First Liberty Institute

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First Liberty Institute[1] is a religious liberty advocacy and legal defense organization founded in 1972 under the name Free Market Foundation.[2][3][4] The First Liberty Institute is headed by Kelly Shackelford.[5] First Liberty Institute focuses on providing pro bono legal assistance to people of faith and organizations that they believe are suffering religious persecution in the United States, such as students, veterans, and pastors whose religious free exercise rights they believe are being violated.[6][7][8][9][10]

The Free Market Foundation's legal arm, founded in 1997, was known as the Liberty Legal Institute under the direction of Kelly Shackelford. It was renamed Liberty Institute in 2009, and finally First Liberty Institute in 2016.[11] The Texas-based organization expanded its area of operation nationwide in 2012.[11]

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.[12]

Prominent cases[edit]

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.[13][14]

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.[13] 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.[15] The Liberty Institute appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court,[16] which refused to hear the case in 2012, upholding the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.[17]

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.".[18] The case was settled in September 2012 after mediation by former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas R. Phillips.[19]

In 2011, the organization filed an emergency motion for intervention on behalf of the valedictorian of a Texas high school after a district court judge ruled in favor of a lawsuit filed by an agnostic family, therefore banning prayer from the graduation ceremony. The ruling was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.[20][21]

First Liberty Institute's "Don't Tear Me Down" campaign works to bring awareness to Establishment Clause challenges against veterans memorials with Christian symbolism. They were unsuccessful in defending the Mt. Soledad Cross near San Diego, California when the Supreme Court refused to hear the case in 2012, allowing a prior 9th Circuit Court ruling to stand.[22] First Liberty Institute filed an Amicus curiae in the case of the Mojave Memorial Cross in California which was settled to the satisfaction of First Liberty Institute in April 2012.[23]


  1. ^ "Liberty Institute Is Now "First Liberty Institute"". Retrieved 2016-08-05. 
  2. ^ Ann Southworth, 'Lawyers of the right: professionalizing the conservative coalition', Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2008, pp. 30;196 [1] [2]
  3. ^ Cal Jillson, Texas Politics: Governing the Lone Star State, Routledge, 2011, p. 60 [3]
  4. ^ "History". :Liberty Institute. Retrieved 15 August 2011. 
  5. ^ "Two Bears make list of top 25 Texas lawyers of the last 25 years". Baylor University. Retrieved 27 May 2012. 
  6. ^ Robert Murray Thomas, God in the classroom: religion and America's public schools, Praeger, 2007, p. 199 [4]
  7. ^ Joshua Dunn (ed.), Martin R. West (ed.), From Schoolhouse to Courthouse: The Judiciary's Role in American Education, Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2009, p. 196 [5]
  8. ^ Denyse O'Leary, By Design or By Chance? The Growing Controversy on the Origins of Life in the Universe, Augsburg Books, 2004, p. 136 [6]
  9. ^ Mike S. Adams, Welcome to the Ivory Tower of Babel: Confessions of a Conservative College Professor, Harbor House, 2004 [7]
  10. ^ David Limbaugh, Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War Against Christians, Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 2003, p. 114 [8]
  11. ^ a b "First Liberty Timeline". First Liberty. 2016-01-26. Retrieved 2016-11-15. 
  12. ^ Arnsdorf, Isaac (2016-11-11). "More lobbyists on the transition". Politico. Retrieved 2016-11-15. 
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ Byrd, Don. "VA Responds to Houston Cemetery Allegations". Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. Retrieved 15 August 2011. 
  15. ^ Morgan, et al. v. Swanson, et al. (U.S. Court of Appeals for 5th Circuit 27 September 2011 url=“the views of the majority of the en banc Court granting qualified immunity to the principals and the judgment reversing the district court.”).
  16. ^ "'Candy Cane' Case Appealed to US Supreme Court". CBN News. 1 January 2012. Retrieved 20 January 2013. 
  17. ^ "U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Dismissal of 'Candy Cane' Case". PR Newswire. 11 June 2012. Retrieved 20 January 2013. 
  18. ^ Wise, Lindsay (July 18, 2011). "VA denies censorship at Houston National Cemetery". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 15 August 2011. 
  19. ^ Wise, Lindsay (Sep 22, 2011). "VA agrees not to censor prayer at Houston cemetery". Houston Chronicle. Hearst Communications, Inc. Retrieved January 19, 2013. 
  20. ^ Jillson, Cal (2011). Texas Politics: Governing the Lone Star State. Routledge. p. 60. 
  21. ^ "Two Bears make list of top 25 Texas lawyers of the last 25 years". BaylorProud. 2010-08-31. Retrieved 2017-08-11. 
  22. ^ "Supreme Court Docket". United States, et al., Petitioners v. Steve Trunk, et al. June 25, 2012. Retrieved January 19, 2013. 
  23. ^ "Don't Tear Me Down". Retrieved 27 May 2012. 

External links[edit]