In America today, Christianity is clearly under attack. Why is this so? How did it come to be? After all, our ancestors came here seeking religious freedom and then proceeded to establish this nation on Christian principles for the glory of God. Where did the train get off the track?
I explored these and other related questions with one of the foremost defenders of Christian freedoms in America today. His name is Kelly Shackelford and he’s the founder and director of the Liberty Institute in Plano, Texas. The Liberty Institute is the largest organization of lawyers in America today that is dedicated to the defense and advancement of Christian rights and freedoms.
When I was growing up in the church in the 1940s and the 1950s, an organization like the Liberty Institute, an organization that spends all of its time defending Christian freedoms, was unthinkable. Today, it is indispensable. I began our discussion by asking Kelly what happened. His response is below.
The Cultural Shift
When a culture has begun to move away from God, there is less respect for religious freedom and less assumptions of the freedoms that many people back in our nation’s earlier days used to know that we had. All of those freedoms are being tested. There are groups even now that have formed whose sole purpose is to get rid of religion in America. Today we are having to fight for religious freedoms that we used to not have to fight for in our nation’s past. The very freedom this country was founded upon — religious freedom — is under attack.
The United States is in the midst of a culture war. It is a war that is for real, and it’s a war that has resulted in a cultural shift. We have proof that the war is occurring. The Liberty Institute does a survey every year of all the attacks on religious freedom that are going on around the country. The attacks are literally doubling from one year to the next. People can go to our website and download the survey free. It’s called “Undeniable Attacks on Religious Freedoms.”
We supply the survey to Congress every year. What happened is we testified in the U.S. Senate a little over ten years ago and a number of clients testified about how religious freedom was under attack around the country. All the other side could say after the hearing was, “These are just isolated instances.” At the time Senator Ted Kennedy and Senator John Cornyn asked, “Is that true? We would like you to respond.” And so, we collected data on what was going on and the statistics were overwhelming even then. We have watched it since then every year and the attacks on religious freedoms have dramatically increasing, now exponentially.
For example, there was a five-year old girl named Gabriella Perez. She’s a little girl who was praying over her meal, as little children are taught to do. She was praying at school until she was stopped and told specifically, “It is not good to pray at school.” This an example demonstrating how young the spectrum can get.
On the other side of the spectrum, there were senior citizens who were actually told that their meals would be taken away from them because they were federally funded meals. Praying over their meals they were told violated the separation of Church and State. It’s totally untrue! But, these are the kind of attacks going on.
It’s the children being punished for demonstrating their faith in God. A lot of people heard about this case that made the national news. A little child was punished for saying, “God bless you” to someone who sneezed.
We are now getting a whole new category of cases where people are literally losing their jobs, and not even because of things they do at work. Employers are finding out at work where their employees go to church and what their beliefs are on marriage. When the belief is marriage is defined as being between just a man and a women, they are being fired. People have a hard time believing that employers would discriminate in such a way, but we are filing a new suit almost every week. It’s against the law to engage in religious discrimination in the work place. These persecutions are happening right now.
I think of churches 26 years ago when I started doing this kind of legal work for the first time. If you would have told me I was going to have to represent churches in the United States of America I would have said, “This isn’t the USSR, this is the United States! We don’t have to represent churches versus the government.”
We are now having to represent a new church every week. These churches just wants to operate as a church as they have always done. All they want to do is feed the homeless. They want to do what churches do. But, for that, they are under attack.
We just filed on behalf of an African-American church that moved into a very difficult area outside of Houston. The general population didn’t want to enter into the neighborhood. People had no interest in redeeming that area, changing it, and bringing it back to life in Christ. Over the decades this church had tremendous success. In fact, they have been growing, adding more land, adding more facilities, and providing more activities for that community. But, guess what happened? The city said to the church, “This area is getting nice now. It’s getting better. So, we are going to take over your property. We are going to kick you out of your church and use it for taxpayer property.” The Liberty Institute is having to actually defend in court this church that’s simply being the church. Now they are under attack.
Again, when I first started as a lawyer I didn’t used to think that this type of persecution of Christians would ever happen, but it is happening all over the country. Because of the growing persecution of Christians, I founded the Liberty Institute in 1997 for the sole purpose of providing a defense.
For another example, take one of our cases from this past year. It’s about a fifth grade boy whose favorite book he got for Christmas was the Bible. There is a free reading time at school and you bring your favorite book to read. But, his teacher told him, “You are not allowed to bring that book and read it during free reading time.” This is a poor family on the edge of Miami-Dade. They were not going to be able to hire a team of attorneys to defend their child’s religious freedoms. They don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring the school to court. So, the Liberty Institute wants to make sure that those people have the best representation possible. We are going to win for them, and we did win for Giovanni Rubeo and his family in that case. That case set a precedent for your children and my children and grandchildren. Our defense against the persecution of Christians sets a precedent that helps the whole country.
For those anti-Christian groups sniffing around looking for any evidence of Christianity to remove from the public sector, the Liberty Institute goes to those these groups are attacking and offers to represent them for free. We even had some supporters put a fund in place so that if any cost assessed against these cases are covered. There really is no downside.
What is happening is that a lot of the cities, counties, and school districts are removing religious freedom and religious heritage for no reason, even though the law doesn’t say that they must. And so, one of the great things about the way we do what we do is it’s not that all of our attorneys run around the country and do everything. What we do is contact believers who went to law school all over the country and wish to stand for what is right. After 30 years experience, these are the best litigators at some of the best law firms in the country. They have done great work, but they haven’t gotten to defend a case for the Kingdom. We find these best-of-the-best and we ask if they would like to defend a case if we gave them everything they needed. They usually reply, “I’ve been waiting my whole life to do something like that.”
The Liberty Institute has the best attorneys and connections to the best law firms all over the country. They’re donating their time. The teams we put together are really dream teams. Just think of the little five-year old girl that we represented who was told she couldn’t pray over her meal. Her family didn’t have money to hire attorneys, much less the most powerful legal teams you could ever imagine from these huge law firms.
It’s just really neat to see the Body of Christ working to defend itself. These are people who are giving their talents for others in the Body of Christ. That’s exactly how it’s supposed to be!
In the second segment of my interview of Kelly Shackelford on the subject of Christianity under attack, we’ll look at the bully tactics of the anti-Christian organizations and how to counter them.