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
Budget
US$1,378,329 (2012)[2]
Website www.thomasmore.org
TMLC offices lobby, Domino Farms

The Thomas More Law Center (TMLC) is a Christian, conservative, nonprofit, public interest law firm 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 social issues such as same-sex marriage,[6] abortion,[7] and provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act[8] and the HHS Mandate.[9] The Law Center has been involved in high profile cases including the litigation of the Dover, Pennsylvania intelligent design case;[10] the defense of Lt Col Jeffrey Chessani against misconduct allegations stemming from the November 2005 Haditha incident;[11] and the Law Center's federal lawsuit against the US Government regarding the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Individual Mandate.[8] The Law Center also litigates cases related to the defense of the free speech rights of Christians [12] and pro-life activists.[13]

Founding and history[edit]

The Center was founded in 1999 by Domino's Pizza founder Tom Monaghan[14] 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.[15] Among those who have sat on the Center's advisory board are: Senator Rick Santorum,[16] former Senator and retired Rear Admiral Jeremiah Denton,[17] former Major League Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn,[18] Catholic academic Charles Rice,[19] Mary Cunningham Agee, and Ambassador Alan Keyes.[20] The Center's Citizens' Advisory Board also includes Representative Michele Bachmann, and Lieutenant Colonel Allen West.[21][22] The Center is primarily financed by contributions from individuals, foundations, and corporations and is recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) organization.[23]

Name[edit]

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 was Lord Chancellor.[24] 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, and beheaded. Thomas More is patron saint of lawyers in the Catholic Church.

Key issues[edit]

The Law Center defines five "key issues" on their website. According to the Law Center, it sees these issues as being central to its mission. The issues are:

  • Defending the religious freedom of Christians: The Law 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."[25]
  • Restoring family values: This includes countering the legalization of same-sex marriage, opposing pornography, and protecting parental rights in educating and raising children.[26]
  • Defending the sanctity of human life': The Law Center seeks to overturn Roe v. Wade and to support groups who oppose abortion.[27]
  • Confronting the threat of radical Islam: The Law 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."[28]
  • Defending national security: The Law 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.[29]

Notable cases[edit]

Christian religious freedom issues[edit]

  • Travis Leach In 2001, the Law Center faxed a letter in defense of Traverse City, Michigan police veteran Travis Leach, after he raised a religious objection to the city's newly adopted diversity measure which put rainbow flag bumper stickers on city vehicles, including police cruisers. Leach, a devout Christian, objected to the stickers as promoting the homosexual lifestyle, which he considered a sin. The city's Human Rights Commission requested that Leach's fitness as a police officer be investigated. The city declared that there was no evidence that Leach had violated a departmental policy.[30][31]
  • Hansen et al., v Ann Arbor Public Schools et al. 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.[32] 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 because she wished to discuss her Catholic faith.[33]
  • Skoros v. City of New York 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.[34] 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."[citation needed] 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.[35] The Law Center continues to litigate cases related to the celebration of Christmas in public schools and the display of nativity scenes in the public square.[36]
  • Elk Grove Unified School District v Newdow The Center filed several amicus briefs in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court on behalf of 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".[37] In response to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, the Law Center issued a press release on June 27, 2002, declaring that they were "prepared to defend the Pledge of Allegiance by offering free legal counsel to any school denied the right to permit students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance including the words 'under God'."[38][39]
  • Johnson v. Poway Unified School District 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.[40]

Pro-life, abortion, & euthanasia issues[edit]

  • Bernardo v. Planned Parenthood Federation of America 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.[citation needed] 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 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.[41] The case was dismissed by the judge, who said there was little likelihood the lawsuit would succeed.[42] This particular case was dismissed on appeal on a procedural issue under California's anti-SLAPP statute as the information concerning the link between abortion and breast cancer provided by Planned Parenthood on its website "did not concern any product or service within the meaning of the UCL, nor did it concern or advertise any product or service within the meaning of the FAL, and thus did not fall within the ambit of these consumer protection statutes."[43]
  • Martin v. Larsen In 2001, the Law Center filed a lawsuit against Great Falls, Montana Assistant City Attorney Kory Larsen and two other city officials claiming they violated protesters rights with an already-removed one-week ban on graphic signs depicting aborted fetuses. Larsen, along with two unidentified police officers, ordered abortion protesters on August 10, 2001 to remove signs with graphic pictures of aborted fetuses from a spot in front of the Great Falls Planned Parenthood office. Larsen said the signs were creating a public nuisance and a risk to public safety.[44]
  • Schiavo et al. v Schiavo 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 or not Michael Schiavo had abused his wife.[45] 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.[citation needed] The letter also contended that Michael had a conflict of interest concerning Terri's medical decisions.[citation needed] 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.[46] Schiavo's feeding and hydration tubes were removed on March 18, 2005 and she died on March 31, 2005.
  • Fitzgerald v. City of Portland In February 2014, the Law Center sued the City of Portland, Maine on behalf of several pro-life activists concerning Portland City Ordinance § 17-108-111 which creates a Prohibited Zone where "[n]o person shall knowingly enter or remain on a public way or sidewalk adjacent to a reproductive health care facility with a radius of 39 feet of any portion of an entrance, exit, or driveway of a reproductive health care facility."[47] The United States Supreme Court in June 2014 declared a similar 35-foot prohibited zone in Massachusetts to be unconstitutional. In July, the Portland City Council voluntarily repealed the ordinance. Since that time, most of the lawsuit has been dismissed as moot. However, a portion of the lawsuit which seeks nominal damages of $1.00 in recognition of past constitutional harm capable of vindication.[48]

Homosexuality issues[edit]

  • In RE: The Estate of Marshall M. Gardiner In 2002, the Law Center was the only organization to file an amicus brief opposing the notion that a sex change operation truly changes a person's sex for the purpose of marriage. At issue was whether Marshall Gardiner's "wife," J'Noel Ball, was eligible to receive one-half of his sizeable estate after he died without a will. J'Noel was born a man, had a sex change operation and had her Wisconsin birth certificate changed to reflect that she was a woman and not a man. The Kansas Court of Appeals determined that "J'Noel remained a transsexual, and a male for purposes of marriage under K.S.A.2001 Supp. 23-101."[49][citation needed]
  • Rohde v Ann Arbor Public Schools MEA NEA 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.[50] 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."[51] 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.[50] The case was eventually dismissed due to lack of standing.[52]
  • 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.[55]

Islam issues[edit]

  • Eklund v Byron Union School District In July 2002, the Thomas More Law Center filed a lawsuit against Contra Costa County's Byron Union School District on behalf of the parents of four students.[citation needed] 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.[56] 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.[citation needed]
  • Kevin Murray v. U.S. Treasury Sec. Timothy Geithner, et al. The Law 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.[57] While federal Judge Lawrence P. Zatkoff was requested by the Department of Justice to dismiss the lawsuit in 2009,[58] he reached a summary judgment in January, 2011, noting that the religious involvement did not achieve the "excessive entanglement" required under a precedential ruling.[59]
  • Olmsted Falls, Ohio In October 2013, the Law Center convinced the Olmsted Falls City School District to removed what the center described as an "Islamic proselytizing video" from the 7th grade world history curriculum.[60] The film in question comes from the FX television network's 30 Days series featuring Morgan Spurlock of Super Size Me fame. The specific episode, "Muslims and America", followed a Christian man who is transported to Dearborn, Michigan where he lives with a Muslim family, attends prayer services and religious instruction in a mosque and otherwise lives as a Muslim.[citation needed]

Military and national security issues[edit]

  • LtCol Jeffrey Chessani 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.[61]
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.[62]
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.[63] On March 17, 2009, a military appeals court upheld the dismissal.[64]
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."[65]
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,[66] which found no misconduct and recommended that he be allowed to retire without loss of rank.[65]
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."[67]
  • Downey v. United States Department of the Army In November 2014, the Law Center filed a federal lawsuit against the United States Department of the Army and the Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh on behalf of Lt. Col. Christopher Downey.[68] Downey was administratively convicted in an Article 15 procedure of assaulting a soldier whom was attempting to videotape two lesbian officers engaged in a public display of affection during a full-dress formal military ball at Ft. Drum, New York, as well as violating the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.[69] The lawsuit disputes these administrative convictions, saying that the soldier was never assaulted, but may have been accidentally hit as Downey sought to lower the camera being used to film the officers, whom were kissing, fondling, and removing each other's jackets on the dance floor. The lawsuit states that Downey was seeking to stop the women's behavior of concern for their reputations and the reputation of the Army.[68] A special three-officer “show cause” board, convened after the Article 15 conviction,[70] which reviewed the punishment, unanimously ruled that the evidence showed Downey did not violate Army rules writing “[t]he allegation of conduct unbecoming an officer … is not supported by the preponderance of the evidence,” the board also voted to retain Lt. Col. Downey.[71] The lawsuit accuses the Army of violating Downey’s constitutional rights by preventing him from adequately defending himself and asks a federal judge to overturn the convictions.

Free speech[edit]

  • Pro-life T-shirts During the early 2000s, the Law Center was involved in a number of disputes and court cases involving pro-life T-shirts including those distributed by Rock for Life for National Pro-Life T-shirt Day.[72] These particular shirts, black T-shirts and sweatshirts emblazoned with "Abortion is Homicide," were deemed inappropriate by some school administrators representing schools ranging from Virginia, California, Texas, and Michigan to Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, and Maine.[73] Most of these issues were quietly settled after the Law Center sent a letter to school administrators outlining the students' legal rights to wear clothing which contain messages.[74] The Law Center also distributed a copy of a similar legal memo to students who opted to participate in National Pro-Life T-shirt Day.[73] The Law Center also successfully defended Samantha Gallardo's pro-life T-shirts in California in 2002.[75]
  • Savage v Napolitano The Law Center worked with the American radio broadcaster after 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".[76][77][78] 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.[79]
On July 12, 2010, the new Coalition government, of which the Conservative Party's David Cameron is Prime Minister, announced that it will continue to ban Savage from entering the UK.[80][81]
  • Pastor Terry Jones Beginning in 2011, the Law Center has represented Pastor Terry Jones in lawsuits against him in the City of Dearborn and against the City of Dearborn. The lawsuits stem from Pastor Jones' anti-Islamic activities, including protests and the staged burning of the Koran. In April 2011, Jones planned to protest outside the Islamic Center of America. On the day he was to attend the protest, local authorities questioned him in Court, required him either to post a $45,000 "peace bond" to cover Dearborn's cost if Jones was attacked by extremists or to go to trial. Jones contested that requirement, and the jury voted on April 22 to require the posting of a $1 "peace bond", but Jones and his co-pastor Wayne Sapp continued to refuse to pay. They were held briefly in jail, while claiming violation of First Amendment rights. That night Jones was released by the court.[82]
On November 11, 2011, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Robert Ziolkowski vacated the “breach of peace” ruling against Jones and Wayne Sapp on the grounds that they were denied due process.[83]
Terry Jones, his organization Stand Up America Now, and the Law Center won a victory in court on August 30, 2013 over the City of Dearborn and its Chief of Police, Ronald Haddad. Judge Denise Page Hood wrote, "The Court finds that Plaintiffs are entitled to summary judgment as to their claim that Ord. No. 17-33, requiring Plaintiffs to sign an indemnification agreement, is a violation of their First Amendment rights of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Expressive Association. The related ordinance, Ord. No. 17-28(d), requiring the chief of police to grant a special events permit only after an indemnification agreement is signed, also violates Plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights." Judge Hood concluded that both ordinances were unconstitutional.[84]
  • Glowacki v. Howell Public School District In 2011, the Law Center filed a lawsuit against Howell public school and one of its teachers on behalf of a student who was removed from the classroom in October 2010 after expressing religious beliefs against the acceptance of homosexuality.[85] According to the lawsuit, on Oct. 20, 2010, the district was observing the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) supported anti-homosexual-bullying Spirit Day.[85] Further according to the suit, on that day the student asked why it was permissible to display the rainbow flag, which represents gay pride, to which the teacher asked him if he supported gays.[85] When the student said his Catholic religion prohibited him from doing so, the student and another student who shared his views were told to leave the class or face suspension.[85]
In reference to the case, Richard Thompson, the Law Center's president and chief counsel said “The purpose of our lawsuit was to protect students’ constitutional rights to free speech, defend religious liberty and stop public schools from becoming indoctrination centers for the homosexual agenda.”[86] In June 2013, the claims against Howell Schools were dismissed, however, the claims that the teacher involved violated the student's First Amendment right to Free Speech were granted and the teacher was ordered to pay $1 for the violation.[86][87]

Defense of Ten Commandments monuments[edit]

  • Summum v. Duchesne City In 2003, the Law Center took up the defense of another Ten Commandments monument this time in Duchesne City, Utah. The Ten Commandments went up in Roy Park in Duchesne City in 1979, a donation by the family of the late Irvin Cole. After Summum filed suit, the city deeded the monolith and its 10-by-11-foot plot to the local Lions Club for $10 and 10,000 hours of already performed beautification services. After U.S. District Judge Dee Benson expressed concern about how the transfer was carried out, the city undid the transaction and sold the monument and land to three Cole daughters for $250.[88] Judge Benson deemed in her summary judgement that the city's "efforts to disassociate itself from further involvement with the Ten Commandments monument are sufficient..."[citation needed] This case is a companion case to Pleasant Grove City v. Summum. The lawsuits made their way to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where a panel said the municipalities must allow Summum to put up its monuments. Both municipalities then asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the 10th Circuit ruling. In the Pleasant Grove case, the Supreme Court court ruled unanimously in February 2009 that the city did not violate Summum's free-speech rights when it refused permission to place a Seven Aphorisms monument in a public park. The high court never ruled on the Duchesne suit, which was sent back to U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball in Salt Lake City for a decision based on the Pleasant Grove ruling.[89] However unlike in Pleasant Grove, whose park includes several other donated monuments or displays, Duchesne's park only had the Ten Commandments monument. Eventually, Duchesne officials decided to move the Ten Commandments monument from Roy Park to the city cemetery to avoid continued litigation.[90]
  • Society of Separationists v. Pleasant Grove City et al. In 2004, the Law Center defended a Ten Commandments monument that has stood since 1971 in a public park in Pleasant Grove City, Utah. The suit filed by the Society of Separationists against the city was initially dismissed by Judge Bruce S. Jenkins.[91] However, in 2005, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reversed the lower court's grant of judgment on the pleadings and remanded the case back to the district court for further proceedings.[92] In 2006, after the Supreme Court's ruling in Van Orden v. Perry, which described the constitutionality of a Ten Commandments monument in at the Texas State Capitol in Austin, Texas, the Society of Separationists asked that the lawsuit be dismissed.[93]
In reference to the case, Richard Thompson, Chief Counsel of the Law Center, commented, "Too many communities are intimidated by fear of legal fees into removing Ten Commandment displays without even a fight. Pleasant Grove is proof that communities can fight the atheists and win. The Thomas More Law Center stands ready to defend cities in these situations without charge.”[91]

Defense of public Christmas displays[edit]

  • Donnell v. Palm Beach Town Council In 2003, the Law Center filed a lawsuit on behalf of two Palm Beach residents against the town for not allowing them to put a nativity scene next to the town's two Menorah displays.The lawsuit alleged that for the past two years the town had permitted the public display of Jewish menorahs at various prominent public locations, and that town officials had repeatedly refused to review requests to have Christian Nativity scenes displayed alongside them. In September 2003, the women represented by the suit requested that the town permit a privately financed display of a Christian Nativity scene alongside the menorahs. They also made four additional requests in October and November, requesting that town officials respond by Dec. 1, but they did not.[94] On December 16, 2003 U.S. District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley, gave town officials 48 hours to respond to the request. Hurley said the town's inaction on the request since September may be a constitutional violation because the women were entitled to a timely answer.[95] The town council eventually denied the request.[96]
After a consent judgement was entered in favor of the nativity display, the city of Palm Beach was forced to pay attorney's fees and publicly apologize to the women.[97]
  • Snowden v. Town of Bay Harbor Islands In 2004, the Law Center filed a lawsuit on behalf of Sandra Snowden against the Town of Bay Harbor Islands after Snowden was denied permission to display a Nativity for the second consecutive year on public property.[98]
After the Town and Snowden reached a settlement of their dispute, Judge Cecilia Altonaga for the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida memorialized this settlement in a consent decree requiring the Town to allow Snowden to erect or sponsor displays on the piece of property for the next ten holiday seasons and to allow any other resident to erect or sponsor a display during the holidays. The decree also affirmed the Town’s right to place reasonable time, place,and manner restrictions on these expressions. Among these restrictions were a size limitation, a time restriction limiting the displays to the holiday season, and a restriction on the number of displays each person could sponsor or erect each season, limiting that number to one.[99]
  • Stratechuk v. Board of Education, South Orange-Maplewood School District et al. In 2004, the Law Center filed a lawsuit on behalf of Michael Stratechuk challenging New Jersey's Maplewood Public School District's ban on traditional Christmas music including instrumentals. Richard Thompson, the Law Center's chief counsel described the ban as "another example of the anti-Christmas, anti-religion policy infecting our public school system."[100] In a statement, school Superintendent Brian Osborne said the policy "was adopted to promote an inclusive environment for all students in our school community."[101] U.S. District Judge William H. Walls held that the school's policy has a valid secular purpose, does not convey a message of disapproval of religion, and does not foster an excessive entanglement with religion; the school concerts are not public fora and the interpretation of Policy 2270 is reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.[102]
  • John Satawa v. Mcomb County Road Commission In 2009, the Law Center filed a lawsuit on behalf of John Satawa in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division claiming Satawa's constitutional rights were violated when he was ordered to remove a Nativity scene from the median of a public road. The suit sought for Satawa to be allowed to put back the 8- by 8-foot Nativity scene his late father built in 1945.
After receiving a complaint by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Road Commission of Macomb County told Satawa to remove the holiday display, citing incomplete permits. Satawa's permit application was later denied because it "clearly displays a religious message" and violated "separation of church and state," according to Macomb County Highway Engineer Robert Hoepfner.[103]
After a four year court battle, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in favor of the display and the roads commission opted not to appeal the ruling, granting Satawa a permit for the display.[104][105]

Same-sex marriage issues[edit]

  • National Black Pastors and Christian Leaders Coalition In May 2014, the Law Center announced a partnership with the National Coalition of Black Pastors and Christian Leaders to oppose legalization of same-sex marriage through the filing of amicus briefs filed on behalf of the pastors in what the Law Center deemed "key cases" around the country.[6][107] The Law Center filed amicus briefs before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit,[108] Sixth Circuit,[109] the Supreme Court.[110][111][112][113]

Common Core[edit]

  • Test refusal form Prior to the 2014-2015 school year, the Law Center, in collaboration with concerned parents developed and released a Test Refusal & Student Privacy Protection Form aimed at assisting parents to refuse Common Core aligned state standardized tests for their children as well as opt-out of school data collection and sharing practices.[114][115] In connection with this effort, the Law Center also published a "Common Core Resource Page" with the intent of informing parents and concerned citizens, according to their press release about the page.[citation needed]

Other[edit]

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.[1] 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.[1] 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.[1] Muise told the board they could defend teaching intelligent design as a matter of academic freedom.[1]
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.[1] On November 19, 2004, the Defendant Dover Area School District announced by press release that, commencing in January 2005, teachers would be required to read the following statement to students in the ninth grade biology class at Dover High School:

"The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part. Because Darwin’s Theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations. Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves. With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the Origins of Life to individual students and their families. As a Standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on Standards-based assessments."[116]

The book 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.[117] 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.
  • Vasquez v. Los Angeles County - In 2006, the Center's West Coast office filed a federal lawsuit against Los Angeles County officials for their decision to remove a small cross from the county seal after they were threatened with a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union and spent an estimated $700,000 dollars to replace the seal on thousands of government buildings, vehicles and uniforms.[118] The Law Center argued that the same Constitutional clause the prevents the establishment of a state religion also forbids the government from taking actions that convey a message of hostility toward religion.[118] The Center also provided legal supervision[citation needed] for a ballot initiative to keep the cross on the seal, which didn't generate enough signatures for placement on the ballot.[119] However, in 2014, a cross was reintroduced to the L.A. County Seal in the interest of architectural and historical accuracy atop an included depiction of the San Gabriel Mission. The current version of the L.A. County Seal is currently under litigation.[120]
  • Trunk v City of San Diego The Center's West Coast office intervened on behalf of the Citizens for the Mt. Soledad National War Memorial, to prevent the city of San Diego from removing a 29 ft cross from the existing Mt. Soledad war memorial. In December 2013, U.S. District Judge Larry Burns ruled that the cross must be removed. However, he issued a stay on the ruling allowing for the Law Center to appeal to the United States Supreme Court, asking for a stay in destruction of the memorial. In June 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to intervene in the two-decade old battle until the appellate court rules on the issue. However, the Supreme Court's refusal to intervene does not preempt the court from reexamining the issue.[121][122]
In December of 2014, a land deal was proposed that would potentially save the Mount Soledad cross by transferring federal ownership of the land to the Mount Soledad Memorial Association which has been maintaining the site since the 1950s.[123]
  • Thomas More Law Center et al. v. Barack H. Obama et al. The Thomas More Law Center filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The purpose of the lawsuit was to permanently enjoin enforcement of the new health care legislation.[124] 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.[124] On October 7, 2010, U.S. District Court Judge George Caram Steeh dismissed two out of six of their claims,[125] 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.[126] In July 2011, the Center petitioned the Supreme Court to review the case; that petition was denied in July 2012.[127]
  • Brinsdon v. McAllen Independent School District In 2013, the Law Center filed a lawsuit against McAllen Independent School District after a student enrolled in a high school Spanish class was punished for refusing to recite the Mexican Pledge of Allegiance and Mexican National Anthem complete with arm outstretched in the appropriate posture.[128] The school district does, however, have a policy that prohibits a school from compelling students to recite the American Pledge of Allegiance. The district also has a written policy that excuses students from reciting text from the Declaration of Independence if the student “as determined by the district, has a conscientious objection to the recitation.”[128] The student at the center of the lawsuit is a fluent Spanish speaker and the daughter of a Mexican immigrant, but "felt that it was not right to pledge her allegiance and loyalty to another country when her allegiance lies with the United States."[129]
In January 2015, U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez of the Southern District of Texas, dismissed the case ruling that Brinsdon’s attorneys provided no evidence of a school board policy that required students to recite the Mexican Pledge of Allegiance or sing the Mexican National Anthem, adding that teaching culturalism in public school is not inherently unconstitutional and that there was no evidence that the student's rights were violated.[130][131]

Additional cases[edit]

The Thomas More Law Center casework also includes their defense of Father Ray Leonard;[132] 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;[133] and their defense of Police Captain Paul Fields.[citation needed]

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. For fiscal year 2013, their rating was one star, with a two-star financial rating and one-star accountability and transparency rating.[134]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]