Saturday, October 14, 2017

FEMA tells tall tales in Texas; suggests it will help churches, then pulls rug out from under them


WASHINGTON, D.C. – FEMA invited hurricane-hit houses of worship to apply for aid in Houston, yet new evidence submitted in court yesterday shows that FEMA continues to deny aid to numerous churches across Texas in need of disaster relief. In Harvest Family Church v. FEMA, three small Texas churches are challenging FEMA’s aid policy after the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. Although FEMA uses churches as staging areas for its relief efforts, it denies them aid grants simply because they are religious.
Last month, Becket filed a lawsuit against FEMA on behalf of Harvest Family Church, Hi-Way Tabernacle, and Rockport First Assembly of God. In an attempt to delay a court ruling, FEMA claimed that churches are welcome to apply for aid despite its “no churches need apply” policy. But over the past several weeks, these three churches – and many others – have been told that they are not eligible, and one even had a grant application rejected.
Yesterday Becket told the court, “government officials . . . stated that Hi-Way Tabernacle and Harvest Family Church were ‘absolutely not eligible’ for PA grant funds under FEMA’s policy.” Government officials also admitted that they are telling other churches the exact same thing.
Pastor Bruce Frazier of Rockport First Assembly of God told the court: “I have been working on emergency repairs and recovery efforts at the church 10 hours a day, six days a week since the hurricane.” Pastor Frazier explained to the court that he took several hours away from working on repairs to the church in order to apply for the grant he was offered, only to have it denied.
Houses of worship were among the first to respond in Harvey’s aftermath, and they continue to provide aid to their communities. Yet FEMA continues to discriminate against churches while, at the same time, using them for its own relief efforts. Their discriminatory policy stands in defiance of the recent Supreme Court ruling in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer that protects the right of religious organizations to participate in widely available programs on equal footing with secular organizations.   
“FEMA isn’t just sending churches to the back of the line, it’s telling them don’t bother lining up,” said Diana Verm, legal counsel at Becket, the non-profit law firm representing the three churches. “FEMA should stop wasting time, do the right thing, and help churches help others.”

Additional Information:

Becket’s Reply Brief (October 12, 2017)

Declaration of Pastor Bruce Frasier (October 12, 2017)

Case Page for Harvest Family Church v. FEMA (all legal docs, press releases, news, images)  

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Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions and has a 100% win-rate before the United States Supreme Court. For over 20 years, it has successfully defended clients of all faiths, including Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians (read more here).

Church leaders celebrate administration’s action on religious liberty


The government has finally stopped trying to make religious employers violate their faith.
Over five years ago, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a mandate as a part of the Affordable Care Act that required all employers to pay for things like abortion drugs in their healthcare plans. Two Supreme Court cases later, and charitable organizations like the Little Sisters of the Poor and schools like Notre Dame were still fighting for their religious rights in court. They and other religious groups faced billions of dollars in fines for refusing to comply.
Last Friday, all of that ended.
The new administration lived up to its campaign promise and created a sweeping religious exemption to the regulation. Countless Catholic and other Christian charities breathed a collective sigh of relief. 
Until recently, religious liberty has been a bipartisan rallying point in this country. We have long understood that our rights come from God, and the government has no authority to take away those rights.
The HHS mandate made no sense for America. We cherish religious liberty here, and we value our ability to live together peacefully despite our differences. In trying to force nuns like the Little Sisters, who provide dignified end of life care for the destitute, to provide things like abortion pills was not just unconstitutional, it was un-American.
As Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote this week:
“[It] is easy to forget what a shock that mandate was when it was first instituted. It represented a major departure from the consistent practice of the federal government to respect the conscience rights of everyone with religious or moral objections to controversial medical interventions.” 
The Catholic Church felt the sting of the mandate in a particular way. As the nation’s largest non-governmental provider of healthcare, education, and charitable services to the poor, the mandate impacted dozens of Church institution.
Friday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memorandum for all executive departments and agencies on the subject of “Federal Law Protections for Religious Liberty”.  Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), has offered the following statement in response.
“The Attorney General’s guidance helpfully reaffirms that the law protects the freedom of faith-based organizations to conduct their operations in accordance with their religious mission.  The guidance also reaffirms that the federal government should never exclude religious organizations from competing on an equal footing for government grants or contracts, and religious entities should never be forced to change their religious character in order to participate in such programs.  We appreciate the Attorney General’s clarification of these matters, which will protect faith-based organizations’ freedom to serve all those in need, including the homeless, immigrants, refugees, and students attending religious schools.”

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

NEW SURVEY: Majority of college students self-censor, support disinvitations, don’t know hate speech is protected by First Amendment

PHILADELPHIA, Oct. 11, 2017 — A new report from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education finds a majority of students on college campuses self-censor in class, support disinviting some guest speakers with whom they disagree, and don’t know that hate speech is protected by the First Amendment. The study also finds that Republican and Democratic students have different opinions on campus protests, disinvitations, and hate speech protections.

In the most comprehensive survey on students’ attitudes about free speech to date, FIRE measured student responses to questions about self expression, reactions to expression of other students, guest speakers, and hate speech. Some key findings include:
46 percent of students recognize that hate speech is protected by the First Amendment, and 48 percent of students think the First Amendment should not protect hate speech.
Most students (56 percent) support disinviting some guest speakers. Democratic students are 19 percentage points more likely than their Republican peers to agree that there are times a speaker should be disinvited.
58 percent of college students think it’s important to be part of a campus community where they are not exposed to intolerant or offensive ideas.
Very few students report that they would participate in actions that would prevent a guest speaker event from taking place (2 percent). Even fewer said they would use violence to disrupt an event (1 percent).
In open-ended questions, almost half of students (45 percent) identify speech with a racist component as hate speech, and 13 percent of students associate hate speech with violence.
In class, 30 percent of students have self-censored because they thought their words would be offensive to others. A majority of students (54 percent) report self-censoring in the classroom at some point since the beginning of college.
FIRE’s survey also found ideological differences in how students feel about free expression, both inside and outside the classroom. Very liberal students are 14 percentage points more likely than their very conservative peers to feel comfortable expressing their opinions in the classroom. Additionally, 60 percent of Republican students think they should not have to walk past a protest on campus, while only 28 percent of Democratic students think the same.
“There is clearly a partisan divide in how students perceive free speech on college campuses,” said FIRE Executive Director Robert Shibley. “This further solidifies the importance of FIRE’s mission. Free expression is too important to become a partisan issue in higher education.”
Additionally, FIRE’s survey found that a majority of students want their schools to invite a variety of guest speakers to campus (93 percent), and 64 percent report changing an attitude or opinion after listening to a guest speaker.
FIRE contracted with YouGov (California), a nonpartisan polling and research firm, to survey 1,250 American undergraduate students between May 25 and June 8. YouGov calculated weights for each response based on the respondent’s gender, race, and age. A copy of the full report, an FAQ, and the toplines and tabulations from YouGov can be accessed here.
The survey project was made possible by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation to conduct polling on campus attitudes, engage in legal and social science research, and mobilize a wider audience on and off campus in the fight for student and faculty rights.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending liberty, freedom of speech, due process, academic freedom, legal equality, and freedom of conscience on America’s college campuses.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Baby Jesus as a Halloween treat? No trick – It’s for real

American Nativity Scene & Thomas More Society Team Up
to Give Away Free Nativity Scenes
 
 (October 9, 2017 – Chicago) This fall, the American Nativity Scene and the national not-for-profit law firm, the Thomas More Society, have teamed up to give away free large nativity scenes for display on public property. “Indeed, these are for Christmastime display,” assures Ed O’Malley, president, of the American Nativity Scene, “but October is the time of year to start finalizing plans for a privately-funded Christmas display as is legally allowed in traditional public forums such as state capitols, county complexes or city hall lawns. We are giving away free nativity scenes. It’s not really a Halloween treat, but it’s definitely not a trick. We are seriously committed to our goal of keeping Christ in Christmas.” 
 
The stated mission of the American Nativity Scene is to place a nativity scene within or directly outside state capitol buildings across America. By Christmas 2016, there were 14 state capitol manger scenes on display. Pro-bono work by the attorneys at the Thomas More Society has ensured that citizens who privately fund religious displays on public property are accorded their right to do so as guaranteed by the 1st and 14th Amendments of the United States Constitution. A permanent federal injunction banning discrimination against religious speech assures that the Christmas crèches are protected from erroneous applications of the widely misunderstood concept of “separation of church and state.” 
 
While each Christmas season brings controversies, including challenges by atheists, secularists and even Satanists, the American Nativity Scene remains constant in providing a strong and united front in the face of attacks on religious freedom. O’Malley and his colleagues endeavor to provide as many Christmas manger scenes in as many public squares as possible. 
 
The Thomas More Society serves as legal counsel, defending freedom of religious speech and the free exercise of religious faith in the public square. These pro bono attorneys defend the basic rights of nativity scene sponsors and equip citizens with the knowledge and support they need to successfully display nativity scenes in venues that qualify as traditional and designated public forums.  
 
“Atheist groups may mock our message, but we will not be silent as it is critical that Christians proclaim the Gospel message to their fellow citizens,” said Tom Brejcha, the Thomas More Society president and chief counsel. “Anti-Christian, anti-Christmas rhetoric and satanic expositions merely serve to provide sharp emphasis by means of their stark contrast with the positive, uplifting, hopeful and joyous message of Christmas. The Christmas message bears secular as well as religious significance, as it highlights the hope and miracle of birth and new life, the inherent dignity of each and every human being, focusing our attention on the humble and lowly infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger amidst straw and animals, honored by shepherds and kings alike, and heralded by choirs of angels. That message of the essential equality of all human beings, no matter how rich or poor, humble or high-stationed, resonates deeply with the values that Americans cherish.” 
 
Together with a very generous anonymous donor, the American Nativity Scene and the Thomas More Society have co-sponsored, assisted with or promoted nativity displays at state capitols in California, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Texas and Washington, and at the Governor’s mansion in Oklahoma.  
 
Individuals or groups willing to sponsor a Christmas manger scene at a state capitol or other highly visible and heavily traveled location on public property can apply to receive free large nativity figurines of the holy family, including Joseph, Mary and the Baby Jesus, along with the Angel to announce the birth of Christ. Applicants must agree to provide a manger setting, acquire proper permits and hold a scheduled celebration at the display location. Details are available at americannativityscene.com 
 
The American Nativity Scene is dedicated to the display of Nativity Scenes in every state capitol throughout the United States during the Christmas season. For more information, visit americannativityscene.com. 
 
 
About the Thomas More Society
The Thomas More Society is a national not-for-profit law firm dedicated to restoring respect in law for life, family, and religious liberty. Headquartered in Chicago and Omaha, the Thomas More Society fosters support for these causes by providing high quality pro bono legal services from local trial courts all the way up to the United States Supreme Court. For more information, visit thomasmoresociety.org.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Fourteen States and major Jewish groups defend historic cross


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Fourteen states, five major Jewish groups, municipal workers, and a community service organization led a groundswell of support for a historic cross under attack in Pensacola, Florida. The broad coalition of religious and secular groups are urging the federal appeals court in Kondrat’yev, et al v. City of Pensacola to protect the 76-year-old landmark from being torn down.  
The cross was placed in Pensacola's 35-acre Bayview Park in 1941 by a local community service group as the U.S. prepared to enter World War II. For decades, community events have been held at the cross, including Veterans Day and Memorial Day services. The cross is now one of more than 170 displays in Pensacola’s many parks and serves as a symbol of the city’s history and culture. But in June a federal judge ordered that the cross must be torn down. The city has now appealed. 
Lawsuits like this one, based on offense at religious symbols “encourage the erasure of minority religions from public life,” said the friend-of-the-court brief of five Jewish groups.
“The district court’s reasoning would threaten countless monuments,” like “veterans’ memorials that contain religious imagery including crosses, citations to scripture, and the like,” said the friend-of-the-court brief of fourteen states
The cross stood for almost 75 years without complaint. But in 2016, the American Humanist Association sued the city of Pensacola on behalf of four people who said the cross was “offensive.”  
“The public square can and should reflect the important role that religion plays in our history and culture,” said Luke Goodrich, deputy general counsel at Becket, which is defending the City of Pensacola. “We don’t have to censor our history and culture just because part of it is religious.” 
The fourteen states and five Jewish organizations were joined by JCI Florida, a community service group and successor to the organization that originally donated the cross, and the International Municipal Lawyers Association, which speaks out on issues of interest to cities around the country. Becket is representing the City of Pensacola and Mayor Ashton Hayward. 
Additional Information:


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Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions. For over 20 years, it has defended clients of all faiths, including Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians (read more).

Thomas More Society presents live webcast featuring David Daleiden

(October 4, 2017 – Chicago) Undercover investigative journalist David Daleiden is under vicious new legal attacks from the abortion industry. A coalition of pro-life backers presents an online event, which is urgent for all members of the pro-life community, to discover what it will take to turn the tide and defeat the “abortion empire.” The free live webcast is on Thursday, October 5, 2017, at 9 p.m. (Eastern)/6 p.m. (Pacific) online at http://abortionempire.com

Daleiden spent 30 months conducting an undercover investigation that caught Planned Parenthood’s top leadership on video as they callously negotiated for the harvesting and sale of aborted baby body parts. As a result, Daleiden – not Planned Parenthood – is being charged with 15 felonies by California Attorney General, Xavier Becerra, whose political campaign was funded by the abortion lobby. If not cleared of these false charges, Daleiden faces massive fines and decades of imprisonment.  
WHAT: FREE Live Webcast “THE ABORTION EMPIRE STRIKES BACK”
DATE: Thursday, October 5, 2017
TIME: 9 p.m. (Eastern), 8 p.m. (Central), 7 p.m. (Mountain), 6 p.m. (Pacific) 
This live webcast will reveal:
the latest behind-the-scenes revelations about Planned Parenthood’s aborted baby body part harvesting and trafficking business
pro-life victories brought about by Daleiden’s undercover investigations
details on vicious attacks and ramped up pressure by Planned Parenthood and its political allies  
FEATURING:
David Daleiden, undercover journalist under attack for exposing Planned Parenthood’s baby body parts trafficking, and founder of Center for Medical Progress
Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel, Thomas More Society
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president, Susan B. Anthony List
Steve Cooley, former Los Angeles County District Attorney
Brent Ferreira, former Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney
Royce Hood, attorney, entrepreneur, activist
David Bereit, webcast host and former CEO of 40 Days for Life 
REGISTER TO ATTEND AT: http://abortionempire.com 
About the Thomas More Society
The Thomas More Society is a national not-for-profit law firm dedicated to restoring respect in law for life, family, and religious liberty. Headquartered in Chicago and Omaha, the Thomas More Society fosters support for these causes by providing high quality pro bono legal services from local trial courts all the way up to the United States Supreme Court. For more information, visit thomasmoresociety.org.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Houston houses of worship voice support, call for immediate end to FEMA’s religious discrimination


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Two Houston religious groups hit by Hurricane Harvey, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and the Congregation Torah Vachesed synagogue of Houston, urged a federal court to immediately end a FEMA policy that denies houses of worship equal access to disaster relief. The groups submitted friend-of-the-court briefs in Harvest Family Church v. FEMA, where three small Texas churches are challenging FEMA’s aid policy in the wake of the massive late-August natural disaster. The briefs highlight ways houses of worship responded in Harvey’s aftermath and continue to provide aid to their local communities, and point out FEMA’s unfairness in discriminating against churches while using them as staging grounds for its relief efforts.

Last month, Becket filed a lawsuit against FEMA on behalf of Harvest Family Church, Hi-Way Tabernacle, and Rockport First Assembly of God. The lawsuit argues that, consistent with the Supreme Court’s 7-2 Trinity Lutheran Church decision, churches have the right to participate equally in generally available programs with other nonprofit organizations. This week’s briefs support the churches’ arguments and counter FEMA’s attempts to delay a ruling by the court.  

Last month, Becket filed a lawsuit against FEMA on behalf of Harvest Family Church, Hi-Way Tabernacle, and Rockport First Assembly of God. The lawsuit argues that, consistent with the Supreme Court’s 7-2 Trinity Lutheran Church decision, churches have the right to participate equally in generally available programs with other nonprofit organizations. This week’s briefs support the churches’ arguments and counter FEMA’s attempts to delay a ruling by the court.  

The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston highlighted relief efforts by religious communities, including nuns like Sister Margaret Ann, “who was caught on tape wielding a chainsaw in her habit and clearing debris after Hurricane Irma.” The Congregation Torah Vachesed synagogue’s brief noted that “an estimated 71 percent of Houston’s Jewish population lived in areas that experienced massive flooding,” which damaged “seven major Jewish community institutions . . . includ[ing] three of the five largest synagogues in Houston.”  It also criticized FEMA for saying the court should wait to rule on the case until years from now, after FEMA finally rejects church applications, saying “[a] flooded synagogue has no time to spare to file a claim that FEMA has already made clear is doomed.”

The two religious groups are represented by prominent Houston firms. The Archdiocese is represented by Michael Bennett and Richard Husseini of Baker Botts LLP. And Congregation Torah Vachesed, which was joined by the national Jewish religious liberty group Jews for Religious Liberty, is represented by Jamie Aycock of Kirkland & Ellis LLP.

“Hard-hit houses of worship shouldn’t be denied a place at the table just because FEMA thinks they’re ‘too religious,’” said Diana Verm, legal counsel at Becket, the non-profit law firm representing the three churches. “FEMA should drop its phobia of religion and get back to focusing on helping communities rebuild.”

For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, contact Melinda Skea at media@becketlaw.org or 202-349-7224. Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

Additional Information:
Amicus Brief: The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston (October 2, 2017)
Complaint (September 4, 2017)
Harvest Family Church v. FEMA (all legal docs, press releases, news, images)
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Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions and has a 100% win-rate before the United States Supreme Court. For over 20 years, it has successfully defended clients of all faiths, including Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians (read more here).