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Courage to be the Bullseye

Posted on October 4th, 2013 Religious Freedom | 1 Comment »

By: Brett Harvey

Wars turn on single battles in key places that shift momentum, alter public perception, or redefine the nature of the entire conflict. Civil War buffs know that the fortunes of both the North and the South were changed forever on battlefields near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The infamy of the attack on Pearl Harbor was a stark reminder to the American people that remaining idle in the face of advancing tyranny does not protect people from danger. The battle on a wooden bridge in Concord, Massachusetts moved a struggle for the rights of British subjects into the American War of Independence.

The same is true for social conflicts. Harriet Beecher Stowe, a preacher’s daughter, was targeted by defenders of the South’s economic engine, but her book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, solidified the anti-slavery movement and inspired Abraham Lincoln, who later penned the Emancipation Proclamation. Susan B. Anthony defied the law and cast a single vote in the presidential election of 1872.  When found guilty, she refused to pay the $100 fine and led the movement to give women the right to vote. Facing what critics called the inevitable rise of communism, Ronald Reagan stood in the center of Berlin, Germany — in the shadow of the “iron curtain” that shielded the communist bloc — and demanded “tear down this wall!”

History looks back on these momentous events with pride.  But taking a stand in the midst of constant criticism and attack, when the outcome is anything but certain, takes courage and commitment. A small town in upstate New York is taking just such a stand. Greece, N.Y. is in the bullseye of a nationwide attack challenging the right of people to offer prayers to open public meetings.

On November 6, 2013, Alliance Defending Freedom and the firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher will defend this small town before the United States Supreme Court in Town of Greece v. Galloway. Opposing the town stands Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, among others.

The Supreme Court decision will be a watershed moment in a nationwide battle to define the liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment. At stake is the right of volunteer citizens to decide for themselves how they pray, and the right of a town to accommodate the beliefs of its citizens. The forces arrayed against the town are demanding that the town either stop opening prayers or censor the way people pray.

Opening public meetings with a prayer is a historic and cherished tradition that predates the founding of this nation. From the landing of the Mayflower, through the deliberations of the Continental Congress, and still continued in every state at every level of government, including the U.S. Congress, Americans seek Divine guidance and blessing on their deliberations. In 1983, the Supreme Court recognized this history and noted that Congress hired paid chaplains to open its meeting with prayer while they were writing the very words of the First Amendment. Finding such prayers unconstitutional would absurdly suggest that the framers of the Constitution were violating the document as they wrote it!

Despite the historical pedigree, AU and its allies want to redefine religious liberty to give them the right to silence or censor prayers simply because they don’t want to hear the way others choose to pray. Since 2004, more than 20 lawsuits have been filed, and hundreds of towns and counties across the country have been threatened in an effort to silence or censor prayers. Many towns and counties have given up under the threats of costly litigation. Now, all of the legal firepower is aimed at the Town of Greece. The stakes are high as the outcome of this case will help shape the definition of religious liberty in America. Alliance Defending Freedom is proud to stand with the courageous people of the Town of Greece.

If you support public prayer and think this valuable tradition should continue, sign the Statement of Support for prayer.

To learn more about the case and what’s at stake, visit


Anti-Religious Forces Demonstrate a New Tactic Targeting Churches

Posted on October 2nd, 2013 Equal Access | No Comments »

Our readers know about many types of attacks and encroachments on churches from our cases, which we regularly share. However, now and then a lawsuit comes that makes even battle-hardened litigators shake their heads in disbelief. This is that sort of case.

Throughout the nation it is common for churches to rent public school rooms on weekends for their services and other events. Churches are allowed “equal access” just like other community groups and pay the standard rent, which benefits the church, the community, and brings income to the schools.

A couple in Hawaii who are well known for their longstanding and vocal criticism of such church rentals recently filed a lawsuit claiming that five churches owe the state millions of dollars in back rent and other fees. The couple, who started a now defunct group called “Hawaiians for the Separation of Church and State,” ironically had their own organization dissolved by the state for failing to pay state fees. This couple is now claiming the state should have charged churches more rent because they are not entitled to the same rate as other nonprofits. Alliance Defending Freedom and Hawaii ally Jim Hochberg represent two of the churches.

The case was brought under the state’s “False Claims Act,” which allows private citizens to bring a lawsuit on behalf of the state to reclaim money the state allegedly lost due to fraud and to keep some of the money for themselves if they are successful.  In other words, a case must be based upon some person or group intentionally defrauding the state. Yet, the plaintiffs identified no fraud in the complaint they filed. Instead they submitted hundreds of pages of documents that they claim show that the churches should have been charged more rent. And after filing this claim, these plaintiffs and their attorney went public and smeared the reputation of these churches.

It’s important to understand what is really at work in this case. This is a thinly-veiled attack on the right of churches to use school facilities on the same terms as other community groups. These plaintiffs could not achieve their radical goal of kicking churches out of schools through their distorted constitutional claims.  So instead, they have settled on this False Claims Act as a backup plan. They are looking to gouge these churches with millions of dollars in penalties – a substantial amount of which would go into their pockets and to their attorney. Their ideologically driven hostility against these churches is fused with visions of a lottery-type money grab.

Here is the background these plaintiffs will never admit to. Hawaii’s rental program, like programs in many other states, has been wildly successful and is popular with the community, the schools, and the churches. The schools are able to generate funds that would otherwise not be available because the churches rent the facilities (typically on Sundays and Wednesday nights) when few, if any, other groups would be interested in renting school rooms. So it’s a win-win for everyone, and the program has provided millions of dollars of much-needed assistance to schools, while churches are able to use school facilities after-hours to serve the local community.

Alliance Defending Freedom is currently preparing a motion to dismiss the case. These baseless charges must be revealed for what they are. Churches should be treated like any other community group and should not be charged a higher rental fee simply because they are religious.  If these plaintiffs are allowed to get away with this lawsuit, they could attempt to replicate this strategy across the country, the result of which would be harassment of churches in order to promote the radical agenda of those who believe churches should not have equal access to government facilities. We hope the court puts a quick end to this baseless lawsuit, and we’ll keep you informed as the case progresses.

If you or your church face obstacles in attempting to use government facilities, like school buildings, on equal terms with other community groups, please contact us so our attorneys can review your situation.  We will work hard to ensure that churches are treated equally and are not disadvantaged simply because they are religious.


ADF Legal Counsel - Church Project

What Pastors and Churches Need to Know – Back-to-School Edition

Posted on September 4th, 2013 Religious Freedom | No Comments »

By David J. Hacker

As a pastor, you see them—the signs of a new school year are all around us.  The teachers you shepherd are preparing for a new year teaching a new class of students. Yellow school buses are back on the roads, parents are taking advantage of back-to-school specials, and recently empty school parking lots are now buzzing with activity.  Your church is likely also in the swing of things, promoting Sunday school kids from one grade to the next and starting a new year of curriculum.  But with the start of school—whether kindergarten or college—comes many questions about students sharing their faith on campus.  There are things you as a pastor should know to help guide your congregation during the school year.

Religion is Allowed in Public Schools

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the right of students of all ages to express their religious beliefs on campus.  As the U.S. Supreme Court said nearly twenty years ago, private religious speech is not a “First Amendment orphan.”  Students can pray on campus—on their own or in groups.  Students can bring Bibles to campus and reference them in assignments (if it’s relevant to the subject matter being taught).  And if a public school or college allows students to form clubs on campus, students can form religious clubs and receive all the same resources provided to non-religious student clubs.

Students May Share their Faith in Public Schools

Of course, many students will want to share their faith with their classmates.  Whether in class or among friends, students do not need to suppress their religious viewpoints, and school administrators cannot tell them to do so.  In fact, the Constitution protects students’ rights to pass out religious flyers and materials.  This is especially true if schools already permit students to hand out non-religious materials.

Religious Freedom in Schools is Under Attack

Religious freedom is alive and well in public schools and universities, but that’s not to say it isn’t under attack.  In recent years, public schools have adopted vague and overly restrictive anti-bullying and diversity policies.  The problem is that these policies give school administrators virtually unrestrained discretion to decide what constitutes “bullying,” and all too often they define “bullying” as sharing the Gospel.  Many public schools also have adopted policies prohibiting religious flyers or proselytizing.  The thinking is that these activities violate the so-called “separation of church and state.”  But as we said above, the First Amendment protects students who want to share their faith on campus.  Finally, public schools are increasingly censoring religious student speech and prayers at football games, graduations, and other activities.  But so long as school administrators are not telling students what to say or how to pray, students speak as private individuals and may do so freely.

You would hope that public universities, the quintessential “marketplaces of ideas,” would prove to be better examples of protecting religious liberty on campus, but they are not.  Like their public school siblings, public universities nationwide use vague speech codes to punish religious students who hold views or opinions that are outside the secular campus mainstream.  These universities also try to limit student speech to “speech zones”—typically, small areas of campus where students may engage in speech, but which prevent students from sharing their faith elsewhere.  And many public universities put special restrictions on religious student organizations—telling them they cannot select leaders based on religious beliefs, or they cannot access mandatory student fees if they pray or worship.  All of these policies discriminate against students of faith and are unconstitutional.

There is Help Available

Students should not think that when they return to campus this year they must leave their faith at home.  The Supreme Court said long ago that students do not shed their constitutional rights when they enter the schoolhouse gates.  Students may share their faith freely and boldly on campus.  But if they experience any of these threats to religious liberty on campus, they should contact Alliance Defending Freedom for free help.


In Whose Name Will You Pray?

Posted on September 4th, 2013 Religious Freedom | No Comments »

Have you ever considered the name in which you pray?  While this question might entertain a theology class, it is now the subject of a landmark case before the United States Supreme Court called Town of Greece v. Galloway.  On November 6, 2013, the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments whether local clergy and others have the liberty to pray according to the convictions and teachings of their faith when delivering invocations before Town Board meetings. If you as a pastor are asked to give the invocation before any town function, this case will impact you as the outcome may pit your religious beliefs on how to pray squarely against efforts to create a state mandate on how to pray.

Since the First Continental Congress, our national legislature has opened up congressional sessions with prayer. The United States Supreme Court observed this long standing tradition in Marsh v. Chambers where the Court first took up the issue of legislative prayer. In Marsh, the Court noted “The opening of sessions of legislative and other deliberative public bodies with prayer is deeply embedded in the history and tradition of this country.”

The Court pointed out that “the Continental Congress, beginning in 1774, adopted the traditional procedure of opening its sessions with a prayer offered by a paid chaplain” and that “the First Congress, as one of  its early items of business, adopted the policy of selecting a chaplain to open each session with prayer.”

The Court concluded, “Clearly the men who wrote the First Amendment Religion Clause did not view paid legislative chaplains and opening prayers as a violation of that Amendment, for the practice of opening sessions with prayer has continued without interruption ever since that early session of Congress.”  And if there were any doubts as to the importance of this long standing practice, the Court put those to rest in stating, “In light of the unambiguous and unbroken history of more than 200 years, there can be no doubt that the practice of opening legislative sessions with prayer has become part of the fabric of our society.”

But groups like Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who filed the lawsuit to stop the prayer practice in Greece, New York, were not content to leave this ruling unchallenged.  Rather than mounting a direct attack on the Supreme Court’s opinion in Marsh, it is seeking to undermine the practice of legislative prayer by challenging how and to whom those prayers are given.  They complained that the volunteers chose to give too many prayers in Jesus name, and suggested that the Town has an obligation to limit or censor the way people pray.

We have represented the Town of Greece from the very beginning of this case, and will continue to defend them before the U.S. Supreme Court.  It is critical to religious liberty in this country that pastors be able to pray according to their own conscience, and not according to a governmental mandate on prayer.

So on November 6, 2013, the highest court in America will take up this issue.  This case will impact your town and state.  It is highly likely that your local governmental bodies open their sessions with prayer, consistent with the Founding Father’s practice.  And you might be asked to give the invocation to bring solemnity to the proceedings.  The question will become – in whose name will you pray?


ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

Pray For Your Schools…Without Ceasing.

Posted on September 4th, 2013 Religious Freedom | No Comments »

By Matthew Sharp

Imagine that one day you receive a notice from your child’s school that a weapon or ammunition had been found on campus. Your mind would immediately turn to the frightening stories from places such as Sandy Hook Elementary or Columbine High School where innocent children were targeted by ruthless killers.

That is what one New Hampshire parent faced when she learned that bullets had been found in a restroom at Concord High School where her two children attended school. But as a devout Christian, Lizarda Urena knew that the best course of action she could take to help protect her children and all of the students and staff at the high school was to pray. And that is exactly what she did.

After obtaining permission from the school principal, Ms. Urena began going to the campus each morning about 45 minutes before school starts (and before most students had even arrived) to pray. In an isolated area of the campus, she would spend 15 minutes quietly praying for everyone’s safety. She never imposed her beliefs on anyone passing by, nor did she create any disturbance.

But when the Freedom from Religion Foundation learned of Ms. Urena’s prayers, they sent a letter to the school district demanding that Ms. Urena be prohibited from ever praying at the high school again. And unfortunately, the school caved in to these unreasonable demands.

Are the prayers of caring parents and community members banned from schools? Absolutely not. Praying for divine guidance and blessings is one of the great American traditions. Our Founding Fathers prayed that God would “look down in mercy…on these our American states” as they undertook the task of declaring independence and forming a new nation. Since then, our Presidents have consistently prayed “may God Bless America” in their public speeches and Congress has opened its sessions with prayer. Indeed, courts have repeatedly upheld activities such as See You at the Pole and the National Day of Prayer where students, parents, and community members gather to invoke God’s blessings and protections over their schools and communities.

As our students head back to school, your church has a variety of ways that it can continue this important tradition and cover the students, teachers, and schools in your community with prayer for the coming year:

1.     Encourage the students, parents, and community members in your congregation to participate in See You At The Pole, scheduled for Wednesday, September 25th, at your local schools.

2.     Support the faith-based student clubs at your local schools. Co-sponsor events with them or donate needed items to support the activities and mission of the clubs.

3.     Select a local school for your church to support. Contact the school’s principal and offer to donate school supplies to students in need. Have the members of your congregation send notes of thanks and encouragement to the teachers at the school. And pray for the school and its staff and students during your worship services.

Alliance Defending Freedom is working tirelessly to defend the right of Lizarda Urena and parents, pastors, and community members throughout the country to pray. But that right is meaningless if we as people of faith don’t exercise it regularly. So in the words of Paul, “pray without ceasing” for your students, teachers, and schools.


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