Counting Up The Biggest 30 Moments of Impact | First Liberty

Make it Count:
History In the Making

The Biggest 30

From multiple landmark Supreme Court cases, to a record-number of conservative judges being confirmed to our federal courts, the opportunities for impacting our nation’s future are bigger now than ever before.

This is history-making momentum—and your donation will help ensure that we can fully capitalize on these historic opportunities.

With this unprecedented year of progress demanding more of our time, staff, and resources than ever, we need your support to meet these challenges head-on. And there’s no better time to give than right now.

We are witnessing history in the making. Join us in the movement to shape religious liberty for generations to come!

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Your gift will go straight towards defending victims of religious hostility in local communities all over the nation, ensuring that they have the legal protection they need.

For victims of religious persecution, who often feel like they have nowhere else to go when they suffer attacks on their faith—your donation today gives them the priceless gift of hope. Hope for freedom. Hope for justice. And hope for a better future.

Thank you for your commitment to protecting faith and freedom! Find out more about how we’re defending religious liberty in communities like yours here.


The Biggest 30 | Moment 30 | First Liberty IMPACT MOMENT #30

Our Biggest Impact is All Because of YOU!

“Our impact starts with YOU…our loyal First Liberty supporters! Because of you, we were able to make history together during our 2019 fiscal year with key landmark victories and history-making successes that will impact our country for generations to come. I want you to realize that at this very moment in our country’s history, together we’re charting a whole new course for religious liberty – and it’s an unparalleled change unlike anything I’ve seen over the past three decades defending religious liberty. This fills me with hope, expectation and enthusiasm for what is yet to come for First Liberty Institute – and for our country’s history. With your support, we’re going to continue winning.”

Kelly Shackelford, President, CEO & Chief Counsel


The Biggest 30 | Moment 29 | First Liberty IMPACT MOMENT #29

Supreme Court Resets the Game Clock on Coach Kennedy’s Case

“Coach Kennedy being fired for kneeling in silent, private prayer was a bad call to begin with. And the Supreme Court Justices seem to agree. In their statement, they expressed great concern about the overreach of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld Coach Kennedy’s firing and ruled that coaches and teachers could never fold their hands or bow their heads in prayer if there was even a possibility that a student could see them doing so. Coach’s case now heads back to the trial court, where we aim to clarify the issues the Supreme Court wants answered—armed with the road map to WIN the case given to us by the Justices.”

Mike Berry, First Liberty Institute Chief of Staff


The Biggest 30 | Moment 28 | First Liberty IMPACT MOMENT #28

3-0 at the Supreme Court—and the Winning is Just Beginning

“There’s definitely something about ’30.’ In my 30th year fighting for religious liberty, this has been the biggest and most momentous year yet. In just one week, we were 2-0, starting with the landmark Bladensburg Peace Cross victory, plus the “on the road to victory” decision for the Sweet Cakes by Melissa (Klein) case. And you can make that 3-0 at the Supreme Court this past year, with last June’s summary reversal in the Mary Anne Sause case! But just as we made history together, there’s still more opportunities to add to the win column, as Coach Kennedy and the Sweet Cakes cases will be heard again in the lower courts.

Kelly Shackelford, President, CEO & Chief Counsel


The Biggest 30 | Moment 27 | First Liberty IMPACT MOMENT #27

Leading the Fight Against New Threats to Religious Liberty—Even Overseas

“When I encounter an incident where religious freedom is under threat, I like to say: “First Liberty rides to the sound of the guns.” We recently found ourselves in that exact situation. At the eleventh hour, we were asked to handle a case for two Catholic schools in Puerto Rico who were being directed by the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico on how to organize and manage their affairs. In doing so, they literally invented a church that did not exist. This violates the basic fabric of the Constitution by establishing a church. We filed an urgent appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn this decision, and should be hearing back soon.”

Hiram Sasser, First Liberty General Counsel


The Biggest 30 | Moment 26 | First Liberty IMPACT MOMENT #26

Fighting for Cheerleaders Facing Harassment & Censorship at School

“In 2018, After a costly 5-year legal battle, the Kountze, TX cheerleaders finally received reaffirmation of their constitutional right to have religious speech on their run-through banners. School districts everywhere should learn an important lesson from this failed challenge by the Kountze Independent School District: stop harassing the rights of our cheerleaders. The precedent set on this issue is that no school district should be able to censor, ban, or claim ownership of the private religious speech of its students. We won’t stand for keeping students’ religious beliefs tucked away from public view, and will continue to fight for their rights.”

Hiram Sasser, First Liberty General Counsel


The Biggest 30 | Moment 25 | First Liberty IMPACT MOMENT #25

Protecting Senior Citizens’ Rights to Live Out Their Faith

“If a property management company can threaten senior citizens and shut down a Bible study taking place in their own private homes, is there really any space left for Americans to live out their faith? And that’s not the only example. Our client in Florida was prohibited from hosting any kind of religious group in her apartment’s social room, and a now infamous sign was even posted on the piano stating that all “Christian music is banned.” Victories in these cases are extremely important to not only vindicate these seniors’ constitutional rights, but also to ensure that we protect the freedom of people of all faiths to worship in their own homes.”

Keisha Russell, First Liberty Counsel


The Biggest 30 | Moment 24 | First Liberty IMPACT MOMENT #24

“Won & Done”—Religious Freedom Victories You Don’t Hear About

Earlier this year, a Christian scouting troop organization called Trail Life USA requested a tour at a Pennsylvania National Guard facility. They were told they would NOT be allowed to tour specifically because they are a religious organization—even though other groups like the Boy Scouts tour regularly. The troop reached out to the Independence Law Center (ILC), for help. Due to our rich history of handling military religious freedom cases, we partnered with the ILC and sent a joint letter to the National Guard facility commander explaining that they couldn’t deny the tour simply because the Trail Life group is religious. The Guard reversed course and is now allowing the tour.”

Lea Patterson, First Liberty Counsel


The Biggest 30 | Moment 23 | First Liberty Moment of Impact #23

Making History Together—the Bladensburg Memorial is NOT Coming Down

“The idea of bulldozing a national memorial was unfathomable. But the Bladensburg Cross case went even further than that. What kind of precedent would that set? Because right in the Fourth Circuit, the same circuit where the Bladensburg Memorial was in danger of demolition, is also Arlington National Cemetery. Which means that if the Bladensburg Memorial was removed, the Arlington National Cemetery crosses would have to be removed too—a national disgrace we were determined to prevent. This is why we declared: ‘That Bladensburg Memorial is NOT coming down!’ Thankfully, we ultimately achieved victory in this case for The American Legion, for our Country, and for our Constitution.”

Kelly Shackelford, President, CEO & Chief Counsel


The Biggest 30 | Moment 22 | First Liberty IMPACT MOMENT #22

Fighting for Churches Facing Illegal Taxation & Discrimination

“Churches and nonprofits ease the monetary burden on government by offering services that would otherwise fall to the state, which is why they are exempted from property taxes and many other tax burdens. However, just this year, we’ve helped many churches and faith-based organizations facing illegal taxation, outrageous zoning regulations, and blatant discrimination. The truth is, governments cannot tax religious and other nonprofit organizations. What’s more, according to federal law, government cannot discriminate against nonprofit organizations and treat them differently than their private counterparts. Your support enables us to fight and have victories for these churches and non-profits across America.”

Keisha Russell, First Liberty Counsel


The Biggest 30 | Moment 21 | First Liberty IMPACT MOMENT #21

The “Lady in the Red Hat” Memorializes Her Heroic Uncle

On the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court this February, we were reminded of what’s at stake in our longstanding fight to preserve the Bladensburg WWI Memorial by a deeply touching statement from a direct descendent of one of the “49 Boys” and Gold Star mothers who helped establish the memorial. “My uncle was a soldier in WWI. He died in France. My grandmother helped get the memorial erected. I am saddened to think that it could be taken away. Every time I pass it, I think of my uncle. His name is on it, and I feel like it is a memorial to him. I know it is to others also.”

Mary Lequay, Niece of Thomas Fenwick, who is memorialized on Bladensburg Peace Cross

Watch the victory press conference at the Supreme Court »


The Biggest 30 | Moment 20 | First Liberty IMPACT MOMENT #20

Historic Victory for Bladensburg Peace Cross

“Our Founders would have been appalled at this attempt to make the government hostile to our religious heritage, history, and symbols. The attempted perversion of our Constitution is now over, and every American now has more freedom than they have had in decades, with a government no longer hostile to people or expressions of faith.”

Kelly Shackelford, President, CEO & Chief Counsel

Learn more about this landmark decision »


The Biggest 30 | Moment 19 | First Liberty IMPACT MOMENT #19

Winning the Cultural Debate Over our First Freedom

“When the first reports of the Supreme Court’s decision on the Sweet Cakes case began, the headlines were about the Court refusing to hear Aaron and Melissa’s case. By the end of the day the majority of reports were about a victory for religious liberty. In a world full of fake news our media efforts are more important than ever before. All forms of media- television, radio, print, and social media have tremendous influence on our culture. Winning the cultural debate over our first freedom is crucial to preserving our liberty for future generations.”

Chris Freund, Director of Media Relations

Watch the 2019 highlight reel of First Liberty in the news »


The Biggest 30 | Moment 18 | First Liberty IMPACT MOMENT #18

(Part 2) Continued Confirmation of Excellent Conservative Judges

“It all started back in the 1960s and 70, when a cultural explosion happened that was really ‘anti’ everything our country was founded upon. A lot of cases were handed down during that time that damaged religious freedom significantly—damage we’ve been trying to heal ever since. The good news is, we’re in the midst of a very encouraging shift right now. We’re focused on getting better judges on the court who understand that their job is not activism, but simply upholding the words of the Constitution. We are honored to play an integral role in vetting the nominees, so that only the highest quality judges are confirmed.”

Kelly Shackelford, President, CEO & Chief Counsel


The Biggest 30 | Moment 17 | First Liberty IMPACT MOMENT #17

Continued Confirmation of Excellent Conservative Judges

“I recently had the opportunity to ask the President how he and his administration would ensure that only the best judges would move forward for confirmation. In front of about 1,000 evangelical leaders, the President told us that to make a change in our federal courts, he and his team would need to tap the expertise of respected constitutional firms, like First Liberty Institute, which gave me hope for the nominees that were to come. Thanks to your support, we continue to vet and check nominees, making sure that they have a clear record of protecting religious liberty as originally written in the First Amendment.”

Kelly Shackelford, President, CEO & Chief Counsel


The Biggest 30 | Moment 16 | First Liberty IMPACT MOMENT #16

Championing the Fact that Our Founding Fathers Know Best

“As a young man, James Madison witnessed the arrest and persecution of Baptist preachers and followers in his Virginia hometown. This ultimately fueled his passion to fight for religious freedom. After college, Madison became a delegate to the Virginia Convention, vowing to advocate for legislation that would protect religious freedom for all. Subsequently, he became one of the most influential Founding Fathers who drafted the Bill of Rights, including what would become the First Amendment. What he believed in is what we fight for every, single day, which is the right for our clients to freely and openly live out their faith.”

Jorge Gomez, Content Strategist & Senior Writer


The Biggest 30 | Moment 15 | First Liberty IMPACT MOMENT #15

Delivering Your Messages of Encouragement to Coach Kennedy

“This spring our CEO, Kelly Shackelford, participated in a panel discussion with our client, Joe Kennedy—the high school football coach from Washington fired for praying on the field after games. We presented Coach with 2 huge stacks of cards and letters from supporters, all offering him encouragement and hope as he fights the toughest battle of all: the right to live out his faith. With tears in his eyes and an awestruck look on his face, he graciously accepted them and thanked everyone via Facebook Live. It was an amazing moment to see the impact that each one of your signatures and heart-felt notes had on him. Truly amazing.”

Alison Nevans, Social Media Manager


The Biggest 30 | Moment 14 | First Liberty IMPACT MOMENT #14

First in the Fight at the Supreme Court

“When we encounter an incident where religious freedom is under threat, I like to say: ‘First Liberty rides to the sound of the guns.’ We aren’t afraid to jump into the fight. For example: at the eleventh hour, we were recently asked to handle a case for two Catholic schools in Puerto Rico, where the Puerto Rico Supreme Court had issued a very bad decision for religious liberty. To overturn it, they needed to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court – so they turned to us. We charged towards the battlefront and submitted our petition to the Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, and should be receiving a decision soon.”

Hiram Sasser, General Counsel


The Biggest 30 | Moment 13 | First Liberty IMPACT MOMENT #13

Giving Young Leaders a Platform to Impact the Future

“I love interning at First Liberty Institute, because they have given me the opportunity to work on cases that really matter. The right to freely express our religious convictions is one of our most fundamental liberties. I am able to work with brilliant attorneys to defend individuals who are simply trying to align themselves with their worldview. I feel so blessed to be a part of all of this.”

Anastasia Frane, Harvard Law School Rising 3L and First Liberty Institute Intern


The Biggest 30 | Moment 12 | First Liberty IMPACT MOMENT #12

Equipping a New Generation of Religious Liberty Advocates

“As a member of the Fellowship Program inaugural class in 2016, I remember how encouraged I was by the work of First Liberty Institute in defending our religious freedom. To have the opportunity to lead the program now is a dream come true. Some of the brightest scholars in the country participate as faculty members in our program, giving students the knowledge and skills to advocate effectively for religious freedom. Through the Fellowship Program I have been able to pass along my passion for religious liberty to others in my generation, and to see that echoed in each of our Fellows brings me so much hope for the future of religious liberty.”

Christine Norwood, Head of D.C. Fellowship Program


The Biggest 30 | Moment 11 | First Liberty IMPACT MOMENT #11

Providing Expertise that Impacts Court Decisions Across the Country

“Part of what we do here at First Liberty Institute is monitor court cases across America looking specifically for decisions that could affect your religious liberty. Earlier this year, we discovered an important case that would affect our ability to hold government officials accountable for restricting religious freedom. I worked with our legal team to write and file what’s called an amicus brief, explaining our position on the issue to the Court. And the Supreme Court ended up citing our brief 12 times in their decision! It’s very exciting to be a part of not only our own cases, but all of the cases across our nation impacting religious liberty.”

Lea Patterson, First Liberty Counsel


The Biggest 30 | Moment 10 | First Liberty IMPACT MOMENT #10

Fighting Against Astonishing Instances of Religious Bigotry in NY

“Hearing the stories from the rabbis in Airmont, NY about the discrimination they face, the hostility from the Village’s government officials, the exorbitant fines for simply trying to practice their faith in their homes was simply stunning. It is astonishing that such bigotry still exists, but it does. From the very first conversation with rabbis, I was motivated to make sure that the Jewish community in Airmont gets the justice it deserves. I won’t rest until that happens.”

Keisha Russell, First Liberty Counsel


The Biggest 30 | Moment 9 | First Liberty IMPACT MOMENT #9

Standing with Justices Kavanaugh & Gorsuch as they Stand for the Constitution

“On May 13, Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh joined a 5-4 decision to overturn a 40-year-old precedent, calling it “irreconcilable with our constitutional structure.” And in our landmark Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial case, the justices joined a 7-2 decision to overturn the “Lemon test” (Lemon v. Kurtzman), a dangerous precedent which had haunted religious freedom for nearly 50 years. Their decision to uphold the Constitution in these matters is exactly what we expect from principled, conservative judges.

Jorge Gomez, Content Strategist & Senior Writer


The Biggest 30 | Moment 8 | First Liberty IMPACT MOMENT #8

Defending Religious Liberty by Influencing Culture

“It was amazing to have some of brightest minds from across the nation and as far away as Eastern Europe—academics, lawyers, and even a state supreme court justice—gathered in our office for a colloquium on the role of moral reasoning in grounding and protecting our first freedom. We were able to discuss religious freedom through the lenses of law, philosophy, theology, and history. Very few gatherings have such breadth and depth of expertise. The event served as a superb cornerstone for our efforts to protect religious freedom not only in law but upstream in culture.”

Andrew D. Graham, Executive Director for Policy and Education & Senior Fellow


The Biggest 30 | Moment 7 | First Liberty IMPACT MOMENT #7

Bringing Kelly’s Story to You—30 Years in the Making

“I love a good story. And Kelly Shackelford’s stories about his 30 years fighting for religious freedom are fascinating. He’s a topnotch attorney who knows how to win. He says right now we are seeing a seismic shift in the U.S. courts. Kelly believes that we’re on the brink of experiencing greater religious freedom than most of us have seen in our lifetimes. I got to ask him more about that in the latest episode of The Shackelford Sessions. You’ll want to hear why he thinks that’s about to happen, and why we’re asking you to join the fight.”

Stuart Shepard, Video Communications Manager

Watch the full episode »


The Biggest 30 | Moment 6 | First Liberty IMPACT MOMENT #6

Honoring the Sacrifices Made to Defend Our Religious Liberty

“After observing the oral argument in the Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial case at the Supreme Court, I encountered a marine mother standing silently away from the crowd. She explained that her son had been killed in combat in Afghanistan, and she had come to show her support for the memorial. I told her that I was a Marine, and that I also work for First Liberty, the firm defending the veterans memorial. With a warm embrace, she thanked me profusely for our work. I thanked her for her son’s sacrifice, and for her own sacrifice. I told her “Ma’am, don’t worry. That memorial is NOT coming down.”

Mike Berry, Deputy General Counsel

Watch the story of this tender moment with a veteran’s mother »


The Biggest 30 | Moment 5 | First Liberty IMPACT MOMENT #5

There Really is Something Special About 30

“Our theme of 30 came about in a recent conversation with Kelly. I knew 2019 was his 30th year defending religious liberty, 30 years since Justice Kennedy’s comment about the ‘Lemon test’ targeted in our Bladensburg case, 30 years of discrimination against our Airmont Jewish clients, and a big year for the 30 hour rule in the Senate, just to name a few. It was undeniable. There really is something special about 30, and it’s just the beginning. Kelly has no intention of stopping—he’s counting on you for support as he pursues the next crucial victory for our religious freedom!”

Todd Winking, Senior Director of Marketing


The Biggest 30 | Moment 4 | First Liberty IMPACT MOMENT #4

Standing with Clients Who Face Violence & Vandalism

“A house of worship we represent, Light of the World Gospel Ministries, recently became the target of physical violence and vandalism from debris being thrown at congregants & their vehicles—leaving broken windows, dents & damage. Our team worked diligently to bring media attention on the village after the violence occurred and as a result, the village tore down the deteriorating building. But there’s still work to be done, because village officials still won’t grant the building permits our client needs in order to serve their community. This is why we’re asking you to join the fight.”

Lathan Watts, Director of Legal Communications

Watch the story of how we’re fighting for this incredible ministry »


The Biggest 30 | Moment 3 | First Liberty IMPACT MOMENT #3

Supreme Court Justice Recognizes Public Religious Expression

“My favorite moment from being at the Supreme Court during the Bladensburg Oral Arguments was when opposing counsel was pitching the idea that any real recognition of religion in the public realm is unconstitutional. Upon hearing her statement, I noticed Justice Breyer look up at the massive marble engraving containing symbols of the justice that the Supreme Court serves every single day, and right in center are the Ten Commandments.”

Chelsey Youman, Senior Counsel

Watch the full Bladensburg Oral Arguments recap »


The Biggest 30 | Moment 2 | First Liberty IMPACT MOMENT #2

White House Acknowledges the Importance of Religious Liberty Rights

“This year I was honored to witness President Trump’s remarkable speech on religious liberty while attending the National Day of Prayer event at The White House. One of his most profound statements was: ‘Our Nation acknowledges that religious liberty is a natural right, given to us by our Creator—not a courtesy that government extends to us. The First Amendment recognizes this freedom, and safeguards it against government infringement.’ This gave me a tremendous sense of duty and honor, knowing that right now we have the opportunity to set the course of religious liberty for the next 40 to 50 years.”

Kelly Shackelford, President, CEO & Chief Counsel


The Biggest 30 | Moment 1 | First Liberty IMPACT MOMENT #1

Exposing Religious Discrimination Against Chick-fil-A

“Federal tax payers shouldn’t have to subsidize religious bigotry. That was our first thought upon discovering the San Antonio International Airport’s decision to ban Chick-Fil-A. After looking deeper into federal grants the airport receives & what governs them, we found a non-discrimination provision in a grant administered by the FAA. So, we sent a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao calling for an investigation. And on May 24, 2019, the FAA’s Office of Civil Rights announced that it opened an investigation into San Antonio’s decision to ban Chick-fil-A from a concession contract at its airport.”

Lea Patterson, Associate Counsel

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