Thomas More Law Center

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This article is about the law center in Ann Arbor, Michigan. For the law center in Chicago Illinois, see Thomas More Society.
Thomas More Law Center
TMLC Pic.gif
Motto The Sword and the Shield for People of Faith.[1]
Headquarters Ann Arbor, Michigan
Region served
United States
US$1,378,329 (2012)[2]
TMLC offices lobby, Domino Farms

The Thomas More Law Center (TMLC) is a Christian, conservative, public interest, nonprofit organization based in Ann Arbor, Michigan and active throughout the United States.[3] Its stated goals are to defend and promote America's Judeo-Christian heritage and moral values, including the religious freedom of Christians, time-honored family values, and the sanctity of human life while also supporting a strong national defense and an independent and sovereign United States of America.[4][5]

The Thomas More Law Center is active in controversial social issues and cases and has been involved in the litigation of the Dover, Pennsylvania intelligent design case, defense of Lt Col Jeffrey Chessani against misconduct allegations during the November 2005 Haditha incident, defense of the free speech rights of Christians and pro-life activists, and its federal lawsuit against the US Government regarding the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Individual Mandate.

Founding and history[edit]

The Center was founded in 1999 by Domino's Pizza founder Tom Monaghan and the Center's current President and Chief Counsel Richard Thompson, a former Oakland County, Michigan prosecutor known for his role in the prosecution of Jack Kevorkian. Among those who have sat on the Center's advisory board are: Senator Rick Santorum, former Senator and retired Rear Admiral Jeremiah Denton, former Major League Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn, Catholic academic Charles Rice, Mary Cunningham Agee, and Ambassador Alan Keyes. The Center's Citizens' Advisory Board also includes Representative Michele Bachmann, and Allen West.[6] The Center is primarily financed by contributions from individuals, foundations, and corporations and is recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) organization.


The Center is named after Thomas More, an English lawyer, social philosopher, author, statesman and Renaissance humanist. He was an important councillor to Henry VIII and Lord Chancellor.[7] More opposed the Protestant Reformation, in particular the theology of Martin Luther and William Tyndale whose books he burned. More later opposed the King's separation from the Catholic Church and refused to accept him as Supreme Head of the Church of England because it disparaged papal authority. More was tried for treason, convicted on perjured testimony and beheaded. Thomas More is patron saint of lawyers in the Catholic Church.

Key issues[edit]

The Center defines the five issues that they are specifically involved with as:

  • Defending the religious freedom of Christians: The Center seeks to counter those who "attack crosses, Ten Commandment monuments, Nativity displays, Christmas celebrations in public schools, the Pledge of Allegiance, our national motto, 'In God We Trust' and prayers at public meetings" and seek "to destroy the religious and moral foundations of our great nation."[8]
  • Restoring family values: This includes countering the legalization of same-sex marriage, opposing pornography, and protecting parental rights in educating and raising children.[9]
  • Defending the sanctity of human life: The center seeks to overturn Roe v. Wade and to support groups who oppose abortion.[10]
  • Confronting the threat of radical Islam: The Center states that "Radical Muslims and Islamic organizations" have "infiltrated the highest levels of our government, the media, our military, both major political parties, public schools, universities, financial institutions and the cultural elite", and that they take on the "legal battle against this internal threat."[11]
  • Defending national security: the Center "opposes any attempt to downsize, degrade or dismantle the combat effectiveness of" the U.S. military, opposes what it calls "the Defense Department's actions to homosexualize" the military, and support states' having the rights to take steps against illegal immigration.[12]

Notable cases[edit]

1999 - 2005[edit]

In August 2001, the Thomas More Law Center filed a lawsuit against Planned Parenthood Federation of America and its affiliate Planned Parenthood of San Diego and Riverside Counties on behalf of three California women.[13] The lawsuit accused Planned Parenthood of misleading women about the safety of abortion. The Thomas More Law Center on behalf of the plaintiffs demanded that Planned Parenthood inform women of about a link between abortion and breast cancer. Although Planned Parenthood and medical experts denied any such link, a Thomas More Law Center lawyer claimed that a "preponderance of medical evidence" did establish a link.[14] The case was dismissed by the judge, who said there was little likelihood the lawsuit would succeed.[15]

On September 20, 2001, nine days after the September 11 attacks, the Center publicly offered to provide legal assistance to "American citizens who believe they have been unconstitutionally denied the right to fly the American flag or express their faith in God".[16]

In July 2002, the Thomas More Law Center sued the Ann Arbor Public School system for violating a student's constitutional right to freedom of speech and right to equal protection, as well as the Establishment Clause.[17] The Center won the case, with the judge ruling that the district had violated the student's rights by not allowing her to participate in a "Diversity Week" panel discussion concerning homosexuality and religion.[18]

Also in July 2002, the Thomas More Law Center filed a lawsuit against Contra Costa County's Byron Union School District on behalf of parents of four students.[19] The suit argued that the curriculum required that "students pretend to be Muslims, wear robes, simulate jihads via a dice game, learn the Five Pillars of Faith and memorize verses from the Koran in classroom exercises as part of a World History and Geography class" and thus violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.[19][20] The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found that the curriculum did not amount to an unconstitutional school sponsorship of a specific religion. The U.S. Supreme Court declined review of the case.[21]

The Thomas More Law Center, in December 2002, sued New York's school district in December 2002, saying a school policy "discriminates against Christians" because it "prohibits the display of [Christian] Nativity scenes" in public schools during Christmas, while it "expressly permits and encourages" the display of the Jewish menorah and the Islamic Star and Crescent during certain religious holidays and observances.[22][23] The school district's written policy referenced in the lawsuit allows only "secular holiday symbols" and states that "such symbols include, but are not limited to, Christmas trees, Menorahs, and the Star and the Crescent." "Holiday displays shall not appear to promote or celebrate any single religion or holiday. Therefore, any symbol or decoration which may be used must be displayed simultaneously with other symbols or decorations reflecting different beliefs or customs."[23] Judge Charles P. Sifton of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York rejected The Center's constitutional claims. The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court's decision in February 2006.[24]

In September 2003 the Thomas More Law Center filed a lawsuit against the Ann Arbor Public School District on behalf of 17 individual taxpayers who had sent the school district letters requesting they stop using the public funds for employee domestic partnership benefits.[25] The Center argued that the use of taxpayer funds to provide insurance benefits to same-sex domestic partners circumvented the 1996 Michigan Defense of Marriage Act which define marriage as "inherently a unique relationship between a man and a woman."[26] On July 25, 2007 the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the individuals did not have the constitutional standing to sue the Ann Arbor Public School District.[25]

The Thomas More Law Center filed a similar lawsuit against Michigan State University in July 2006 after Michigan passed the Marriage Protection Amendment to the Michigan Constitution in 2004. The constitutional amendment defined "the union between a man and a woman" as "the only agreement recognized as a marriage or similar union for any purpose." The Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the amendment banning same-sex marriages also blocks Michigan governments and state universities from offering "domestic partnership" benefits for homosexual couples.[27][28][29]

On October 23, 2003, the Thomas More Law Center filed a brief in support of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore's appeal to the Supreme Court to keep a display of the 10 Commandments in the Alabama Supreme Court building. The brief in support of Moore argued that the "First Amendment does not require the existence of an impenetrable wall between church and state."[30] Richard Thompson, Thomas More Law Center's chief counsel stated that not only was the court "disregarding the plain text of the Constitution, the intent of our Founding Fathers, and the history of our nation, but by its action is disregarding the very words of our Declaration of Independence, which acknowledges that we are a nation under God."[31]

The Thomas More Law Center also got involved in the Terri Schiavo case in Florida in October 2003, sending Governor Jeb Bush a legal opinion stating that he could order a criminal investigation into whether Michael Schiavo had abused his wife.[32] Richard Thompson, who authored and signed the legal opinion, said there was ample evidence suggesting that Terri may have been the victim of domestic abuse which in turn caused her collapse and coma.[33] The letter also contended that Michael had a conflict of interest concerning Terri's medical decisions.[33] The Florida legislature passed "Terri's Law", giving Bush the authority to intervene in Schiavo's case and have her life-sustaining measures reconnected. The law was later deemed unconstitutional by Judge W. Douglas Baird, a Circuit Judge in the Florida Sixth Circuit.[34] Schiavo's feeding and hydration tubes were removed on March 18, 2005 and she died on March 31, 2005.

In January 2004, the Center filed a lawsuit against Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas after a sculpture of a Catholic bishop with a grotesque facial expression wearing a phallus on his head that is shaped like a bishop's mitre and entitled "Holier than Thou" was placed on campus outside of the Student Union building.[35] The Center argued that the sculpture conveys the message of hostility toward Catholics and the Catholic religion in violation of the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution[36] The case was rejected by a US District Court in Kansas City "ruling that the sculpture enhanced the university’s educational experience and that, when viewed within an artistic context, would not be seen by a reasonable observer as an endorsement by the university of anti-Catholic sentiment." The decision was upheld in July 2005 by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals[37] The US Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

In 2005 the Thomas More Law Center filed an amicus curiae brief before the US Supreme Court supporting Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s efforts to uphold the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003. "We also request that the Supreme Court take this opportunity to reconsider and reject its 'abortion rights' decisions, such as Roe v. Wade," then Thomas More Law Center trial counsel Edward White said in a statement "The time has come for the Supreme Court to stop the grave injustices that have resulted from those decisions." The US Supreme Court upheld the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.[38]

LtCol Jeffrey Chessani[edit]

Jeffrey R. Chessani was a United States Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel and the commanding officer 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines during the time of the November 19, 2005, urban combat in Haditha, Iraq, where Marines in his battalion were accused of having killed 15 civilians while pursuing insurgents. The Thomas More Law Center defended Chessani against the charge that he failed to investigate the killings, and all criminal charges against Chessani regarding this incident have been dismissed. He was also defended by the Center before an administrative Board of Inquiry wherein the Board found that there was no misconduct. Chessani retired from the US Marine Corps on July 16, 2010.[39]

On June 17, 2008, Military Judge Colonel Steven Folsom dismissed all charges against Chessani on the grounds that General James Mattis, who approved the filing of charges against Chessani, was improperly influenced by an investigator probing the incident. The ruling was without prejudice, which allows the prosecution to refile.[40]

In 2008 an appeal filed on behalf of the Marine Corps claims that a judge abused his power when he dismissed dereliction of duty charges against Chessani.[41] On March 17, 2009, a military appeals court upheld the dismissal.[42]

Chessani's commanding general, Major General Huck, reported up the chain of command, "I support our account and do not see the necessity for further investigation."[43]

On August 28, 2009, the new general in charge of Chessani's case, Marine LtGen George Flynn, Commanding General of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Quantico, VA, decided that criminal charges were not warranted. Instead, he ordered Chessani to face an Navy administrative procedure, called a Board of Inquiry,[44] which found no misconduct and recommended that he be allowed to retire without loss of rank.[43]

Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, said, "The government's persecution of this loyal Marine officer continues because he refused to throw his men under the bus to appease some anti-war politicians and press, and the Iraqi government. Any punishment of LtCol Chessani handed down by a Board of Inquiry would be a miscarriage of justice because he did nothing wrong, and our lawyers will mount the same vigorous defense in this administrative proceeding as they did in the criminal."[45]

Intelligent design[edit]

The Thomas More Law Center gained attention as legal representation for the defendants in one of the country's first intelligent design cases, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District.

Prior to taking on this particular case, the lawyers of the Thomas More Law Center traveled the country seeking a school board willing to withstand a lawsuit as a test case for the teaching of intelligent design in public schools, forcing the first test case for intelligent design in the courts.[46] In a May 2000 visit to Charleston, West Virginia, Robert Muise, one of the lawyers, tried to persuade the school board to buy and use Of Pandas and People as a textbook for its science classes.[46] Muise warned the board in Charleston that it would undoubtedly be sued if the district taught intelligent design, but that the Thomas More Law Center would provide legal defense at no cost: "We'll be your shields against such attacks," he told the school board, referencing the Center's motto.[46] Muise told the board they could defend teaching intelligent design as a matter of academic freedom.[46]

In the summer of 2004, the Dover, Pennsylvania, school board, after receiving legal advice from the Discovery Institute, accepted the center's offer of advice and possible representation, as they worked to change their science curriculum.[46] On November 19, 2004, the board issued a press release stating that, starting in January 2005, each biology class would be read a statement indicating the alleged uncertainties about some aspects of Darwinian evolution, and directing the students to Of Pandas and People, of which a large number had been donated to the school by a member of the school board who purchased them using money he had given to his father, Donald Bonsell, and said they were donations solicited from his church.[47] A month later, on December 14, 2004, the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed suit on behalf of eleven Dover parents, claiming that the statement was a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The Center defended the school district in the trial, which lasted from September 26 through November 4. The case was decided on December 20, 2005. Judge John E. Jones III delivered a 139 page decision in favor of the plaintiffs, ruling that Intelligent Design is not science but essentially religious in nature, and consequently inappropriate for a biology class. Members of the board that had originally enacted the policy were not re-elected, preventing an appeal.

Other notable cases[edit]

  • Pledge of Allegiance - The Center has filed several amicus briefs in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court on behalf of itself, the Catholic League and others challenging rulings which have held that requiring public school teachers to promote and lead the Pledge violated the Establishment Clause because it contained the phrase "under God".[48]
  • Los Angeles County Seal - The Center's West Coast office filed an unsuccessful federal lawsuit against Los Angeles County officials for their decision to remove a small cross from the county seal after they were threatened with lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union.[49] The Center also provided legal supervision[50] to a ballot initiative to keep the cross on the seal, which didn't generate enough signatures for placement on the ballot.[51]
  • Mount Soledad cross - The Center's West Coast office attempted to intervene on behalf of the Citizens for the Mt. Soledad National War Memorial, to prevent the city of San Diego from removing a 20 ft cross from the existing Mt. Soledad war memorial. The intervention was denied, but the Center subsequently appealed to the United States Supreme Court, asking for a stay in destruction of the memorial.[52]
  • American Family Association v. Michigan State University - The Thomas More Law Center has sued Michigan State University over their policy of providing health care benefits to same-sex domestic partners employed by the university, potentially in violation of Michigan’s recently enacted Defense of Marriage Act. This is the second such lawsuit the TMLC has filed, the first being against Ann Arbor Public Schools (that case was dismissed due to lack of standing by the plaintiffs).[53]
  • Planned Parenthood v. American Coalition of Life Activists - The Thomas More Law Center defended the American Coalition of Life Activists, twelve activists, and an affiliated organization on the grounds of the First Amendment Right to free speech. The ACLA had created Old West "Wanted" style posters of various abortion doctors, listing their names and addresses online. The posters were described as "a hit list for terrorists" by Gloria Feldt, then president of Planned Parenthood. This assertion was furthered by the fact that three of doctors on list were murdered and several wounded, after which the murdered doctors' names on the list were crossed out and the wounded doctors' names set in gray text.[54] The defense lost the case at the lower court, a ruling which was overturned on appeal, but then restored by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sitting en banc.[55]
  • Charter Amendment One (Gainesville, Florida) — The City Council of Gainesville, Florida, voted to enact protection for sexual preference and gender identity in January 2008. The Thomas More Law Center wrote an amendment to repeal the protection that went to popular vote on March 24, 2009, losing with 42% of the vote in favor of repeal and 58% against repeal.[56]
  • Michael Savage — American radio broadcaster Michael Savage was banned from entry into the United Kingdom as he is "considered to be engaging in unacceptable behaviour by seeking to provoke others to serious criminal acts and fostering hatred which might lead to inter-community violence".[57][58][59] by the United Kingdom's Home Secretary. Savage and lawyers from Thomas More Law Center appealed to then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, asking that Savage's name be removed from the list of individuals barred from entering the UK.[60]

Catholic League et al. v. City of San Francisco[edit]

The Center filed a federal lawsuit against the City of San Francisco on behalf of the Catholic League and two Catholic citizens after the city passed an official resolution urging Cardinal William Levada of the Catholic Church to withdraw a directive that Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of San Francisco stop placing children in need of adoption with homosexual households. The Center alleges that the resolution, adopted March 21, 2006, referred to the Vatican as a "foreign country" meddling in the affairs of the city and proclaimed the Church’s moral teaching and beliefs on homosexuality as "insulting to all San Franciscans", "hateful", "insulting and callous", "defamatory", "absolutely unacceptable", "insensitive", and "ignorant". The resolution made reference to the Inquisition; and it urged the Archbishop of San Francisco and Catholic Charities of San Francisco to defy Church directives.[citation needed]

The basis of the Center's claim was that the Establishment Clause of the Constitution does not permit government hostility toward religion. The court dismissed the case. The Center then appealed the ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. A three-judge panel affirmed the lower court decision. The Center's request for an en banc rehearing of the appeal by the entire panel of the Ninth Circuit Court was granted,[61] with the panel affirming the prior ruling. The Center asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case, but certiorari was denied.[62]

Johnson v. Poway Unified School District[edit]

The Center filed a federal lawsuit against a Southern California school district on behalf of math teacher Brad Johnson who was ordered to remove several banners from his classroom because school officials claimed the banners promoted an impermissible Judeo-Christian viewpoint. The banners contained slogans such as "In God We Trust" and "One Nation Under God". The school district filed a motion to dismiss and in a lengthy opinion the federal judge denied the motion, ruling in the Center's favor. Upon the completion of discovery, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The court granted summary judgment for the plaintiff. On September 13, 2011, the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the summary judgment and ruled that the school district did not violate Johnson's free speech rights. The unanimous decision of the federal appeals court relied on U.S. Supreme Court rulings that said governments can limit the free speech rights of public employees in the workplace.[63]

Kevin Murray v. U.S. Treasury Sec. Timothy Geithner, et al.[edit]

The Center filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Treasury and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, challenging a portion of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 that appropriated $40 billion in taxpayer money to fund the federal government’s majority ownership interest in AIG. The lawsuit claimed that the federal government, through its ownership of AIG, engages in Sharia-based Islamic religious activities. The Center claimed the use of taxpayer dollars to fund Shariah-based Islamic religious activities violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.[64] While federal Judge Lawrence P. Zatkoff was requested by the Department of Justice to dismiss the lawsuit in 2009,[65] he reached a summary judgment in January, 2011, noting that the religious involvement did not achieve the "excessive entanglement" required under a precedential ruling.[66]

Center for Bioethical Reform, et al. v. U.S. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, et al.[edit]

The Center filed a federal lawsuit against Janet Napolitano and the Department of Homeland Security after their publication of a nine-page intelligence assessment of "right-wing extremism".[67] The Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan dismissed the case. The Center appealed, and the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit confirmed the dismissal.[68]

Gary Glenn, et al. v. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder[edit]

The Center filed a federal lawsuit against U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr., challenging the constitutionality of the recently enacted federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The Act addresses crimes motivated by a person's "actual or perceived" "sexual orientation" or "gender identity." The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, on behalf of Pastor Levon Yuille, Pastor Rene Ouellette, Pastor James Combs, and Gary Glenn, the president of the American Family Association of Michigan (AFA-Michigan).[citation needed]

Thomas More Law Center v. Barack Obama, et al.[edit]

The Thomas More Law Center filed a federal lawsuit unsuccessfully challenging the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The purpose of the lawsuit is to permanently enjoin enforcement of the new health care legislation.[citation needed] The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Center itself, and four individuals from the Southeastern Michigan area. None of the individuals had private health care insurance. Named as defendants in the lawsuit were: President Barack Obama, Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services; Eric H. Holder, Jr., U.S. Attorney General; and Timothy Geithner, Secretary of the US Department of Treasury. All the defendants were sued in their official capacity.[citation needed] On October 7, 2010, U.S. District Court Judge George Caram Steeh dismissed two out of six of their claims,[69] upholding these provisions under Congress's interstate commerce clause powers. The court eventually ruled that the minimum coverage portion of the Act which was in question was Constitutionally sound, a ruling that was confirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in June, 2011.[70] In July 2011, the Center petitioned the Supreme Court to review the case; that petition was denied in July 2012.[71]This case is credited as the first challenge to Obamacare, filed March 23, 2010 by Robert Muise and Richard Thompson.[72]

Other Cases[edit]

The Thomas More Law Center publishes a yearly case list as a part of their annual 990 form.[73] The Law Center's 2013 case list[74] includes their defense of Father Ray Leonard;[75] 12 challenges to the HHS mandate on behalf of various closely held corporations and non-profit groups; the Law Center's defense of Lt. Col. Christopher Downey;[76] and their defense of Police Captain Paul Fields.[77] The Law Center's 2012 case list [78] references their work with Pamela Geller and American Freedom Defense Initiative.[79]

Charity rating[edit]

Charity evaluator Charity Navigator rated the Center with one star out of a possible four overall, based on their filings for the fiscal year ending December, 2012. This overall rating reflects the combination of a one-star financial rating and a one-star accountability and transparency rating.[80]


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External links[edit]