History & Timeline | First Liberty

History & Timeline

First Liberty Institute history began in 1997, founded as a non-profit law firm focusing on Texas litigation, with Kelly Shackelford as President and CEO. (It was originally founded as a division of the Free Market Foundation and called Liberty Legal Institute). As Liberty Legal, we won several landmark victories in Texas, including:

  • Protecting the rights of senior citizens to pray over their meals at government-run facilities
  • Establishing the doctrine of Church autonomy at the Texas Supreme Court
  • Defending the constitutionality of a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas Capital

In 2009, Liberty Legal officially became Liberty Institute, quickly gaining renown as the premiere legal organization defending religious liberty in the State of Texas and beyond. During this time, we successfully:

  • Won a landmark victory protecting a cross-shaped veterans monument
  • Secured the release of an American missionary from a Haitian jail
  • Protected the First Amendment rights of elementary students
  • Stopped the government from banning prayer at military funerals

In 2014, we founded our Military Division, focused on protecting the religious liberty of service members and veterans, with Senior Counsel Mike Berry as the Director of Military Affairs. The Military Division has achieved significant victories for military members, including:

  • Clearing charges against a wrongfully-terminated Air Force veteran
  • Exonerating a chaplain relieved of duty for expressing his faith in counseling sessions
  • Defending the cross-shaped Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial

In February 2016, Liberty Institute officially became First Liberty Institute. Today, First Liberty is the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to protecting religious liberty for all Americans. Our current cases include:

  • Protecting Orthodox Jews’ rights to meet in a home for worship
  • Defending a football coach fired for praying after a game
  • Representing a Marine court-martialed for refusing to remove a Bible verse from her workspace
  • Defending the constitutionality of the cross-shaped Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial

View our current cases here

In less than 20 years, First Liberty expanded from a statewide organization to a national organization with active legal matters throughout the country.

As religious liberty violations against Americans of all faiths continue to increase, First Liberty continues to grow—championing religious liberty for all.

To read more about First Liberty’s history, see the First Liberty Timeline of Major Victories and Events.

To read more about our mission and vision, please visit the About Us page.

Dear Coach Kennedy,

I would like to say thank you. Your dedication to your faith and your commitment to the positive education of our youth is truly admirable. I am deeply grateful for your military service and for taking a courageous stance in protecting religious liberty rights for teachers and administrators.

If our First Amendment protects a player’s right to kneel in protest, it certainly protects your right to kneel in prayer.

I was shocked to learn that Bremerton High School suspended you after denying your request to continue your wholesome practice of giving thanks after football games.

The Bremerton School District’s actions violate the law and send the wrong message to coaches, young people, our communities, and our nation — a message of hostility to religious freedom and intolerance toward personal religious expression.

Please know that you are not alone in this difficult time — I support you and First Liberty as you continue to fight for religious freedom! Our schools need more coaches like you, our country needs more citizens like you, and our world needs more people like you.