Liberty Institute News
Liberty Institute Client and WWII Veteran Dies at 92

America lost a hero this week, and Liberty Institute a valuable friend.

August “Gus” Sivcoski, a WWII veteran and Houston, Texas resident died on Monday at the age of 92.

Liberty Institute extends heartfelt condolences to Mr. Sivcoski’s family and friends. At a time when not only our own nation’s freedom—but the stability of the world—was at risk, it was brave men like Mr. Sivcoski who stepped up to fight evil, defend liberty, and sacrifice their lives if necessary. As a part of America’s greatest generation, Mr. Sivcoski was truly an American hero. 

His allegiance to the defense of freedom didn’t end after WWII. Just four years ago in 2011, Mr. Sivcoski, a member of a Veterans of Foreign Wars (V.F.W.) honor guard, stood along side Liberty Institute and several other veterans and members of the V.F.W. in a battle to keep God at the Houston National Cemetery.

The battle began when the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) enforced rules at the Houston National Cemetery in an attempt to eradicate religion from veterans’ burial services—attacking the very freedom that veterans fought and died to defend. The VA’s mandates included:
  •  A ban on praying in the name of Jesus at the national cemetery
  • A ban on any mention of God at veterans’ burial service
  • Prohibiting volunteers from including the words “God bless” on condolence cards to families of veterans 

Fortunately, Liberty Institute was successful in defending the Constitutional rights of veterans and their families, and it was the courage of veterans like Mr. Sivcoski and his late brother Felix Sivcoski that helped make that victory possible.

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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, October 08, 2015 11:52:00 AM

Protect Your Church - A Step-by-Step Guide from Liberty Institute

Less than a year ago, Liberty Institute received an average of 15 legal requests per week. Since the United States Supreme Court Decision legalizing same-sex marriage in June, we average almost 15 requests

As much as one would like to believe that churches—of all places—are not among the increasing number of requests for legal help, that is simply not the case.

We remember the Houston Five—five pastors whose sermons were subpoenaed in Houston, Texas last year. We can now add to that same list Dr. Eric Walsh, a public official openly from his job at the Department of Health for sermons he preached at his church during the weekend.

There are still other examples of discrimination against churches that can be categorized as disregard at best, hostility at worst. For instance,

·      Cornerstone Church by the Bay in Bayview, Texas – fighting for their right to hold worship services on their own property

·      Property of churches in Houston’s historically underprivileged Fifth Ward – in danger of being condemned so the City can take vital ministry space for government purposes

·      Opulent Life Church in Holly Springs, Mississippi – subjected to a discriminatory city ordinance aimed at preventing churches, and only churches, from acquiring downtown property. This case resulted in a major victory in federal appeals court, yet the fact that it happened indicates the unprecedented resistance churches face today.

In a world where hostility toward religion is rising, even American churches and pastors are realizing that it is not a matter of if, but when, their church, ministry, or individual rights could come under legal duress. Thus, it has become vital for churches to legally guard themselves. And Liberty Institute is here to help.

First, there are four rights every pastor should be aware of.



Pastors have a right to preach. Yet, when it comes to issues of political or social concern, many pastors are reluctant to speak to their congregations, for fear of legal retaliation. As political adversity toward religion increases, it is crucial for pastors to know that they have the right to address issues of public concern from the pulpit.


Churches have a right to serve. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (
RFRAstates that a governmental entity “may not substantially burden a person’s free exercise of religion [unless it] demonstrates that the application of the burden to the person…is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and…is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.” In other words, the government has an extraordinarily high burden to meet in order to interfere with a church’s service to a community, and may only do so if there is no “less restrictive” alternative.


Churches have a right to gather and meet. Churches have First Amendment protections, as well as rights guaranteed by federal law, to gather and worship free from governmental interference. These rights are enumerated in the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (
RLUIPA), which states that “No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that:

  • Imposes substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person,
  • Treats a religious assembly or institution on less than equal terms with a nonreligious assembly or institution,
  • Discriminates against any assembly or institution on the basis of religion or religious denomination,
  • Totally excludes religious assemblies from a jurisdiction,
  • Or unreasonably limits religious assemblies, institutions, or structures within a jurisdiction.


Churches have a right to religious autonomy. Churches are legally protected in establishing and implementing their own systems of governance including areas of:
  •    Church Membership
  •      Doctrine
  •       Structure
  •       Employment
  •       Property

Knowing these rights, however, is essentialyet not enough. That is because a new wave of issues has arisen, mainly caused by activist groups and governments who adhere to the tenets of the sexual revolution: LGBT rights and abortion rights.

Yet there is a simple and reliable way to guard your church.


STEP 1: Gather and review your governing documents and policies.The relevant documents should include at least the following (or your versions thereof): Articles of Incorporation Bylaws/Constitution; Mission Statement; Purpose Statement; Facility Use Policy (or facility rental application); Historical Creeds or Confessions; Statements of Doctrine; Statements of Faith; Standards of Morals and Conduct/Honor Code; Employee and Volunteer Handbooks; Employee and Volunteer Contracts; Medical/Pharmaceutical Plans; Organizational Charts; Website Content.

STEP 2: Compare and contrast. Review your own governing documents, policies, and statements of faith and compare them with our Religious Liberty Templates and Guidesto determine what areas need to be addressed (and how to address them).

STEP 3: Amend and adopt. Make certain that your documents address all of the issues that we set forth in our Religious Liberty Templates and Guides. We have incorporated significant and thorough case law in drafting the Religious Liberty Templates and Guides in an attempt to ensure legal protection and compliance for your religious entity. Therefore, we suggest that you utilize the language that we have provided verbatim in amending or drafting your own governance documents. Make certain that all documents and written policies express your beliefs consistently.

STEP 4: Be thorough. We encourage you to work diligently to ensure that your beliefs are written down, codified, and enforced so that you have the tool kit needed to prove the sincerity of your faith. In a legal climate where religious legal intrusions are becoming increasingly problematic, we encourage you to thoroughly document those beliefs that you intend to defend, particularly as they relate to morality, conduct, marriage and sexuality.

STEP 5: Be consistent. Beyond specifying in detail your sincerely held religious beliefs in your governing documents, consistent application and enforcement of those beliefs is vital. Consistently adhere to the policies that you adopt in order to avoid legal problems that arise from applying a “double standard.”


With these four rights to speak and minister, and five steps to fortify your legal protections, churches can be proactive in shielding their ability to minister to their communities from legal retribution.

There is no denying that people of faith are engaged in a battle for religious liberty, but thankfully, it is a battle we can win. With proper knowledge and utility of the laws, pastors, churches, and religious individuals can stand firm in their rights, knowing that the laws are on their side.

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, October 08, 2015 11:39:00 AM

4 Reasons the War for Your Religious Freedom Just Got Hotter

The war to save religious freedom in America is ever moving, but the month of September proved to be a particularly crucial 30 days. Out of the blur of action, four reasons stand out as opposing visions of our nation’s future clash with increasing intensity.


September 2015 arrived to find a Christian woman, elected by her county to the position of clerk, threatened with jail. She refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses with her name on them, basing her objections on sincerely held religious beliefs. On September 3, a judge indeed threw Kim Davis of Rowan County, Kentucky, in jail. No release date was specified. Her mug shot went public. She was international news.

Nothing like it had happened in the memory of any living American.

But the day after Kim Davis went to jail, another high-profile victim of religious discrimination—U.S. Navy Chaplain Wes Modder—received stunning news that he had won his case after being punished and threatened with dishonorable discharge for counseling sailors in private concerning Biblical sexuality and marriage.

It was the fourth victory in four major cases for the attorneys at Liberty Institute, the leading legal defender of religious freedom in the U.S. military. And open religious freedom in the new “politically correct” military—only two years before considered a lost cause by many—was surging to a dramatic comeback.

Remarkably, the month that began with a Christian civil official ordered to jail ended with parade of noteworthy victims and victors in Washington DC sharing the same stage before national media.

At FRC Action’s , cosponsored by Liberty Institute, Kim Davis (who had been released after six days when officials agreed to take her name off the marriage licenses) received the second annual “Cost of Discipleship” award to the cheers of 2,700 activists and leaders. Liberty Institute clients—including high school student Liz Loverde, college student Roy Costner, and retired Air Force veteran Phillip Monk—told their stories and urged others to stand. And panels of unbending victims of discrimination represented by multiple legal organizations stood together, proudly proclaiming they would not give up the religious freedom that past Americans had died to preserve.


All the above happened in the third month after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationally. The decision stoked  an already-burning fire in which Christian wedding vendors were being legally attacked and in some cases ruined, and several states were passing contentious laws to protect religious conscience.

Near the end of September, as religious freedom sentiment surged, President Barack Obama—whose Department of Justice has threatened the tax-exempt status of religious institutions that fail to affirm same-sex marriage—responded with chilling words:
“ . . . religious freedom doesn't grant us the freedom to deny our fellow Americans their constitutional rights. And that even as we are respectful and accommodating genuine concerns and interests of religious institutions, we need to reject . . . new forms of discrimination . . .”

The problem: in the President’s worldview, “new forms of discrimination” include almost any resistance to government-mandated violation of your conscience. Everyone familiar with the debate understood his words to reinforce the radical formula for the public banishment of religious freedom.

In contrast, one presidential candidate after another sounded a warning cry regarding religious liberty: Gov. Jeb Bush, Dr. Ben Carson, Sen. Ted Cruz, Gov. Mike Huckabee, Gov. Bobby Jindal, Sen. Rand Paul, Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Rick Santorum, and others made the attack on religious liberty significant points in their public campaigns. Huckabee and Cruz visited Kim Davis in jail, and Cruz appeared at multiple events to highlight the victims of discrimination.  


September gave more evidence of steely resolve by leaders to assert their religious liberty rights. The provided a long line-up of them. But there was more.

Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse, said that Kim Davis “fights for religious liberty for all of us.” Breakpoint published a survey of Christian “thought leaders”—noted scholars, journalists, and commentators—who, in some form, almost universally applauded Kim Davis and called upon Christians to stand their ground. Chaplain Modder’s victory was also widely praised upon the news of his exoneration.

And then there was the Pope.

Visiting Washington DC, New York, and Philadelphia the same week as the Pope Francis made it a point to visit the Little Sisters of the Poor—a charitable ministry locked in a lawsuit with the Obama Administration over the nuns’ refusal to provide health insurance that facilitates abortion. 

Little Sisters of the Poor is the tip of the iceberg of such cases: indeed, Liberty Institute represents Pastor Chuck Swindoll’s ministry and multiple ministries of an entire denomination suing the Obama Administration. And in September, the U.S.  Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled in favor of a Christian college with a similar suit against the government setting up a likely U.S. Supreme Court case to decide whether such ministries will be able to legally refuse to violate their consciences or pay crippling fines for refusing.

At Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Francis spoke of religious freedom in a way that directly contradicts the “Progressive” vision of religious freedom only in private, “kept to yourself.” He said:
“In this place which is symbolic of the American way, I would like to reflect with you on the right to religious freedom. It is a fundamental right which shapes the way we interact socially and personally with our neighbors whose religious views differ from our own. Religious freedom certainly means the right to worship God, individually and in community, as our consciences dictate. But religious liberty, by its nature, transcends places of worship and the private sphere of individuals and families . . .”

In case the Obama Administration missed the point, he warned against those who “seek to suppress religious freedom, or try to reduce it to a subculture without right to a voice in the public square . . .”

When asked about religious dissenters to same-sex marriage and abortion-facilitating health insurance, Francis replied that “conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right. It is a right. And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right. Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right, a human right.”

So religious leadership across the country stiffened its spine in September over attacks on religious liberty.


Finally, the American public and people of faith continue to stiffen their spines against attacks on religious liberty.

A poll by Barna Research Group taken mostly during September found high degrees of alarm among all sectors of Americans—religious and non-religious—about the perceived restriction of religious liberty, and wide agreement that all citizens should be allowed freedom of conscience when living out their faith.

In a surprise, the population segment moving the fastest toward the pro-religious liberty position is —those whom the “experts” in academia and the media predicted would be the last to stick up for religious freedom in an age of sexual revolution.

This echoes other recent polls, such as a survey done this summer by Caddell Associates  showing that Americans, when forced to choose, favored religious liberty over “sexual liberty” by a margin of 4 to 1. Caddell wrote:

"When asked whether it should be up to the federal government to determine what constitutes legitimate religious beliefs  . . . a massive 79 percent disagreed. Indeed, even two thirds of those on the 'left' of the segmentation disagreed."


The battle for religious freedom will not wait for the 2016 elections. Critical battles are being fought now, and they are largely being fought in courts of law and other legal arenas. Liberty Institute, the nation’s largest legal organization exclusively dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty in America, is winning nine of 10 cases—yet requests for help have quadrupled since the decision in June.

Clearly, America faces a point of decision regarding religious freedom, and legal cases will be critical to the outcome.

At the beginning of 2015, Liberty Institute President & CEO Kelly Shackelford published a booklet (available in ebook form) entitled in which he wrote:

“On a human level, the main determiner of America’s religious future will be people of faith, the very targets of growing discrimination . . . [T]he law is still decisively on the side of religious freedom. If people of faith stand up and courageously make use of these laws, their religious freedom can be saved.”

September 2015 was a condensed snapshot of the greater battle. And by all indications, just a precursor of a greater conflict immediately ahead.

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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, October 08, 2015 9:42:00 AM

Police Chief Under Fire for 'In God We Trust' Decals

A career in law enforcement has never been considered a particularly safe job. But in today’s America, the risks are dramatically increased.

Threats and deadly violence against law enforcement officers have become disturbingly more frequent, and in response, many police chiefs and sheriffs across America have opted to place decals of the nation’s motto—“In God We Trust”—prominently on their cruisers to boost patriotism.

One such police chief is Adrian Garcia of Childress, Texas. At the beginning of September, shortly after the ambush and murder of Harris County Deputy Sheriff Darren Goforth, Garcia jumped aboard the patriotic bandwagon.

He went to Facebook with a photo revealing the new decals.

With all the attacks on police right now, it's a tough time to be in law enforcement, Garcia said. We are displaying the motto as a patriotic way to rally together.


Our national motto, “In God We Trust,” appears in public places all over America. It’s engraved on government buildings, printed on American coins and bills, and immortalized in iconic presidential addresses. Now, it’s plastered on some patrol vehicles. While that shouldn’t be a problem, it quickly became one.

When the trend began, Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) complained, sending 50 lettersto various police chiefs and sheriffs around the country who had chosen to display the national motto on their vehicles. Garcia was one recipient.

Instead of complying with FFRF’s request, Garcia publicly stated his refusal, formally retaining Liberty Institute on Tuesday, permitting Liberty Institute to take legal action on his behalf. Liberty Institute is determined to defend Garcia and the right of all law enforcement officers to display “In God We Trust” on their vehicles.

“The idea that it’s illegal for police or sheriffs to have the national motto on their car is ridiculous,” said Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of Liberty Institute. “The America the complainers are attempting to create would be a nation hostile to religion and its religious heritage. It would be a nation that strips any mention of God from the public square. That might have worked in the U.S.S.R., but it does not work in the United States of America.”


In an interview with the on Tuesday, FFRF leader Annie Laurie Gaylor freely admitted to her organization’s war against the four words in question, claiming as “successes” times when FFRF prevented city chambers from displaying the national motto.

In addition to incorrectly stating that displaying the national motto on patrol vehicles violates the separation of church and state, Gaylor insulted law enforcement officers who chose to display the motto, saying, “It is so anti-intellectual imagining that God will protect them.”

Thankfully, historical and legal evidence is Gaylor and FFRF. Federal Courts routinely rule in favor of the national motto. Just nine years ago in 2006, on the 50th anniversary of the motto’s adoption, the Senate affirmed the words “In God We Trust” as the motto of the United States of America.

Despite the complaints and ruffled feathers from anti-religious groups like FFRF, the law is clearly on the side of the motto and the officers who have chosen to display it. It is completely appropriate and lawful for officers to place the national motto on their patrol vehicles.


Law enforcement officers risk their lives daily to keep the rest of us safe. In a time like this, distractions like unfounded letters from FFRF are the last thing they need.

Chief Garcia has set a noble example in his refusal to remove the decals. With legal assistance from Liberty Institute, and the support of patriots like you, officers like Garcia will be able to continue the proud display of “In God We Trust.”

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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

Friday, October 02, 2015 8:34:00 AM

Liberty Institute Infuses 2015 Values Voter Summit With Much-Needed Hope

It was the largest gathering of conservative leaders and activists in one of the most pivotal years for religious freedom in American history.  And Liberty Institute speakers infused attendees with hope—and not only with hope, but with practical tools to return home and help win pivotal legal and courtroom battles.

The setting was the 2015 Values Voter Summit, presented by FRC Action (an advocacy arm of the Family Research Council), and co-sponsored by Liberty Institute as part of an effort to reverse the worst attacks on religious freedom in American history. Attendance was more than 2,700 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington DC, with the event covered by an army of national media.

And in the end, thousands of attendees left Washington DC with hope, knowledge, and new weapons for victory supplied by Liberty Institute.


Attendees learned that the American republic, including religious freedom, is—in the words of former Attorney General Edwin Meese, one of Ronald Reagan’s closest advisers—“in greater jeopardy today than it has been at any time in our history, with the exception of the Civil War.”

“We face massive attacks on religious liberty,” warned Meese, one of the great legal and policy figures of the last 50 years. He said it was “ironic that that’s happening in a country that unless several hundred years ago people came from other lands in order to have the ability to express their own religious beliefs, and to follow their conscience in terms of spiritual matters.”

Attendees heard and saw evidence that the religious liberty at the heart of our nation is being deliberately and systematically attacked by the most powerful institutions of government and culture—including the Obama Administration, the Department of Justice, military leaders, education bureaucrats, large corporations, officials in various states, and activist groups like the ACLU.

Eight presidential candidates—Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Rick Santorum, Donald Trump, Gov. Mike Huckabee, Dr. Ben Carson, Gov. Bobby Jindal, and Sen. Lindsey Graham—spoke to the crowd, and all emphasized the attacks on religious freedom.

But attendees also saw growing light in this darkness: Light coming from the legal realm—the primary arena of the attacks. Light in the form of real victims of religious discrimination telling true stories of Light in the form of experts offering plans and resources putting people of faith on the offensive in the contest to secure their legal religious liberty rights.

Who were the human faces of hope amid the growing storm of discrimination?

Perhaps the most tangible messengers of hope were Liberty Institute clients who brought stories of how, with expert legal help, they won their battles and created waves that will set others free.



At a crowded press conference on the first day of the Summit, Liberty Institute President & CEO Kelly Shackelford introduced two clients: U.S. Navy Chaplain Wes Modder and Long Island high school student Liz Loverde.  Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), a former top attorney and Liberty Institute volunteer attorney, also appeared at the press conference to echo the need to protect religious freedom.

This was the first time Chaplain Modder had spoken to mass media since his definitive legal victory on September 4, when the Navy exonerated him from accusations that could have led to his discharge from the Navy, and a major lawsuit. Despite a seven-month ordeal in which he was relieved of duty for counseling sailors from the Bible regarding same-sex marriage and other sexual issues, Modder praised the Navy for eventually doing the right thing after intense intervention by Liberty Institute and the law firm of WilmerHale.

In keeping with Navy and Department of Defense regulations (and the U.S. Constitution), Modder is again free to perform his chaplain duties according to his biblical beliefs.

Sixteen-year-old Liz Loverde contacted Liberty Institute last year after her Long Island high school refused her request for an after-school Christian club. She spoke at the press conference, a session for students, and a special breakout session. Her story began when faith in Jesus Christ transformed her life from depression to joy. When she wanted to share that joy with others through a “Dare to Believe” club, the school said it was illegal. Liberty Institute and a volunteer attorney challenged the school district and appeared on Fox News—and within eight days the club was approved. 

More hope was delivered in two appearances by Senior Master Sergeant Phillip Monk(U.S. Air Force, Ret.), another Liberty Institute client threatened with criminal charges after his commander demanded he agree with her views on same-sex marriage, regardless of Monk’s religious beliefs. But after Liberty Institute intervened, Monk received a prestigious medal and honorable 20-year discharge with full benefits rather than a court martial.

Speaking to the audience about his case and Chaplain Modder’s, Monk told the audience, “When you stand up, and you fight back, !  He also said, “When you sign up to serve this great nation in our military, you basically sign a blank check to Uncle Sam and it’s payable up to your life.  And guess what?  Uncle Sam has coming between you and the great I Am. Our men and women in uniform, when they report to the base, are not going to check God at the gate.”


But hope for restoring religious freedom doesn’t just happen. It requires the grace of God—and a God-given legal game plan for victory.

Liberty Institute has developed such a game plan, which includes both responsive and preventive measures.

Kelly Shackelford and Ken Klukowski (Liberty Institute Senior Counsel and Director of Strategic Affairs) both inspired the massive crowd with eye-opening accounts of how legal victories are happening at a win rate of 90 percent—even in such a hostile environment as we face today.

After explaining the rising tide of attacks, Shackelford said, “The good news is that we have a method of dealing with this, and it’s working.”

He explained the Liberty Institute model of locating the best attorneys in the nation at the top law firms who are willing to defend religious freedom at no charge. “For the first time,” he said, “all their training and experience is lined up with their faith and their love for country. We now have lawyers at half of the top law firms in the country not just donating their time, but over who gets to do these cases!”

“The result of that is two-fold,” he explained. “The first is that for every $10,000 we spend on a case we get about $60,000 worth of legal impact. Our win rate using this method for over 12 years has been above 90 percent. So I just want you to know, The question is, are we willing to stand?”

Shackelford’s words had the crowd on their feet several times. 


And as for preventive measures, Kelly Shackelford and Ken Klukowski announced the unveiling of Liberty Institute’s Religious Liberty Protection Kits. These kits—in printed or online form—give guidance from Liberty Institute attorneys on how to protect your religious liberty rights upfront. 

Kits are prepared for:

·      Churches,
·      Ministries,
·      Public schools,
·      Christian schools, and

Attendees flocked to the Liberty Institute booth. People took booklets for their entire pastoral staff. Many took them for entire boards of Christian schools.  Parents and grandparents were taking stacks for their children and teachers in public schools. And chaplains and those with friends or loved ones in the military were taking booklets to distribute to service members.

“We’re putting people of faith on offense,” said Jeff Mateer, Liberty Institute General Counsel. “These Religious Liberty Protection Kits are prepared by lawyers with expert advice to help the average person of faith—whether in a church, ministry, school, or the military—to know their rights, defend them, and know when to seek help from our attorneys. This expands the battle field in our favor, and we believe the impact will be profound.”


One story said it all. A story that Phillip Monk said “breaks my heart.”

Monk told of an airman who, after coming back from Afghanistan and learning of Phillip’s ordeal, told him, “We’ve been fighting for a long time, and when we fight over there we’re fighting to preserve our in America. Then I come home, and I’ve realized that the real fight for America has been happening .” 

Right here. That’s where the fight for religious freedom—and by extension, all freedom—is raging. And with hostility to religion on the rise, every American is being drawn into the conflict.

To view video of speeches by Liberty Institute attorneys and clients, go to and click on:

Ken Klukowski – Senior Counsel and Director of Strategic Affairs
Kelly Shackelford – President & CEO
David and Jason Benham –  includes Phillip Monk
Free to Believe Panel – includes Mike Berry, Senior Counsel and Phillip Monk

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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

Friday, October 02, 2015 8:33:00 AM

Texas Attorney General Files Amicus Brief In Support of Kountze Cheerleaders

A group of small town cheerleaders have the support of the Lone Star State. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed an briefwith the Texas Supreme Court last Friday, urging the Court to protect the rights of several Kountze public school students, who are clients of Liberty Institute.

Hailing from Kountze, Texas, the cheerleaders are fighting for their freedom to write Bible verses on run-through banners at school sporting events—rights that were challenged when the Freedom From Religion Foundation complained in 2012, and then challenged by the ACLU at the Texas Supreme Court in support of the school district.

Even though Liberty Institute and the cheerleaders won the initial battle in 2013, the school district still claims that the cheerleaders’ banners are government speech—and therefore subject to censorship and possible future banning at the school’s discretion.

Liberty Institute applauds Attorney General Paxton and the State of Texas for supporting the Kountze cheerleaders.

“We are grateful for Attorney General Ken Paxton’ support of the Kountze cheerleaders,” Liberty Institute President and CEO Kelly Shackelford stated, “but more importantly, for his staunch defense of free speech and religious expression of public school students.”


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. The case garnered 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 cheerleader’s 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. Kountze ISD stated it would allow the banners, but still claimed the right to censor—or even ban—the messages.

In May 2013, Hardin County District Court Judge Steven Thomas granted the cheerleaders a victory, saying that the banners were “constitutionally permissible.”

But Kountze ISD filed an appeal with the Beaumont Court of Appeals. And the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) jumped in to file a brief In May 2014, the Beaumont Court of Appeals said that because Kountze ISD stated it would allow the banners, the case and the district court ruling was moot. However, it 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, Liberty Institute, David Starnes, and appellate counsel Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher are seeking the Texas Supreme Court’s review of that decision. 

In May 2015 Liberty Institute submitted further briefing on behalf of the Kountze cheerleaders, as requested by the Texas Supreme Court, and is hopeful the Court will resolve this case involving religious freedom and speech rights of public school students.


As chronicled in Liberty Institute’s attacks against the religious free speech rights of students are escalating as more and more secular, anti-religious organizations send misinformation and legal threats to school officials.

But the law is on the side of religious freedom in schools, and Liberty Institute vows to continue the fight on behalf of the Kountze cheerleaders, and protect freedom for future students nationwide.

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, October 02, 2015 8:27:00 AM

Liberty Institute Expert Mike Berry Educates Military Appellate Attorneys on The Value And Importance of Amicus Briefs
amicus curiae

Liberty Institute Senior Counsel and Director of Military Affairs Mike Berry was invited last week to speak at the 3rd Annual Joint Appellate Advocacy Training Conference in Washington, D.C. Hosted by the Department of Defense, the annual conference features legal experts from around the nation to provide continuing legal education for military appellate attorneys.

Interestingly, it was Liberty Institute’s opposing counsel in the ongoing court case , Brian Keller, who served as the moderator of the discussion panel and invited Berry to speak.

“Our reputation is so strong that even our opposing counsel in an ongoing federal case recognizes the quality of our briefs,” Berry stated.

During a panel entitled “The Value of Involving Amicus Organizations,” Berry educated military attorneys on the important role (“friend of the court”) briefs play in the legal world.

Other prominent law firms participating on the panel included the Cato Institute, the Law Firm of Sidley Austin LLP, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Solicitor General for the State of Virginia.

“Sometimes the courts are confronted with difficult legal issues and questions that are unique or different than what they see on a daily basis,” Berry explained, “and it’s often valuable to have experts weigh in to be able to provide a different perspective than the one being offered by the parties.”


There are several reasons why briefs are important—and can be influential—in momentous court decisions.

·      briefs allow subject-matter experts to submit additional research and arguments pertaining to a particular court case.For instance, religious liberty is a topic with relatively few outspoken legal experts. When cases involving religious liberty are before a court, Liberty Institute can offer important, often persuasive information and insight that might have otherwise gone undiscovered, and if considered, could be crucial in determining the outcome of the case.

·      briefs show the significance of a particular issue through influential support for a certain argument. Even when a religious discrimination case that does not involve clients of Liberty Institute goes before a court, Liberty Institute might submit an brief, demonstrating that religious liberty is of real concern to more than just those parties represented in the case.

·      Amicus briefs allow outside parties to examine the facts of a certain case, and potentially add validity to the side of the case they are submitted in support of. It is one thing when there are only two, opposing sides engaged in a disagreement. But when party or organization, with no involvement in the original dispute, submits an brief in support of one side, it can potentially give that side more credibility in the court’s eyes.


Liberty Institute has set the example when it comes to submitting influential briefs. Our briefs reflect expertise in cases dealing with religious freedom—a topic of great interest in our culture—and a topic that desperately needs the support and validation of knowledgeable experts. The following are selected examples of recent Liberty Institute briefs:

·      In , the United States Supreme Court cited Liberty Institute’s briefnumerous times in their decision to allow the Mojave Veterans Memorial Cross to stay where WWI veterans had placed it, in the middle of the California desert.

·      In January of 2014, Liberty Institute filed an brief in support of the conscience rights of Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. in the notorious Supreme Court Case, which ended in a victory for religious liberty last summer.

·      In August of 2015, Liberty Institute filed an brief in the case of , asking the Supreme Court to allow religious organizations to be exempt from providing contraceptives through health care plans.

·      Earlier in 2015, Liberty Institute filed an brief in the United States Supreme Court case, urging the justices to protect the free speech rights of people of faith in the marriage debate. When the decision came down in June, the justices had included the religious freedom protection Liberty Institute requested.

Liberty Institute attorneys are seasoned experts when it comes to Constitutional law and religious freedom. By submitting quality briefs in crucial cases like these, we are making a powerful impact for religious liberty in more ways than one.

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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

Friday, October 02, 2015 8:23:00 AM

Watch Liberty Institute President and CEO Kelly Shackelford Speak LIVE at Values Voter Summit This Weekend

Liberty Institute is once again a Sponsor of the annual Values Voter Summit – happening this weekend! The VVS is the largest gathering of activists that is exclusively dedicated to promoting the virtue and influence of the religious views that guided America’s Founders.

Liberty Institute President and CEO Kelly Shackelford and other major speakers—including presidential candidates, policy makers, syndicated radio talk show hosts, victims of religious discrimination, and more—will speak to a large crowd and draw major media attention to issues such as preserving and restoring our religious freedom.

If you can’t attend VVS in person this year, don’t worry! You can catch the major speakers and events through the live stream on the VVS website. Click here!

Events to watch:

  • FRIDAY at 9:15 a.m. ET: Religious Liberty Protection Kits Press Conference with Kelly Shackelford and Texas Senator Ted Cruz
  • FRIDAY at 11:25 a.m. ET: Morning Plenary Session with Kelly Shackelford (speaking right before Donald Trump)
  • FRIDAY at 8:55 p.m. ET: Free to Believe Panel with Michael Berry, Senior Counsel and Director of Military Affairs at Liberty Institute
  • SATURDAY at 4:15 p.m. ET: “Are You Ready for the Coming Legal Attack?” Breakout Session with Liberty Institute General Counsel Jeff Mateer, Michael Berry, and Senior Counsel and Director of Strategic Affairs Ken Klukowski
Other Stories

An Alarming New Era for Religious Liberty in America

Liberty Institute to Announce Religious Liberty Protection Kits at Values Voters Summit

Liberty Institute’s Chelsey Youman Debates ACLU Attorney on Religious Liberty vs. Same-Sex Marriage 

Federal Court Rules in Favor of Religious Liberty, Challenges Abortion Pill Mandate

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, September 24, 2015 1:30:00 PM

Liberty Institute’s Chelsey Youman Debates ACLU Attorney on Religious Liberty vs. Same-Sex Marriage
By Christopher Corbett

On Constitution Day, September 17, Liberty Institute’s Chelsey Youman (pictured above) debated the ACLU’s Rebecca Robertson at the University of North Texas.

What will America look like now that the U.S. Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, has imposed same-sex marriage on the entire country? Specifically, what will it look like for same-sex couples and those who hold sincere faith-based disagreement with same-sex marriage?

That was the topic of a Constitution Day debate on September 17 (the anniversary of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution) between attorneys for Liberty Institute and the ACLU before an audience of over 700 students, faculty, dignitaries, and visitors at the nation’s 25th largest university, the University of North Texas (UNT).

And the audience—including my daughter and I (full disclosure: I work for Liberty Institute)—was surprised, initially, that the “debate” didn’t seem to materialize since there were so many areas of agreement between the two sides. Indeed, the only early fireworks were provided by a man who began to heckle Liberty Institute’s Chief of Staffand Counsel, Chelsey Youman before being escorted away with no one quite comprehending what he was saying.

But what did become clear, soon enough, was that deep disagreements do in fact exist just under the surface between the two sides.


First to speak was Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director for the ACLU in Texas. Robertson outlined the events that led to the case of making its way to the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year and reviewed the reasoning by five of the nine Justices that discovered a new constitutionally-protected right for same-sex couples to legally marry. Robertson then turned to the impact of the decision for religious liberty.

Her answer:

For several minutes, the ACLU lawyer sounded like she worked for Liberty Institute. She affirmed that since the decision, traveling around Texas she had heard a chorus of concerns that religious liberty was greatly endangered by the ruling. Yet she also asserted that that she considered herself a protector of both “marriage equality” and “religious liberty,” maintained that religious liberty had to be protected, would be protected, and that the Constitution was “big enough” to continue to protect religious freedom in a post-world.

Robertson assured the audience that when it comes to religion, there is “nothing about to change what you believe” about same-sex marriage if you are against it. Of course, “belief” is not what the First Amendment guarantees, as Liberty Institute’s Youman would soon remind the audience. The Constitution specifies free “exercise” of religion which includes the ability to act on those beliefs. Nevertheless, Robertson did go farther. She said churches could refuse to marry same-sex couples. But again, Youman would soon remind the audience that that right to free exercise of religion goes beyond church walls. Yet Robertson went still farther, saying a religious citizen had the right to “speak publically against same-sex marriage” and even to openly “advocate” against same-sex marriage. She later assured the audience that government should never force churches to marry same-sex couples and that lawsuits against churches trying to achieve such coercion should never happen.

But just when it appeared there was no clash of sexual vs. religious liberty Liberty Institute’s Youman—formerly a successful private litigator—politely mounted the stage to unveil some inconvenient truths.


After warmly complimenting Robertson on her summation of the legal protections afforded religion in the Constitution and in federal law, Youman began to detail the obstacles anti-faith activists were using to block the road to the land of “coexistence” Robertson had said was just around the corner.

Youman pointed out that activists were already busy “weaponizing to “silence religious dissenters” and “lessen religious diversity” in America.

She mentioned the case of Dr. Eric Walsh, a Liberty Institute client and one of America’s top health administrators. Dr. Walsh was fired after LGBT activists alerted his employer to sermons that he gave as a lay minister, supporting Biblical marriage. So much for the sanctity of churches or religious liberty!

Youman later pointed out the case of U.S. Navy Chaplain Wes Modder, who was relieved of duty for similar private statements affirming his religious beliefs on marriage and sexuality. Though Modder has won his case and been reinstated, his ordeal is evidence of the extreme hostility to religion of “marriage equality” advocates. Again, so much for sanctity of ordained denominational ministers.

Going further, Youman told the audience that Liberty Institute had received “over 500 calls requesting legal help after the same-sex marriage decision this summer.” She didn’t stop there, but kept the flow of facts coming.

·      She mentioned existing threats to government contractors and sub-contractors based on their religious beliefs on marriage.
·      She mentioned the threat to the tax-exempt status of non-profits—and by implication, religious schools—voiced by none other than the U.S. Solicitor General at the Supreme Court.
·      She explained how religious schools are being intimidated with the loss of accreditation over their faith-based beliefs about marriage, and how students at faith-based schools could even lose government grants, loans, and financial aid.

I think that last one may have connected with some of the hundred of students listening.

Youman’s conclusion: “As easy as it would be to say that this tension” between the decision and religious liberty “should not exist . . . frankly, the truth is that it In the same-sex marriage debate, many religious dissenters have been from the workplace to the pulpit to non-profits.”


I don’t know about the rest of the audience, but at that point I think Ms. Robertson’s ice-sculpture world of coexistence began to melt into the auditorium floor.

Where, after all, was the ACLU when these activists were aggressively going after religious dissenters to same-sex marriage? Not standing beside Liberty Institute defending religious freedom, that’s for sure.

As the session wore on, I thought it was clear that the ACLU’s offer of coexistence had fine print in which dissenters would be signing away their constitutional freedoms.

When Youman emphasized that religious accommodations—a time-tested American legal remedy to carve out space for conscientious objectors—could be constructed to protect both same-sex couples people of faith including county clerks and Christian wedding vendors (a clerk has been jailed and wedding vendors hurtled toward bankruptcy), Robertson paid lip service to accommodations but seemed to ultimately demure to this reasonable solution and said dissenting clerks should get used to facing jail time.

In Robertson’s world, it seems that loss of freedom or employment awaits dissenting government workers, and lawsuits and fines are the penalty for being a privately owned “public accommodation” (i.e. family business) such as a Christian wedding vendor who chooses not to participate in the promotion of an event that their faith considers to be sin.

When Youman offered managed diversity, Robertson preached dogmatic conformity where the government decides whether your religious belief is legitimate.

To Youman’s “million dollar question” of “When an irreconcilable conflict arises, should the government be able to force you to do what you sincerely believe is morally wrong?”, it seems that Robertson’s answer is, in many cases, yes.

That’s troubling.

Which made me think back to something Ms. Robertson said early in the debate. Referring to the “equal protection clause” of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, Robertson affirmed the principle of equality, saying,

If the victims and potential victims cited by Youman had been in the audience and heard that come from the ACLU, I wonder if they would have chuckled or just rolled their eyes.

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Watch Liberty Institute President and CEO Kelly Shackelford Speak LIVE at Values Voter Summit This Weekend

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, September 24, 2015 1:28:00 PM

Liberty Institute to Announce Religious Liberty Protection Kits at Values Voter Summit

Liberty Institute will be introducing five new, free-of-charge Religious Liberty Protection Kits at the 10th annual Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. this weekend. Available for churches, ministries, Christian schools, teachers and students, and military members, these kits guide Americans of faith as they safeguard themselves and their organizations against potential legal attacks.

“Religious liberty is the first liberty specified in our Bill of Rights, and the most precious freedom anyone in our society has,” Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of Liberty Institute says. “It is imperative that Americans are adequately prepared to defend that right against hostile legal attacks.” 

The kits will be featured at VVS in a press conference on Friday morning, and will also be promoted during Liberty Institute’s breakout session on Saturday afternoon entitled “Are You Ready for the Coming Legal Attack? Is Your Church? Learn How To Be Prepared.” Liberty Institute is a co-sponsor of Values Voter Summit, the largest gathering of activists that is exclusively dedicated to promoting the virtue and influence of the religious views that guided America’s Founders.


In the past three years, Liberty Institute’s annual survey has documented a 133 percent rise in hostility toward people of faith in America. And after the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage in June, Liberty Institute saw more requests for legal assistance than ever before.

As religious liberty comes under increased legal attack, many Americans of faith are realizing that it is not a matter of if, but when, their own church, ministry, or individual religious rights will be contested. Thanks to America’s heritage of freedom, most have never had to consider the possibility of religious attack, and many people are wondering where to turn.

That is why Liberty Institute created five detailed, customized booklets to serve as simple, yet high-quality tools for protection.


For Churches

One would think that of all places, churches would be a save haven for complete, unquestioned religious liberty. Unfortunately, that is far from true.

·      In 2014, five pastors in Houston, Texas were subpoenaed and told to submit all of their sermons addressing homosexuality and gender identity to City authorities.
·      Beginning in 2014, Liberty Institute began an initiative to help over 75 churches—some of whom were already under legal attack—create custom audits to protect their ministries.

After seeing the widespread need for legal protection of churches, Liberty Institute attorneys carefully created simple, easy-to-use templates and guides for churches to craft biblically sound and legally defensible statements of faith, mission statements, purpose statements, facility use policies, employment and administrative policies, and more. By following the templates and guides, church leaders will be able to fortify against the kind of attacks that are becoming more common in today’s cultural climate. Read or download your free copy of the Religious Liberty Protection Kit for Churches here.

For Ministries

Similar to churches, many faith-based organizations are being faced with a dreadful choice: to violate their conscience or face damaging, unconstitutional legal ramifications.

·      Insight for Living Ministries, led by renowned Pastor Chuck Swindoll, faced legal threats after refusing to abandon its core values and provide abortion-inducing birth control to employees, as dictated by the HHS mandate. Liberty Institute is currently defending Insight for Living in the ongoing lawsuit.
·      Just this year, the Little Sisters of the Poor—a non-profit ministry of nuns who help the elderly poor—faced legal attack because their faith would not allow them to provide birth control to their employees per the HHS mandate.

If it can happen to these ministries, it can happen to any ministry—be it an adoption agency, homeless shelter, prayer network, or anything else. Similar to the church protection kit, the Religious Liberty Protection Kit for Ministries offers templates and guides for statements of faith, mission statements, purpose statements, facility use policies, and more. Read or download your free copy of the Religious Liberty Protection Kit for Ministries.

For Christian Schools

Even though Christian and religious schools have the right to operate according to their religion’s tenants, they are often bullied by those who say that right does not exist.

·      Six Christian Missionary Alliance (CMA) affiliated ministries are currently facing legal threats for refusing to comply with the HHS mandate, including two Christian colleges—Simpson University and Crown College.

Just like the churches and ministries kits, the Religious Liberty Protection Kit for Christian Schools provides templates and guides for writing legally defensible statements of faith, mission, purpose, school bylaws and constitutions, and more. Read or download your free copy of the Religious Liberty Protection Kit for Christian Schools. 

For Students and Teachers

Religious rights exist do not only exist in Christian schools, but in schools everywhere—private or public. As the U.S. Supreme Court declared in in 1969, “It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop the bullies or the ignorant from attacking the First Amendment rights of students and teachers in schools.

·      In 2011, a federal judge threatened Angela Hildenbrand, a model public high school student, with jail if she prayed during her graduation speech.
·      In 2015, officials at a Las Vegas charter school told 12-year-old Mackenzie Frasier that she could not mention her favorite Bible verse in her “All About Me” class presentation.

While some students and teachers are indeed targets of anti-religious hostility, many more are victims of ignorance. Liberty Institute’s kit for teachers and students eradicates any confusion about what the law , detailing important historical and legal information regarding the religious rights of teachers and students in school. Read or download your free copy of the Religious Liberty Protection Kit for Students and Teachers.

For the U.S. Military

While members of the U.S. Military risk their lives on a daily basis to protect our freedoms, their own most foundational rights are often unconstitutionally attacked.

·      In 2013, Senior Master Sergeant Phillip Monk was relieved of duties in the U.S. Air Force after his lesbian commander discovered his evangelical beliefs regarding sexuality.
·      Lance Corporal Monifa Sterling, a Marine, was court-martialed after taping a Bible verse to her personalized workspace and declining to remove it at her commander’s demands.
·      U.S. Navy Chaplain Wes Modder was threatened with being detached for cause and put before a Board of Inquiry for upholding his biblical beliefs regarding marriage and sexuality in private counseling sessions.

Military members do not lose their freedom of religion when they enlist. Liberty Institute’s Religious Protection Kit for the U.S. Military details service members’ religious rights with FAQs, legal and historical evidence for religious rights in the military, examples of military members who successfully defended their rights, and more. Read or download your free copy of the Religious Liberty Protection Kit for the U.S. Military.


Don’t wait until it is too late. In times like these—when fresh stories of religious persecution in America clutter our newsfeed every week—it is crucial to fortify your organization and yourself against the growing legal attacks. Take advantage of the free, exclusive resources Liberty Institute has provided. Share them with your friends.

The next step for protecting religious liberty is here. Will you take it? Download or read your free copy of Liberty Institutes Religious Liberty Protection Kits here.

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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, September 24, 2015 1:22:00 PM

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