First Liberty Institute

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First Liberty
Formation 1997
Type Non-profit organization
Purpose litigation in cases where it believes there is a religious freedom issue
Headquarters 2001 West Plano Parkway, Suite 1600
Plano, Texas 75075
Kelly Shackelford
General Counsel
Hiram Sasser
Website https://firstliberty.org/

First Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal organization based in Plano, Texas, near the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area.[1][2] Supporters describe the organization as focused on religious freedom and the First Amendment[3][4] and on providing assistance to individuals and organizations "in legal battles over religious freedom and first-amendment issues".[5] Opponents generally describe it as a Christian-right and/or Religious-right advocacy organization with a strong anti-LGBT agenda.[6][7][8]

First Liberty Institute is headed by Kelly Shackelford[9] who founded the organization in 1997 under the name Liberty Legal Institute.[10] The organization changed its name to Liberty Institute in 2009 and then, in 2016, to First Liberty Institute.[11]

Prominent cases[edit]

First Liberty Institute represented Dr. Eric Walsh in a lawsuit against the Georgia Department of Health (DPH) which had hired Dr. Walsh in 2014 as a district health director. Dr. Walsh, however, was also a lay minister at a Seventh-Day Adventist church, where he frequently gave sermons and religious speeches, and one week after his hiring, DPH officials reviewed Dr. Walsh's sermons and subsequently fired Dr. Walsh from his position.[12][13] In April of 2016, First Liberty filed a lawsuit claiming that Dr. Walsh had been terminated from his job due to his religious beliefs.[14] [15] In February of 2017, the state of Georgia agreed to settle the suit for $225,000. [16]

Among First Liberty Institute's most prominent cases are the "Candy Cane Case"; the veterans memorial cross cases, in which several veterans memorials in the shape of a cross have been challenged by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the ACLU; legal actions taken to stop a report on an investigation into Sarah Palin being published; and numerous legal cases filed in Texas courts concerning First Amendment and religious freedom issues.[17][18] The veterans memorial cross cases, including the Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial, have been challenged by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the ACLU, and the American Humanist Association.[19]

The "Candy Cane Case" began in 2004 after a student in Plano, Texas was prohibited by school officials from distributing candy canes with a religious story attached at his school's Christmas party.[17] In 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit granted two school principals immunity in the case against the Plano Independent School District.[20] The Liberty Institute appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court,[21] which refused to hear the case in 2012, upholding the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.[22]

In 2011 it filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs alleging that the department had censored prayers and the use of the words "God" or "Jesus". The Department's response was that its regulations stated that there is no censorship but that the religious preferences of the families of the deceased are respected and that at times families have complained about volunteers and the Veterans of Foreign Wars had included religious references in services even though the families had requested that there be none. The Department's response said "Defendants believe that it should be the family’s choice and decision what to have read in accordance with their faith tradition, if any, because it would be improper for others to impose their own religious preferences on a Veteran’s family, especially during this meaningful event.".[23] The case was settled in September 2012 after mediation by former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas R. Phillips.[24]

First Liberty Institute represents high school football coach Joseph A. Kennedy in a lawsuit against the Bremerton School District in Washington State.[25] For several years, Kennedy kneeled for prayer on the field after games. In 2015, school district officials suspended and later dismissed Kennedy from his coaching position, stating that his public prayer violated school policy.[26][27] In 2017, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that Kennedy "spoke as a public employee, not as a private citizen, and his speech therefore was constitutionally unprotected."[28] First Liberty filed an appeal for a rehearing by the full panel of the Ninth Circuit, which was rejected early in 2018.[29]

Prominent individuals[edit]

In November 2016, Ken Klukowski, First Liberty's senior counsel and director of strategic affairs was appointed to head the issue area of "Protecting Americans' Constitutional Rights" in the Donald Trump presidential transition team.[30]

In December 2017, James C. Ho, who worked as a volunteer attorney with First Liberty Institute,[31] was appointed a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Matthew J. Kacsmaryk, who serves as Deputy General Counsel to First Liberty Institute, and Jeff Mateer, who previously served as general counsel, were nominated in 2017 by President Trump for District Court positions. Mateer subsequently withdrew after a May 2015 speech where he referred to transgender children as "Satan’s plan" became public.[32][33] Kacsmaryk is awaiting final confirmation from the Senate.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Rani Monson (May 7, 2017). "Religious leaders in Dallas express mixed feelings about Trump order". Culture Map Dallas. Retrieved February 6, 2018.
  2. ^ David M. Jackson (June 21, 2016). "Trump to evangelicals: Pray for people to vote for me". USA Today. Retrieved February 6, 2018.
  3. ^ Micah Rate (September 14, 2017). "Report: Major Increase In Attacks on Religious Liberty". Town Hall. Retrieved February 6, 2018.
  4. ^ Ian Snively (September 22, 2017). "Documented Cases of Religious Discrimination Jump 15%". The Daily Signal. Retrieved February 6, 2018.
  5. ^ Thomas, Robert Murray (2007). God in the classroom: religion and America's public schools. Praeger. p. 199.
  6. ^ "Paxton Stacks AG's Office With Anti-LGBT Culture Warriors". The Austin Chronicle. April 12, 2016. Retrieved February 7, 2018.
  7. ^ "Anti-LGBT roundup 10.13.17", Southern Poverty Law Center, October 13, 2017, retrieved February 7, 2018.
  8. ^ "Anti-Trans Bathroom Debate: How a Local Religious-Right Faction Launched a National Movement", Rolling Stone, January 22, 2018, retrieved February 7, 2018.
  9. ^ "Two Bears make list of top 25 Texas lawyers of the last 25 years". Baylor University. Retrieved 27 May 2012.
  10. ^ John Ferguson Jr. (2009). "Liberty Legal Institute". The First Amendment Encyclopedia. Middle Tennessee State University. Retrieved January 24, 2018.
  11. ^ Morgan Smith (March 10, 2016). "Religious Liberty Champion Joins Paxton's Team". The Texas Tribune. Retrieved January 24, 2018.
  12. ^ "Dr Eric Walsh". Retrieved 17 December 2017.
  13. ^ "Fired for preaching: Georgia dumps doctor over church sermons". 20 April 2016. Retrieved 17 December 2017.
  14. ^ David French (April 10, 2016). "Georgia Bureaucrats Listened to a Doctor's Sermons, and Then Fired Him". National Review. Retrieved January 24, 2018.
  15. ^ Bonnie Pritchett (February 10, 2017). "Georgia settles with doctor in religious freedom case". wng.org. Retrieved January 31, 2018.
  16. ^ Kevin Daley (February 9, 2017). "Pastor Prevails After State Officials Force Him To Turn Over Sermons". The Daily Caller. Retrieved January 24, 2018.
  17. ^ a b Haag, Matthew (24 July 2010). "Plano's Liberty Institute expands reach from candy cane pens to Palin, prayer, cross on federal land". Dallas Morning News. Retrieved 15 August 2011.
  18. ^ Byrd, Don. "VA Responds to Houston Cemetery Allegations". Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. Retrieved 15 August 2011.
  19. ^ Marimow, Ann E. (March 2, 2018). "Federal court upholds ruling that cross-shaped monument on public land in Md. is unconstitutional". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 14, 2018.
  20. ^ Morgan, et al. v. Swanson, et al. (U.S. Court of Appeals for 5th Circuit 27 September 2011) ("the views of the majority of the en banc Court granting qualified immunity to the principals and the judgment reversing the district court."). Text
  21. ^ "'Candy Cane' Case Appealed to US Supreme Court". CBN News. 1 January 2012. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  22. ^ "U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Dismissal of 'Candy Cane' Case". PR Newswire. 11 June 2012. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  23. ^ Wise, Lindsay (July 18, 2011). "VA denies censorship at Houston National Cemetery". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 15 August 2011.
  24. ^ Wise, Lindsay (Sep 22, 2011). "VA agrees not to censor prayer at Houston cemetery". Houston Chronicle. Hearst Communications, Inc. Retrieved January 19, 2013.
  25. ^ Clarridge, Christine (August 10, 2016). "Praying football coach Joe Kennedy sues Bremerton School District". The Seattle Times. Retrieved January 26, 2018.
  26. ^ "School district takes action against praying football coach". CBS News. October 29, 2015. Retrieved January 26, 2018.
  27. ^ Dolan, Maura (August 23, 2017). "Football coach's on-field prayer not protected by Constitution, appeals court rules". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 26, 2018.
  28. ^ Carter, Mike (August 23, 2017). "Appeals court refuses to reinstate Bremerton coach who prayed after games". The Seattle Times. Retrieved January 26, 2018.
  29. ^ Carter, Mike (January 25, 2018). "Court rejects appeal of ex-Bremerton football coach who prayed after games". The Seattle Times. Retrieved January 26, 2018.
  30. ^ Arnsdorf, Isaac (2016-11-11). "More lobbyists on the transition". Politico. Retrieved 2016-11-15.
  31. ^ "First Liberty Institute Congratulates Its Former Volunteer Attorney James C. Ho on His Judicial Confirmation". December 14, 2017. Retrieved December 16, 2017.
  32. ^ "Cornyn has doubts about nominee who said transgender rights were 'Satan's plan'". San Antonio Express-News. September 28, 2017. Retrieved February 7, 2018.
  33. ^ "Grassley: Two controversial federal bench nominees won't be confirmed". Washington Post. December 13, 2017. Retrieved February 7, 2018.

External links[edit]