannot maintain a speaking level loud enough for  all the people to hear what the pastor is saying. In addition, the intimidation of the church by the Jefferson County officials has resulted in a drop in attendance.

On December 10, 2015, Liberty Institute and volunteer attorney Roy Bowes filed a lawsuit against Jefferson Parish.

The lawsuit argued that the parish’s actions violated the U.S. Constitution, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), and the Louisiana Preservation of Religious Freedom Act (LPRA). Among other requests, the lawsuit sought a preliminary injunction to protect the church from the ordinance.


Although Jefferson Parish recently dropped the criminal charges against Pastor Brichetto, Jefferson Parish has not agreed to stop enforcing its unreasonable and discriminatory sound restrictions against the church. The church’s lawsuit against the parish is proceeding.

On January 6, 2016, the Jefferson Parish 24th Judicial District Court denied the church a preliminary injunction. The court ruled that Vintage Church was not substantially burdened by the noise ordinance.

On February 5, 2016, Liberty Institute appealed the court’s denial of the preliminary injunction to Louisiana’s Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal.


Liberty Institute is committed to defending the religious liberty rights of Vintage Church and other churches who experience unlawful hostility. Liberty Institute has a victory rate of over 90% and has successfully defended the religious liberty rights of other churches who faced opposition from local governmental entities.

For information on the religious liberty rights of churches and how to best defend those rights, download Liberty Institute’s free Religious Liberty Protection Kit for Churches.

Other stories:

Ronald Reagan: A Champion for Religious Liberty

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

Friday, February 05, 2016 4:50:00 PM

Liberty Institute Asks U.S. Supreme Court to Reverse Violation of Religious Conscience Rights in Washington State

Liberty Institute submitted an (friend of the court) brief Friday on behalf of 42 members of Congress who oppose a 2015 Ninth Circuit decision in that denied the conscience rights of healthcare professionals. The brief asks the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

The case originated in 2005, when the Stormans’ family-owned pharmacy sued Washington State for requiring all pharmacies to provide abortion-inducing drugs, even if providing such drugs violated the conscience of the pharmacists. The law even prohibited objecting pharmacies from referring customers to other pharmacies within a five-mile radius.

The case eventually made its way to the Federal Appeals Court for the Ninth Circuit, where the Court ruled against the pharmacy in 2015. The plaintiffs appealed the case to the Supreme Court.

On behalf of a group of U.S. House Representatives who support the petitioners, Liberty Institute wrote and submitted an brief requesting a which, if granted, will ensure that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case.


In the brief, Liberty Institute attorneys detail America’s long history of protecting conscience rights through three main arguments.

1.    Since the Founding Era, the United States have Recognized and Protected Conscience Rights – even in an area as vital as military service in the Revolutionary War.

From Quakers who objected to fighting in the Revolutionary War because of their religious beliefs, to conscientious objectors in World War II and even today, the federal government has a longstanding tradition of providing exemptions from military service to those whose religious beliefs cannot permit the taking of another human life.

The Ninth Circuit’s decision requiring pro-life pharmacists to provide abortion-inducing drugs should be viewed no differently, the Liberty Institute’s brief argues:

2.    Federal and State Governments Have Long Protected the Conscience Rights of Healthcare Professionals

Liberty Institute’s brief goes on to argue that federal and State governments have specifically protected the conscience rights of healthcare professionals for decades.

This general rule is well illustrated in the conscience protections enacted the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in . Though immediately legalized abortion in all 50 states, federal and state governments responded with special protections for healthcare professionals who sincerely believed abortion was wrong. 

Over the next four decades, federal and State governments enacted myriad statues, regulations, and rules protecting the conscience rights of healthcare professionals who abstain from practices, procedures, or products that would violate their moral duty not to kill or cause harm. As Liberty Institute’s brief states, the Ninth Circuit’s decision denying the conscience rights of pro-life pharmacies is not only unconstitutional, but unprecedented.

3.    If Uncontested, the Ninth Circuit’s Decision Will Endanger Healthcare Professionals’ Conscience Rights in Other States

Finally, Liberty Institute’s brief points out that if the Ninth Circuit’s decision is permitted to stand, it will open the door to more violations of other healthcare professionals’ conscience rights in other states.

“Freedom of conscience and religion are basic human rights,” Liberty Institute attorneys write. They go on to quote Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, who said,


As Liberty Institute’s brief in goes before the U.S. Supreme Court, hundreds of other battles for the rights of conscience are waging all around the nation.

Faith-based non-profits—including some Liberty Institute clients—are fighting for their conscience rights against the HHS Mandate, which demands that the ministries provide abortion-inducing drugs regardless of their religious beliefs. Liberty Institute filed another brief earlier this month on behalf of several faith-based non-profits, including the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Businesses around the nation including bakeries, floral shops, and wedding venues have been sued and shutdown because the business owners declined from participating in same-sex marriage ceremonies, holding the religious belief that marriage is between one man and one woman.

County commissioners, coaches, and even Christian schools have been prohibited by the government from praying in public according to their religious convictions—a direct violation of their religious liberty.

Liberty Institute Kelly Shackelford said last year that “2015 was the most hostile year to religious freedom in our nation’s history,” and already, 2016 is on track to follow close behind.

 “We’re dedicated to making a stand against the undeniable rise in hostility to religious freedom in this country,” Shackelford says. “Through defending clients for free, submitting expert briefs in key cases before the United States Supreme Court, and educating our fellow Americans about their rights, we have confident hope that we can protect religious liberty for all Americans—now and in the future.”

To find out more about the current struggle for religious freedom in America and what you can do to make a difference, download the newly updated edition of Shackelford’s A Time to Stand 2016: Why Saving Religious Freedom Depends on What People of Faith Do Next.

Other stories:

Ronald Reagan: A Champion for Religious Liberty

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

Friday, February 05, 2016 11:40:00 AM

Liberty Institute Attorneys Speak Out for America’s First Liberty Against Potential SOGI Laws

Indiana lawmakers are proposing two sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) bills (SB 100 and SB 344) that would grant special protections to certain groups based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. But experts at Liberty Institute warn that instead of protecting one group of people, the SOGI bills would strip certain religious liberty rights from many people of faith in Indiana. Ken Klukowski, Liberty Institute Senior Counsel & Director of Strategic Affairs testified before the Indiana General Assembly on Wednesday, explaining the threat to people of faith that the Indiana SOGI bills present.

Jeremy Dys, Senior Counsel for Liberty Institute , was featured in the IndyStar last Saturday. In his op-ed, Dys explains why lawmakers must take advantage of this opportunity to protect religious freedom for all—in Indiana, and in the United States. Read the article in full below.


Less than a year ago, the solicitor general of the United States stood before the Supreme Court of the United States — and, by extension, the entire nation — and admitted that changing how we define marriage would present “an issue” for religious organizations seeking to be faithful to their beliefs and convictions. Now, as legislatures convene across the nation and in Washington, D.C., we have arrived at the first opportunity to address that “issue.”

It was Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for a majority of the court, who urged the continued protection of religious liberty in a post-Obergefell world. “[I]t must be emphasized,” he wrote last June, “that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction” according to those religious doctrines.

But, just how much protection people of faith will have to advocate for their beliefs may ultimately be decided by the action — or inaction — of lawmakers nationwide. Will lawmakers heed the direction Justice Kennedy provides and protect religious liberty? Or, as Justice Alito warned in his dissent, will the decision be used to “vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy” and “stamp out every vestige of dissent?”

That is a conflict that should be simple for lawmakers to avoid. People of good will have disagreed over consequential matters for most of human history. Perhaps better than any other culture, America has uniquely provided people of faith the freedom to a self-determined life governed according to their most central convictions. That should not change now.

Religious liberty in America protects the right of its citizens to “adhere to religious doctrines” and then “to advocate” according to those convictions without fearing the reprisal of its government. This is the promise of religious liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment.

That is a promise our lawmakers must continue to uphold, in this and every generation. Lawmakers should take steps to ensure that First Amendment rights are protected at every level of government.

Employees must remain legally protected from being punished by employers based upon their religious beliefs.

Ministries, motivated by the religious doctrines central to their faith, must continue to be free to do good works — works that lower poverty, increase human flourishing, and strengthen the bonds of the family unit.

Small-business owners ought to be protected and encouraged to abide by their religious conscience when conducting business. Our economy is strengthened by diversity — including the diversity found in the religious beliefs of business owners.

The men and women of our armed forces must be afforded continued religious liberty by our lawmakers. As they do their duty to defend our first liberty, let us never deny them theirs.

Students must be afforded the academic freedom to express their religion in school assignments. Affording students the liberty of conscience teaches them their faith is a welcome addition to the public square.

Most importantly, lawmakers must ensure that the public square will continue to be one in which Americans may continue to debate matters of faith.

Lawmakers may be tempted to place limits on how and when religious liberty is protected. That is a mistake. Religious liberty is a fundamental American right, protected by the Constitution.

Compromising lawmakers risk turning religious liberty into a legal right granted by permission of the state. That would work if religious liberty was a gift from the state, to be exercised according to its whim and fancy. But it is not. It is a fundamental human right, guaranteeing freedom from the state’s intervention in matters of conscience.

In the forming of our “more perfect union” so many years ago, we did not cede religious liberty. We took steps to ensure it would be protected and preserved for future generations. It falls to this generation of lawmakers to carry forward that great promise of the First Amendment and ensure that this right of religious liberty — our first liberty — continues.

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

Friday, January 29, 2016 3:16:00 PM

Christian High School Banned from Praying Over the Loudspeaker before State Championship Football Game

According to the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA), prayer in public is completely off limits— if you’re a Christian school, and even if you’re playing Christian school. 

Liberty Institute sent a demand letter to FHSAA on Tuesday after FHSAA denied Cambridge Christian School’s (CCS) request to prayer over the Florida Citrus Bowl loudspeaker before their football team’s championship game against University Christian School (UCS). FHSAA claimed that since the venue was a public facility and FHSAA is a state actor, prayer would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Liberty Institute’s demand letter claims that the FHSAA violated the Tampa-based school’s rights as a religious institution.

“By refusing CCS’s request to pray, FHSAA is telling individuals and institutions everywhere that religious expression doesn’t belong in the public arena,” said Hiram Sasser, Deputy Chief Counsel for Liberty Institute. “That is dangerous and unconstitutional.”


Prayer is an important aspect of life and education at CCS, including the CCS athletic department. Teachers are encouraged to open their class lectures with prayer. Coaches frequently lead their teams in prayer before practices or games. And prior to each football game kickoff, a prayer is offered over the school stadium’s loudspeaker.

In fact, CCS has been praying before the start of all their athletic competitions since . 

So when CCS learned they would be facing University Christian School (UCS) of Jacksonville, Florida in the 2015 FHSAA 2A division state championship, they joined forces with UCS, asking FHSAA officials to allow CCS’s Head of School, Tim Euler, to pray over the loudspeaker before the game.

On December 2, officials from both CCS and UCS emailed FHSAA to respectfully request approval for a pre-game prayer, explaining the importance of the tradition to their teams.

Within hours of that request, FHSAA denied the it via email. FHSAA reasoned that, “Although both schools are private and religious-affiliated [sic] institutions, the federal law addresses two pertinent issues that prevent us from granting your request.” 

Those two “reasons,” given by the FHSAA, were that the game venue was a “public facility…off limits [to religious expression] under federal guidelines and precedent”; and that as a “state actor,” FHSAA was not “legally permitted to grant permission for such an activity.”


Representing CCS, Liberty Institute issued a demand letter to FHSAA on Tuesday, January 26 to correct the notion that allowing a Christian school to pray before its game—even in a public venue—violates the Constitution.

“By banning their customary pre-game prayer, FHSAA prohibited the school’s free exercise of religion,” Sasser said. “That a violation of the First Amendment.”

“If uncontested, FHSAA’s demands would continue to severely limit the religious liberty of the thousands of students, teachers, and administrators of Florida’s religious schools,” Sasser added.

Liberty Institute is awaiting a response from FHSAA, and is ready to take the next step to defend Cambridge Christian School's right to pray.

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

Friday, January 29, 2016 3:14:00 PM

Liberty Institute and Allies Defend County Commissioners Sued by the ACLU for Praying

In 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued Rowan County, North Carolina for its tradition of opening sessions with legislative prayers. This week, Liberty Institute’s volunteer attorney, Allyson Ho, argued on behalf of five elected commissioners from Rowan County before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, VA.

This legal appeal is significant as the first case to challenge legislative prayer since the Supreme Court’s most recent decision in in 2014.


In a decades-long tradition, the commissioners of Rowan County, North Carolina have followed the example of the America’s very first Congress—as well as the current Congress, and every Congress in between—by opening its sessions in legislative prayer. The responsibility of offering the invocation rotates between the five commissioners, who are elected to serve on the Rowan County Board of Commissioners by their fellow citizens every four years.

When it becomes a commissioner’s turn to offer the invocation, they can choose to pray, or to defer. If they choose to pray, they are permitted to use whatever words they choose, a choice that is always consistent with their personal faith’s beliefs and prayer practices.
In March of 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued Rowan County for this practice, claiming that because all commissioners self-identified as Christian, their traditional method of opening sessions in legislative prayer excluded all other religions, and must therefore be stopped.

“The make-up of the prayers in Rowan County is a direct result of democracy,” said Ken Klukowski, Senior Counsel & Director of Strategic Affairs for Liberty Institute. “The people freely choose their elected leaders, regardless of their personal faiths, and the commission allows all the elected leaders an equal chance to pray without any regard to their personal faith.”

“Just because the five people currently elected happen to all claim the same faith, does nothing to say that five people of a different faith might not be elected in the future,” Klukowski added.


In conjunction with allies from the National Center for Life and Liberty and ADF, Liberty Institute and volunteer attorney Allyson Ho stepped in to represent the Rowan County commissioners before the Fourth Circuit, after a U.S. District Court ruled against them in 2015.

Arguing for the Rowan County commissioners on Wednesday was Liberty Institute volunteer attorney Allyson Ho, one of the leading appellate attorneys in America. A former U.S. Supreme Court Clerk and White House advisor, Ms. Ho has also graciously worked with Liberty Institute successfully defending the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial against attempts by the ACLU to have it torn down. 

In 2014, Ms. Ho was the only female attorney in private practice to argue more than one case at the U.S. Supreme Court—arguing two cases within 21 days. She is co-chair of appellate practice for a national law firm.

 A decision is expected later this year.

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

Friday, January 29, 2016 3:12:00 PM

BREAKING: Texas Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Kountze Cheerleaders

In an 8-0 decision on Friday, the Texas Supreme Court issued a crucial decision in favor of 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 (“friend of the court”) briefs filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in October 2015, and U.S. Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn in 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.


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.


As chronicled in Liberty Institute’s , 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.


To thank former Kountze Independent School District (KISD) cheerleaders who have now graduated, encourage current KISD cheerleaders, and embolden students all over the country, signour letter of support now! 

Stay updated on the Kountze Cheerleaders case and other important issues by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, and signing up for our Liberty Watch Weekly Newsletter 

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

Friday, January 29, 2016 3:10:00 PM

Liberty Institute Exposes Obamacare’s Continued Religious Liberty Violations in Supreme Court Amicus Brief

Liberty Institute filed a friend of court brief last week at the United States Supreme Court in —one of the most consequential cases before the Court this year.

“If the Supreme Court rejects the arguments of the plaintiffs in , Liberty Institute’s clients—and all faith-based non-profit ministries—will face damaging consequences and suffer the loss of their religious liberty,” Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of Liberty Institute said.

“Not only will that loss of freedom affect the ministries—it will hurt the millions of people those ministries help every year,” Shackelford added.

The outcome of the case will determine whether the Obamacare “Abortion Pill” Mandate violates the religious liberty rights of faith-based, non-profit ministries according to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Liberty Institute filed the amicus brief on behalf of its clients: four retirement communities and two colleges, each a ministry of The Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) denomination.


The HHS “Abortion Pill” Mandate is a portion of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare,” that forces group health insurance plans to provide coverage for abortion-inducing drugs or devices – for example, Plan B (the “day after pill”), Ella (the “week after pill”), and intrauterine devices (“IUD”) that make the womb hostile to developing human life.

The HHS “Abortion Pill” Mandate exempts churches, church denominations, and church auxiliaries, but provides no exemption for faith-based ministries like the Little Sisters of the Poor (one of many plaintiffs in ) or the retirement and academic ministries of The Christian and Missionary Alliance  represented by Liberty Institute.


In , the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.—establishing that religiously affiliated, family-owned for-profit businesses could not be forced to violate their beliefs by complying with the HHS “Abortion Pill” Mandate and providing certain kinds of abortion-inducing drugs or devices to their employees. It was a substantial victory for religious freedom—but not a total victory.

The decision was limited to the protection of for-profit businesses, leaving non-profit ministries—which fall neither within the exempted church category nor the Hobby Lobby precedent—subject to the coercive demands of the federal government.

Since Obamacare became law, dozens of faith-based non–profit ministries have brought their cases before courts, hoping to achieve the same kind of legal relief to accommodate their sincerely held religious beliefs as family-owned businesses under the Hobby Lobby decision. But time and again, the Department of Justice has urged the federal appellate courts to rule against them.

In September 2015, however, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals shook things up, becoming the first circuit court to reject the government’s arguments and rule in favor of the religious liberty rights of faith-based non-profits. This ruling caused a circuit split, taking the issue to the United States Supreme Court, where it is now.


Filed at the Supreme Court on January 11, 2016, Liberty Institute’s brief makes several key arguments explaining why the HHS “Abortion Pill” Mandate is not only problematic for non-profit ministries—but a violation of established religious liberty rights, including protections in the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which provides clear protections for the religious liberty of all citizens.

As Liberty Institute’s brief states:

The Liberty Institute brief exposes how this has been flagrantly violated by the Obama administration unlawfully shrinking the concept of religious protection.

The administration has assumed the authority to declare that when it comes to matters of healthcare, the only religious institutions that have a right to follow their consciences are houses of worship.

This effectively restricts the implementation of one’s religious beliefs to the four walls of the church—not at all in line with RFRA or the First Amendment to the Constitution, which states that the “free exercise” of one’s religion shall not be prohibited. Liberty Institute argues that,

Hobby LobbyHosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & Sch. v. EEOC


Liberty Institute’s brief argues that by making the executive decision to provide exemptions to churches and for-profit businesses—but not non-profit ministries—HHS is “draw[ing] categorical distinctions between religious believers when Congress decided not to draw any such distinction in RFRA,” stating,

Exposing the heart of the issue at stake, Liberty Institute’s amicus brief reveals that,


This ongoing issue—and the potential impact of Liberty Institute’s arguments before the Supreme Court—matter for several reasons.

First, the impact of religious non-profit ministries of all kinds is too significant to measured. Consider the clients of Liberty Institute alone:

Insight for Living Ministries (IFL) – this Bible-teaching ministry of renowned pastor Chuck Swindoll reaches thousands of people around the world with biblical counseling and guidance. Because their core values do not allow the provision of the kind of abortion-inducing contraceptives included in the HHS mandate, IFL finds itself deep in a legal battle.

The Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) – this denomination also has worldwide impact, with 20,000 churches internationally and multiple other faith-based organizations that, though not churches, are affiliates or subsidiaries affiliated with CMA and aligned its core values. Liberty Institute is currently representing four CMA retirement communities and two CMA colleges in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the HHS Mandate.

There are dozens more non-profit faith-based ministries that are currently waiting on the Supreme Court to decide the legality of the HHS Mandate and to determine if they will be permitted to freely exercise their sincere religious beliefs—including the belief that is morally and ethically wrong to participate in the termination of unborn human life. Should the federal government prevail in this battle, religious non-profit ministries all around America will be affected, and their impactful work compromised.

By limiting exemptions to the HHS “Abortion Pill” Mandate to churches, church denominations, and church auxiliaries, the federal government is attempting to limit the exercise of religious beliefs to the four walls of the church. If churches become the only places allowed to operate according to religious principles, the free exercise of religion in America will be all but lost. True religious liberty requires that individuals and organizations operated by individuals be permitted to exercise their faith in all areas of life.

Historically, Liberty Institute’s friend of the court briefs have had far-reaching impact, influencing court opinions and helping to set precedents that have protected protecting religious freedom in subsequent cases. National Review recognized Liberty Institute’s brief in this case as “noteworthy.”

“Our brief argues that HHS violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”) by creating a bifurcated system that gives full protection to favored religious objectors but only partial protection to disfavored religious objectors, like The Christian Missionary Alliance colleges and retirement communities represented by Liberty Institute,” said Matthew Kacsmaryk, Deputy General Counsel for Liberty Institute. “From the founding of the Republic, we have strived to protect conscientious objectors who peaceably seek exemptions to government programs, policies, and procedures that violate their sincere religious beliefs. This proud American tradition is essential to true religious freedom.”

Other stories:

PASTORS AND POLITICS: Two Things Pastors Can’t Do During Election Season…And Everything They Can

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

Thursday, January 21, 2016 11:19:00 AM

PASTORS AND POLITICS: Two Things Pastors Can’t Do During Election Season…And Everything They Can

As election year opens, many pastors are asking, “what are my rights when it comes to addressing political issues?”

Many believe that political issues and the pulpit may never converge. In a four-minute video, Kelly Shackelford, Liberty Institute President and CEO, explains why this is simply not the case.

“There are a lot of misconceptions that pastors have about what their rights and freedoms really are,” Shackelford says, adding that many fear legal ramifications if they mention or participate in politics.

“That fear is not coming because of the law, it’s coming from other sources that would try to silence you,” Kelly continues.


According IRS regulations, there are only two things that pastors and churches, when classified as a 501(c)(3) organization, cannot do—two things we have never known pastors to want to do.

1. A Pastor or Church May Not Use the Organization to Endorse One Candidate Over Another

This does not mean that a pastor—in his individual capacity as an American citizen—may not endorse one candidate over another.

A pastor cannot, however, use the name of his 501(c)(3) church or organization to endorse one candidate over another or be publicly against one candidate over the other.

2. A Pastor or Church May Not Give its Money to One Candidate Over Another

This doesn’t mean that pastors or church members, in their individual capacities as American citizens, cannot donate to the political campaign of their choice. They can even be the Campaign Chair for a candidate if they want. But pastors may not, however, donate official 501(c)(3) church funds or resources to one political candidate over another.


The number of things pastors can do during election season far outweigh the number of things they can’t do—in both quantity and importance.

1. Pastors Speak About Political Issues

It is a misconception that pastors cannot address political issues—even “hot button” issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, and gun control—from the pulpit. Any person or entity that attempts to silence a pastor for addressing these issues is violating that pastor’s constitutional rights under the First Amendment. 

“Pastors have every right under the First Amendment to talk about any of those issues,” Shackelford says, “and there’s never been any case in the history of this country that said pastors can’t do that.”

Historically in America and in many places around the world, government and religion have never been mutually exclusive concepts; rather, they coexist. America’s Founding Fathers saw religion as a necessary component to a healthy, moral society—not a taboo topic to bar completely from the political realm; neither was political talk to be barred from churches.

Sermons on politics, government, and controversial issues were common at our nation’s founding, and popular among pastors and churches on varying sides of the political spectrum.

2. Pastors Educate Their Congregation About Politics

“That’s exactly what pastors are supposed to do,” Shackelford states. “They’re supposed to equip the saints in works of service, and that includes representing their faith and morality in the voting booth.”

Pastors are fully protected when it comes to issues like educating members of their church about the political process, handing out non-partisan voter guides and fliers so members can read about each candidate’s platform, and even providing the opportunity for members to register to vote.

3. Pastors Invite Political Candidates to Speak at Their Church

Contrary to popular belief, pastors and churches can invite political candidates to address their congregation from the pulpit, as long as all the candidates in a race are included in the invitation. 

What if only one candidate accepts the invitation and shows up? No problem!

4. Pastors Participate in Politics in Their Individual Capacity

Serving in ministry does not disqualify pastors or other religious leaders from their individual rights as U.S. citizens. Pastors can participate on political campaigns, hold office on political campaigns, and even endorse a candidate in their individual capacity.  

For more details concerning pastors’ rights during election season, watch the video above. To easily share this information, see our free handout on this topic

For a more extensive look into the rights of churches and ministries, and how to protect those organizations from legal liability, visit Liberty Institute’s Religious Liberty Protection Kits page.

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

Thursday, January 21, 2016 11:17:00 AM

CELEBRATION AND REFLECTION: Thomas Jefferson’s Wisdom Proves Accurate on National Religious Freedom Day, 239 years later

Tomorrow will mark the 23rd National Religious Freedom Day in America. Recognized by Presidential Proclamations since 1993, Religious Freedom Day commemorates the adoption of the 1786 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom by the Virginia General Assembly.

Originally drafted in 1777 by Thomas Jefferson, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was officially adopted by the Virginia General Assembly on January 16, 1786. It was signed into law three days later.

The statute would later serve as the foundation for the First Amendment to the Constitution in the Bill of Rights, ratified in 1791.

Jefferson’s words in the statute caution about what would occur should governmental leaders burden the religious freedom of Americans. America now faces a time when religious liberty is facing unprecedented challenges--and Jefferson’s warnings are proving true.


Jefferson Concludes Hypocrisy and Meanness would Result from Punishing Religious Expression

In the last year, multiple Americans have faced “temporal punishments” at the hands of government officials for adhering to their sincere religious beliefs—including staggering fines, financial penalties, discriminatory ordinances, harassment, and even jail confinement.

Recent years have also seen instances of “civil incapacitations”—from a public health official that was fired for his beliefs to military members threatened with dishonorable discharge for expressing their faith.

While these expressions of religious belief are not tolerated in the public arena, expressions of non-religion or anti-religious sentiment are more than welcome—even celebrated.

Instead of a society where all kinds of speech and expressions are to be equally protected, some are attempting to make America into a hypocritical and intolerant society, where secular speech and expression is favored, and religious speech and expression is punished.

Jefferson Warns How Religious Freedom Could be Destroyed

Today, many falsely claim or wrongly believe that any pubic expression or display of religious believe violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which states,

They often exclude, however, the very next clause, which continues,

Government officials who halt the public expression or display of religious beliefs are not upholding the Establishment Clause, but violating citizen’s “free exercise,” thus “intrud[ing] their powers into the field of opinion.” 

Ronald Reagan understood this well when he said the following in 1988:


Though the Founding Fathers set high ideals for Americans to uphold, they understood that people, and therefore governments—even free ones—are not perfect. They anticipated breaches of freedom from those in authority, and wisely bestowed the American people with the power to stand for their freedoms.

That’s why the entire First Amendment is so crucial. Though the first freedom in the First Amendment—religious liberty—is under attack, Americans are able to defend it with their other rights, like the freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the freedom to peaceably assemble, and the freedom to petition the government.

If there was ever a time to employ those rights and stand up in protection of religious freedom, that time is now.

Between 2011 and 2015, documented violations of religious freedom doubled. In 2015 alone, Liberty Institute received more requests for legal assistance than ever before.

As Religious Freedom Day dawns this weekend, each American must decide they will do to help ensure that the nation can still celebrate religious freedom at the dawn of next year, and for generations into the future.

Liberty Institute exists to make such principles a reality in today’s America, using the legal system to mount the best defense possible for victims of increasing hostility to religion—and thus setting precedents to protect religious liberty for all Americans now and in the future.

So as Americans celebrate Religious Freedom Day in 2016, they must remember the warnings that accompany it, and band together to ensure that future celebrations of religious freedom reflect something that still exists. The best way to celebrate our religious liberty is to fight to keep it. That’s something Thomas Jefferson deeply understood.

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About Liberty Institute
Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit

Thursday, January 14, 2016 10:48:00 AM

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