Religious liberties being infringed upon at alarming rates: Listen to First Liberty’s speech at the Pro-Family Legislators Conference. Tune in now to hear Kelly Shackelford, President, and CEO of First Liberty Institute, share how our First Amendment right is not only being disregarded but is increasingly being attacked.
Air Date: 03/07/2017
Guests: Kelly Shackelford, David Barton, Rick Green, and Tim Barton
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- Pro-Family Legislators Conference
- First Liberty Institute
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Transcription note: As a courtesy for our listeners’ enjoyment, we are providing a transcription of this podcast. However, as this is transcribed from a live talk show, words and sentence structure were not altered to fit grammatical, written norms in order to preserve the integrity of the actual dialogue between the speakers. Additionally, names may be misspelled because of the difficulty in understanding the speaker at times. We apologize in advance.
Welcome to the intersection of faith and the culture, WallBuilders Live with David Barton. David’s not with us today because he’s at the Pro-family Legislators Conference we’re going to right now. It’s with Kelly Shackelford. Actually, he’s going to be our speaker today.
It’s going to a two-part program from a presentation he gave at the Pro-Family Legislators Conference. You can find out more at our website today. Kelly, of course, the Founder of First Liberty Institute, they do an amazing job in arguing for our religious liberty and winning cases across the country.
So, let’s peek in on the conference and get this presentation from Kelly Shackelford. We’ll get the conclusion of it tomorrow, don’t have time to get the whole thing in today. But let’s pick up at the beginning. Here’s Kelly Shackelford at the Pro-Family Legislators Conference.
A Little Bit About Me
You know it’s funny you hear a lot of discouraging things and there was a lot of things during the election going on where people were discouraged. There was something that I knew the whole time that nobody else knew, and I wasn’t allowed to talk about.
But it’s in the New York Times today. So now I can mention it. I wonder how comfortable it would have made a lot of Conservatives feel if they knew that our attorney who heads our Washington D.C. office was the head person on the Trump transition team for all the constitutional issues and what would be done in the transition.
So, God’s doing a lot of things, has a lot of situations out there that I think are going to be very encouraging in the future. So, let me start with the basics, First Liberty, what is it?
For those of you don’t know it’s the largest legal organization in the country. All we do is religious freedom.
So if you’re a nine-year-old boy, you’re Giovanni Rubio, and you live outside of Miami-Dade, and you’re told you can bring any book you want to school during free reading time until you bring your Bible. Then you’re told, “Well, you can’t bring any religious books. You’re not allowed to have a religious book.”
Well, you know a poor family, what are they going to do? Go out and hire a legal team? They don’t have the money to do that. So we bring in the top attorneys in the country, represent Giovanni so that when we win that suit, which we did, we don’t just win for Giovanni, we set a precedent that protects all of our children and our grandchildren.
So that’s why First Liberty exists. So, we’re the religious liberty guys. How did I get in this? Very short story would be, I knew when I was in high school I had gifts in analytical thinking and speaking and I thought, “Well, I either need to be a pastor or a lawyer.”
And people said, “That’s like a God or satan choices, a pastor or a lawyer.” I felt like my DNA probably made me better at dispensing justice rather than mercy so I kind of went to the law side of that.
How I Got Involved With First Liberty
I got out of law school and clerked for a federal judge. You do that for a year for research and write opinions. I had these offers, and I sat in my office and thought, “Man, I just feel like if I go into the regular law thing that I would suffocate. I don’t feel like that’s what I’m called to do.”
I remember thinking, “Well, what do you want to do? And I thought, “I want to use my legal skills. I feel like the Lord showed me that. But I don’t help pastors in churches or religious freedoms and our founding principles and I’d even like to go to seminary.”
I laughed because there was no job to pay you to do such a thing. And then two guys called me I’d never met, partners in big law firms. They said, “Will you come to lunch?” And I said, “Sure.”
They said, “Look, we’ve started donating our time for religious freedom. We’re getting so many calls it’s hurting our ability to make a living. So we were wondering would you be willing to come on, do legal cases, help pastors, churches, religious freedoms, and our founding principles, and you can even go to seminary part time if you want to.”
Now, being in my mid-twenties I said, “Let me pray about it.” Like that wasn’t an answer to prayer. And next day I said, “Yes.”
They said, “How much you need to live on?” And I was making 28 thousand as a federal clerk. So they pitched in out of their pocket every month. And that was 27 years and four months ago.
Now, First Liberty Institutes is the largest legal organization in the country and all we do is religious freedom. But it was something that I would have never thought, we need to plan this. I need to do this for a living because we’re going to have things happening, that we could talk about now. You could never convince me and I’m sure I could never have convinced you that the things we’re fighting now would be things we’d be fighting in the future.
That there would be a need for this kind of religious freedoms defense, but, wow. That’s one of the things I’m going to try to lay the landscape and then I’ll talk about opportunities that are now here, which there are some significant opportunities now.
If You Take Away Religion, You Can’t Hire Enough Police
Let me start out with the basics, which is, why is this important? For people of faith, usually, they get why religious freedom is important. They know that there’s any chance for our country then people have to hear the truth and their lives have to change and they have to be redeemed. If there’s any hope of turning the country around.
But even for people who aren’t people of faith, still, religious freedom is of crucial importance. Our Founders called it, “Our first freedom.” It’s the first two clauses of the First Amendment. Why? Why did our Founders talk about this being the first freedom? Because they understood that if you lose this freedom, you’ll lose all your freedoms.
There are about a hundred different reasons for that. I could describe, but I thought this is a fun one if you haven’t seen this is only 90 seconds, but it’s just an example of one way you can get this across.
“Some time ago I had a conversation with a Marxist economist from China. He was coming to the end of a Fulbright Fellowship. I asked him if he had learned anything that was surprising or unexpected?
Without any hesitation, he said, “Yeah, I had no idea how critical religion is to the functioning of democracy. The reason why democracy works, it’s not because the government is designed to oversee what everybody does. But rather, democracy works because most people, most of the time, voluntarily choose to obey the law. And in your past, most Americans attended a church or synagogue every week. And they were taught there by people who they respected.”
My friend went on to say that Americans follow these rules because they had come to believe that they weren’t just accountable to society, they were accountable to God. My Chinese friend heightened his concern that as religion loses its influence over the lives of Americans, what will happen to our democracy? Where are the institutions that are going to teach the next generation that they too need to voluntarily choose to obey the laws? Because if you take away religion, you can’t hire enough police.
Within Months I Lost My Political Freedom
Again, kind of a basic proposition. But it’s the best way I think to really describe it that people understand is the one thing that totalitarianism can never allow our citizens who hold an allegiance to one higher than the government.
So, whenever that type of oppressive regime comes in, the first flashpoint is always these people who won’t bow a knee to the government. Their allegiance is to someone higher than the government. So, the Founders got this and this is why this is so important.
I have people all the time when I go around the country that come up to me to say, “I’m not a religious person, I don’t believe like you do, but I came from Czechoslovakia.” Or, “I came from Hungary.” Or, “I came from-” And then they tell me that they saw this happening in their country.
A number of those people are supporting us sending in money every month and they’re not even a religious person. They just said, “I saw this happen. As soon as religious freedom goes, political freedoms are taken away very shortly thereafter.” They said, “I watched the religious symbols being pulled down, and within months I lost my political freedom.”
Bring A Speaker To Your Area
Hey, this is Tim Barton with WallBuilders. And as you’ve had the opportunity to listen to WallBuilders Live, you’ve probably heard a wealth of information about our nation, about our spiritual heritage, about the religious liberties, and about all the things that make America exceptional. And you might be thinking, “As incredible as this information is, I wish there was a way that I could get one of the WallBuilders guys to come to my area and share with my group.”
Whether it be a church, whether it be a Christian school, or public school, or some political event, or activity, if you’re interested in having a WallBuilders speaker come to your area, you can get on our website at www.WallBuilders.com and there’s a tab for scheduling. If you’ll click on that tab, you’ll notice there’s a list of information from speakers bio’s, to events that are already going on. And there’s a section where you can request an event, to bring this information about who we are, where we came from, our religious liberties, and freedoms. Go to the WallBuilders website and bring a speaker to your area.
She Wasn’t Allowed To Pray In Her Own Home
Really, the battle for religious freedom is a battle for whether your country is going to be free at all. So how are we doing? Well, I probably don’t have to convince you that there are some serious attacks on religious freedom.
I’ve been doing this for over a quarter century and I’ve never seen anything like what I’ve been seeing. Not only are the attacks increasing, they’re at extreme levels, they’re increasing at an exponential rate.
You’ve heard about these things, right? Like pastors having their sermons subpoenaed, right? And you think, “Well, it just happened in Houston, that was just one place.” No, a lot of you probably saw what we had in Atlanta, where we had the state of Georgia that just demanded the sermons and sermon notes of our client as a lay pastor.
This stuff is happening around the country. This probably happens every month, if not every week where we have somebody, like Audrey Jarvis, who was told at a state university, by the head of the state university, that she couldn’t wear her cross necklace because “It might offend someone at the school. “ And this has happened in schools and high schools and in lower schools.
This is the kind of stuff happening all over the place. Our most recent case that we got is a woman who was actually told by the police that she was not allowed to pray in her own home. I kid you not.
Punishment For Sermons
So, this stuff is crazy. I think about churches, right? You hear about what’s happening now with churches? We had a church in Iowa that we had to represent because they decided churches were now places of public accommodation and therefore they had to meet all the laws and requirements of places of public accommodation, including LGBT laws. Which means the government would now come in and tell them who could go into their bathrooms and even what they could say from their pulpit.
If they said something that was discriminatory or denigrating in their opinion to transgender or any of the categories you want to mention then the state has the authority there. And shockingly, this is in Iowa. The Drache law professor was quoted in the newspaper is saying, “Hey, the pulpit is not off limits. Absolutely they should be punished if they say things from the pulpit that are discriminatory.”
The state thought it could come into the church and tell the church what they could preach, what they could do. We ended up sending them a letter. We said, “Look, we could sue you immediately. But we’re going to let you read this constitution thing. You know, it might be helpful to you.” And within a week all of what they wrote, their public pronouncements and positions, and backed off. But very soon, thereafter, the state of Massachusetts did the same thing. So this is coming. And Massachusetts is not going to back off.
Now Allowed To Pray For Your Food At School
So, even churches are having to fight for things that you’d never have thought. “The state thinks it can come into the church? So I thought, what’s a good way to kind of update you really quickly on a couple- and I’ll take two areas to give you a couple of cases in each that gives you a feel for how things are moving.
I brought this because I think many of you have seen this. We do a survey every year of all the attacks on religious freedom. There’s like five a page. This is this is anything from a five-year-old girl who was ordered to stop praying over her meal because “It’s not good to pray at school.” To senior citizens who are told that they were going to have their meals taken away because they were federally funded and they were praying over their meals and that violates separation of church and state.
It didn’t matter if you’re young or if you’re older. It’s every situation imaginable. And by the way, if you ever want this for your own use it’s online at FirstLiberty.org. You can click on it and you can download it. Look at it.
What She Did After Becoming A Christian Changed Her Life
You realize how pervasive this is and how it’s in every community, of every state, in every walk of life, and every situation. You begin to realize, ‘This is a serious problem.” But I thought let’s take two areas. Take the schools and just do a couple of cases.
One that we just had here that is so emblematic so though I’ll use this because this happens over and over and over again. It’s a case we have with Liz LA Virdi in Long Island, New York. Liz was cutting herself and was considering suicide.
Then she became a Christian and it changed everything. And she thought, “You know, if I could form a club, there are all these other clubs. There’s a gay and lesbian club, there’s a Republican Club, there are all these other clubs. If I can form a Christian club I can reach out to other people and maybe they could have the same change that I did and it might save their life.”
So she goes to the principle and principle says, “Well, no, we aren’t going to allow any Christian clubs here.” Well, number one, the law for over 30 years has been very clear that if you have any clubs, you have to allow the Christian club.
Unfortunately, This Is Not Rare
Number two, we had just had a legal action on this very exact thing in this very school district across town. So it wasn’t like they didn’t know what the law was. They just thought, “Well, we can just bully this girl from not having her Christian club.”
Fortunately, she called us and when we said, “We’re going to give you three days. Then we’re going to see in federal court and have a federal judge tell you how to follow the law.” And so within 24 hours, they backed down. They let her have her club. And in fact, today she’s gone from the school but her brother is leading the club and there’s a large group of kids that are part of this Christian club.
But there’s the typical, I mean, the law is very clear. There’s still this kind of hostility in the schools that they’re having to deal with, that these students are having to deal with. But I think probably the best example of how crazy things have gotten in the kinds of battles we’re seeing is the coach Joe Kennedy case.
Fired For Praying
Coach Kennedy, 20 years as a Marine, and then the night before he was going on his first day on the job as a coach he saw the movie Facing the Giants. And it convicted him. A he said, “You know Lord, when we go to the center of the field out to the ballgames I’m going to make a commitment to you that the first thing I’m going to do is I’m going to go to a knee and thank you for the privilege of coaching these young men.”
And so for eight years, that’s what he’s done, until this last year when they said, “If you go to a knee we’re going to fire you.” And he went to a knee and they fired him. This coach is the kind of coach, I mean, this is the guy every grandparent, every parent wants for their children.
The last game before when he was banned, what he did is, the kid started singing the fight song, and he thought this is a good time for me to go by myself and just pray. I don’t want kids to get in trouble.
So, he went by himself to the center of the field, went to a knee, prayed. And that’s what he got fired for. Well, the next week, therefore, he wasn’t allowed to be on the field. So he had to sit up in the stands.
Well, after the game one by one all those players walked up in the stands with tears rolling down their face to hug the coach that they love. The Seattle editorial writer who said, “I’m an agnostic, but if my child was old enough, this is the coach I’d want for my child.”
So this is the guy that we’re running off, right? This is the guy that we don’t want to be a coach. We actually had a brief filed this week, didn’t get a lot of notice because of the elections, but we’re at the Federal Court of Appeals. We’re in the Ninth Circuit. Not exactly friendly confines.
We had two black coaches who they had supported their black team members when they went to a knee during the national anthem, very controversial obviously. And they filed a brief to say, “You know what? If we have a First Amendment right to go to a knee during the national anthem, then how could you ever tell a coach he can’t go to a knee and pray?”
So, we’ll see if that speaks to the 9th Circuit. But this is what we’re fighting. We’re having a fight for the right of a coach to go all by himself to a knee and thank God for the privilege of coaching the young men.
ACLU Made Veterans Take Down Their Cross Memorial
The military, another area where again, this stuff that’s happening. I think many of you are aware of all the attacks on veterans. The Mojave Desert, a case is probably the first one you probably heard about. That’s where in 1934 they put up a war where, you know, these weren’t religious people. These are guys who just had been in World War I and they’d seen a lot of people die and they wanted to do something to remember.
So they put up a seven-foot cross in the middle of the desert, 1.6 million acres of desert. Seven-foot cross, a little plaque that said, “For the dead of all the wars.” And it sat there for 70 years until the ACLU brought a lawsuit and said, “You have to tear this down. We can’t allow crosses on federal property.”
Unbelievably, the Federal District Court and Court of Appeals said, “Tear it down.” And when they did this is what the court ordered to be done to the cross. There’s a cross with a bag on it and a chain around the bottom and a padlock.
Now, people say, “Why do you make a big deal about that?” You’ve got that reversed. It’s true. We represented the American Legion, the military or the Purple Heart, the American prisoners of war, the VFW and the Supreme Court. We got this reversed.
You’ve got that reversed. It’s true. We represented the American Legion, the military or the Purple Heart, the American prisoners of war, the VFW and the Supreme Court. We got this reversed.
Five, four, Justice Scalia was the fifth vote. That’s what this election was partly about, ok? So these are the kind of attacks that have been going on in the military.
Scriptures Being Taken Down Off Of Desks
Now you think, “Well, at least they stopped.” No, we just had the Mount Soledad Cross we had to defend outside of San Diego. That case just ended. We’re now representing the Bladensburg cross out in Maryland, a cross that was put up over 90 years ago by including money for mothers who lost their sons in World War I.
The American Humanist filed a lawsuit that said, “You’ve got to tear this down. We can’t have crosses.” But it’s not just happening with symbols, or things, it’s happening in the military. We get all these chaplain cases we’ve had to do.
I think many of you’ve heard about our case we just had at the highest military court where a Marine was actually court-martialed because she would not remove a Scripture verse from her personal work area.
The judge who issued the final opinion said that, and she’s citing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which is what protect you and me. So this is not something special to the military. She said, “You don’t get religious freedom until you first get approval from the government beforehand, then you can exercise your religious freedom.”
It’s like no, that’s not the law. This is the kind of hostility that we’re having. Can you imagine, court-martial because you have a Scripture verse that says, “No weapon formed against me shall prosper.” I wish everybody in the Marines had that Scripture verse with them.
Moment From American History
This is David Barton with another moment from America’s history. At the time of the American Revolution, numerous other nations also had revolutions. Yet, 200 years later America is the only of those nations still under its original form of government. Is this just good luck? Not according to Founding Father Benjamin Rush.
He declared, “I do not believe that the Constitution was the offspring of inspiration, but I am perfectly satisfied that it is as much the work of a Divine Providence as any of the miracles recorded in the Old and New Testament.”
George Washington agreed, “In fact,” he declared, “I should be pained to believe that the United States have forgotten that divine interposition which was so often manifested during our revolution or that they failed to consider the omnipotence of that God who is alone able to protect them.”
Our Founders acknowledge that our national success had come from God. For more information on God’s hand in American history contact WallBuilders at 1 800 8 REBUILD.
The most recent case, which is still going is the Oscar Rodriguez case. Many of you probably heard about this. This is the man who- have you ever seen the Flag-Folding ceremonies? You’ve seen how powerful that can be? Especially a private retirement ceremonies that they are doing publicly?
Oscar’s a guy who gives a really stirring rendition while they’re doing that about our country. This guy said, “Hey, I’d love for you to do that at my retirement.” And he said, “I’d be honored too.” And he did.
Unbeknownst to him, the head of that base had decided that he didn’t want anybody to mention God on the base, even if it was a private retirement ceremony. So he sent in uniformed military to grab this guy. I mean assaulting him and throwing him out because he was going to mention God.
Now, bad news for them, the retirement ceremonies people are filming. So we got this all on film. This is a three-minute little summary. If you haven’t seen this case, this is it.
Oscar Rodriguez’s Story
Man’s Voice One:
“I knew very early in life that there was something incredibly special about this country. When I was a child during baseball games one of the most emotional parts of that was the national anthem.”
“I always tried to hide my tears from my brothers because I knew that many men died for that freedom to be able to have a hot dog and watch a baseball game. When you see that flag waving it resonated in me. And I knew that I had to be there. I had to participate in this. So I knew that when I turned 18 I was going to join the military.”
Man’s Voice Two:
Oscar Rodriguez is a decorated 33 year Air Force veteran and retiree now. He has a history of giving various stirring and moving Flag-Folding speeches at military events and civic events throughout the community.
One of the individuals that came up to me and shook my hand, he was going to retire, and he says, “Sir, Rodriguez, from reviews I’ve heard that speech on CD’s, I heard it personally a long time ago. It would just be wonderful if you could do that for my family.” And you know, I looked at him and I said, “Absolutely.”
And you know, I looked at him and I said, “Absolutely.”
Man’s Voice Two:
As a private citizen and an Air Force veteran, Oscar has the right under the First Amendment to engage in speech, including religious speech.
To have my fellow family thrown out of the sermon because of the mention of God is beyond me.
Man’s Voice Two:
When Master Sergeant Wilberson’s commanding officer found out that Oscar was going to be performing this frightful speech that was going to mention the word God, he took steps to have Oscar banned from the ceremony.When he found out that he didn’t have the legal authority to ban Oscar, a private citizen from this ceremony, he then had members of his command in uniform show up to remove Oscar.
I stood up, went to my position, faced the audience, and this individual comes up to me. He says, “You’re not going to do this are you?” I thought, “What is he talking about? I’m really going to do what? Mention God? Yeah, I’m really going to do that.”
I thought, “What is he talking about? I’m really going to do what? Mention God? Yeah, I’m really going to do that.”
Soon as I hear my cue, I start with my speech. They grab me, and they pull me, they assault me, as the flag is open because I dared to mention God.
Man’s Voice Two:
The tragic irony here is that Flag-Folding speech talks about the fact that the United States Flag stands for freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of conscience. It was those very words that resulted in Oscar being assaulted and forcibly dragged away by men wearing the uniform of the United States Air Force. Men who are sworn to protect people like Oscar and their right to engage in that very speech.
Man’s Voice Three:
Our military service members make huge sacrifices to defend our freedoms every day. We’re committed to defending the religious freedom of every U.S. military man, woman, and veteran, just like ours.
It is this one nation under God that we call, with honor, the United States of America. God bless our flag, God bless our troops, and God bless America.”
Religious Liberties Under Attack, Many More Cases
Again, I just think people tend to think that the military is the way it used to be, or the military is this place of conservative Judeo-Christian principles. There’s a war going on for a military and they’re trying to push- there’s groups that formed 10 years ago. Their whole goal is to push religious freedom out of the military.
So we’re having a fight. You come to this point, where you’ve got a guy who’s been physically accosted because he’s going to mention God in the Flag-Folding ceremony. So I just want to give you a feel.
Oh, one more I’ll give you because I didn’t talk about this. There are all these cases, and all the cases I could talk about, and I didn’t even mention all the cases that are now starting because of the same-sex marriage opinion at the Supreme Court and how many tentacles that has to impact religious freedom.
We’re out of time for today folks that was Kelly Shackelford from First Liberty Institute you were just listening to. We’re going to get the conclusion of his remarks at the Pro-Family Legislators Conference. We’ll get the conclusion tomorrow so be sure and tune in tomorrow.
Kelly Shackelford First Liberty Institute speaking at the Pro-Family Legislators Conference, great information, hopeful message for what could happen in this pivot year of 2017. Be sure to tune in tomorrow for the conclusion right here on WallBuilders Live!