Counting Up The Biggest 30 Moments of Impact | First Liberty
The Biggest 30 Impact Moments | 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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Thank you for giving to protect religious freedom in your community.

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 | First Liberty

Moment of Impact #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. And it’s all because you continue to believe that defending religious freedom, our first freedom, is the most worthwhile investment you can make for the future of our country. The best part? This is just the beginning. With you, we’re going to continue winning. In a short span of time, we received favorable decisions in the U.S. Supreme Court cases we litigated this year. Those victories are profoundly important, and they are going to be instrumental in protecting religious freedom for you and your family for decades 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. The immense success we’ve had in the past year has opened a whole new set of opportunities and new challenges that we must take head on. And to continue making history and to maximize the opportunities that God’s entrusted to us, we’re going to need resources, staff and time unlike ever before. And of course, we’re going to need you. Your generosity is essential, because your support makes our successful defense of religious freedom possible.”

Kelly Shackelford, President, CEO & Chief Counsel

The Biggest 30 | First Liberty

Moment of Impact #29

Supreme Court re-set 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 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. If the Ninth Circuit’s ruling were upheld – 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. Even more disturbing, the Ninth Circuit’s opinion could lead to teachers and coaches not being able to live out their faith outside of the workday. Simply put, it means that if you’re a coach or a teacher, then you cannot engage in any outward or visible expression of your religious faith – because you’re always on the clock. When you take into account the Ninth Circuit’s criticism of Coach Kennedy living out his faith – it makes it seem as though coaches can only be a good role model if they refrain from any kind of visible expression of their religious beliefs. So, what’s next for Coach Kennedy? His case will now head back to the trial court — where we eagerly await the opportunity to clarify the issues the Supreme Court wants answered – and this time, we have a possible road map to WIN the case, given to us by the Justices. None of this would be possible without your support! Together, we can “always be on the clock” for Coach Kennedy to ensure his case wins a final victory at the Supreme Court.”

Mike Berry, First Liberty Institute Chief of Staff

The Biggest 30 | First Liberty

Moment of Impact #28

Our Biggest Year at the Supreme Court: 3-0! But 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. Every day in June, we’ve been counting up 30 moments of impact (thanks to your support!) to reach our June 30th fiscal year end goal deadline. 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. Actually, 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 history to be made, as Coach Kennedy and the Sweet Cakes cases will be heard again in the lower courts, with clear signals by the Supreme Court that these cases are winnable! So let’s finish the job and get these two major precedent-setting cases in the win column. Please join us in the fight with your timely and generous donation.”

Kelly Shackelford, President, CEO & Chief Counsel

The Biggest 30 | First Liberty

Moment of Impact #27

Your support allows us to be First In the Fight

“When I hear that someone’s been attacked or harassed because of their faith, or I see an incident where religious freedom is under threat – I like to say, “First Liberty rides to the sound of the guns.” We recently saw ourselves precisely in that situation — At the eleventh hour, we were asked to handle a case for two Catholic schools in Puerto Rico. For decades, these schools have been legally independent, managing their own affairs without having to affiliate with any particular church. Recently, however, the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico issued a ruling denying the legal existence of these two Catholic schools and directed them on how to organize and manage their affairs. They literally invented a church that did not exist. This violates the basic fabric of the Constitution and the First Amendment by creating—or quite literally, establishing —a church. In essence, the ruling told these religious schools they had to organize their affairs according to a non-existent church! To overturn that decision, we filed an urgent appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Thanks to your on-going support, First Liberty is always able to ride directly into the frontlines of critical legal battles whenever and wherever they happen to protect and defend religious liberty at all costs – and we mean that literally.”

Hiram Sasser, First Liberty General Counsel

The Biggest 30 | First Liberty

Moment of Impact #26

Fighting for students being silenced for living out their faith at school

“In 2018, After a 5 year costly legal battle, the Kountze, TX cheerleaders finally got the reaffirmation of their constitutional right to have religious speech on their run through banners—banners on which the cheerleaders painted messages they chose, with paint they paid for, on paper they purchased. School districts everywhere should learn an important lesson from this failed litigation by the Kountze Independent School District: stop harassing cheerleaders and accept that they are free to have religious speech on their run through banners. 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. But this wasn’t the first time we won against the Kountze ISD, this is the second time we’ve won at the Texas Supreme Court after succeeding in stopping the Kountze ISD’s bullying tactics of harassing and intimidating students to keep their religious beliefs tucked away from public view. We won’t stand for that and because of your support, we are able to fight for these students and their rights.”

Hiram Sasser, First Liberty General Counsel

The Biggest 30 | First Liberty

Moment of Impact #25

Fighting for 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 safe space left for Americans to live out their faith? Unfortunately, Ken and Liv aren’t the only Americans who’ve been banned from living out their faith in their own home. In Florida, our client Donna Dunbar 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.” After almost a year of negotiating with management, a victory that will vindicate Donna’s constitutional rights seems close at hand. With cases like these occurring throughout the country, it may not be long until there is no safe space in which we can live out our faith. That’s why our current federal court litigation on behalf of the Hauge’s is so important. A victory for them will ensure that we are saying yes to senior Bible studies all over the country, as well as protecting the freedom of people of all faiths to worship in their own homes.”

Keisha Russell, First Liberty Counsel

The Biggest 30 | First Liberty

Moment of Impact #24

“Won & Done”: Religious freedom victories you don’t hear about

“Trail Life USA is a Christian scouting troop organization. Earlier this year, a Pennsylvania Trail Life USA troop requested a tour at Ft. Indiantown Gap National Guard facility, which allows other groups to tour regularly, including the Boy Scouts, a similar scouting organization. After initially being told yes, the Trail Life group mentioned in some required paperwork that Trail Life is a Christian organization. At THAT point, they were told they wouldn’t be allowed to tour specifically because they are a religious organization and allowing their troop to tour would imply that their facility favors religion. The troop quickly reached out to the Independence Law Center (ILC), a legal non-profit in Pennsylvania, for help. Because we have a rich history of handling military religious freedom cases, we partnered with the ILC and sent a joint letter to the Nat’l Guard facility commander explaining that they couldn’t deny the tour simply because the Trail Life group is religious. The Guard reversed course almost immediately and is now allowing the tour.”

Lea Patterson, First Liberty Counsel

The Biggest 30 | First Liberty

Moment of Impact #23

Together, We Made History! The Bladensburg Memorial is NOT coming down!

“The idea of bulldozing a national memorial is unfathomable. But, it goes even further than that. What kind of precedent would that set? And more than that, in the Fourth Circuit, where the opinion was issued to tear down the Bladensburg Memorial, is Arlington National Cemetery. So this precedent, if not overturned, would mean that crosses would have to be removed there too. We’re going to do everything in our power to make sure that doesn’t happen and we are going to fight until we win. Let me tell you something, it’s an honor to work for the American Legion, our Country and our Constitution on this case. That Bladensburg Veterans Memorial is not coming down! It’s not coming down! It’s not coming down!”

Kelly Shackelford, President, CEO & Chief Counsel

The Biggest 30 | First Liberty

Moment of Impact #22

Your support impacts churches facing illegal taxation & discrimination

“In local communities, churches and other similar nonprofits provide assistance, benefits and resources for people in need. State governments – as well as the federal government recognize the profound impact and countless benefits that churches and nonprofit organizations provide. That’s why they exempt them from property taxes and many other tax burdens. Churches and nonprofits ease the monetary burden on government by offering services that would otherwise fall to the state, and they usually deliver services and help much more efficiently. However, just this year, we’ve helped many churches and faith-based organizations facing illegal taxation, outrageous zoning regulations and discrimination. Local 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 | First Liberty

Moment of Impact #21

The “Lady In the Red Hat” Talks About Her Uncle, One of the “49 Boys of Bladensburg”

On February 27, on the steps in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, we were reminded about what’s at stake in our longstanding fight to preserve the Bladensburg WWI Memorial. It was a deeply touching, personal moment delivered by a direct descendent of one of the “49 Boys” and Gold Star mothers who helped establish the memorial to ensure that the “valor, endurance, courage and devotion” of these lost sons from Prince George’s County, MD will never be forgotten.

“My Uncle was Thomas Knotley Fenwick. He was a solder in the First World War. He died in France. My grandmother, Pearl Fenwick, is one who helped get that memorial put up. I am saddened to think that the Bladensburg Memorial could be taken away. Every time I pass that Memorial I think of my uncle. His name is on it and I feel like that is a memorial to him. I know it is to the others also.”

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

Watch the Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial press conference at the Supreme Court.

The Biggest 30 | First Liberty

Moment of Impact #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 today’s U.S. Supreme Court Decision

Moment of Impact #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

The Biggest 30 | First Liberty

Moment of Impact #18

Confirmation of 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 created some real damage to religious freedom. And we’ve been trying to heal that damage ever since. As bad as it’s been, the good news is that I’m starting to see a real shift and I’m greatly encouraged for the road ahead. What’s behind this recent turnaround? In a nutshell, it’s better judges. We’re focused on getting judges on the court who actually understand that their job is upholding the words of the Constitution—not blowing with the ever-changing winds of what society wants and feels in the moment. Thanks to your support, we have played an integral part in vetting the nominees so that only the highest quality judges who are committed to the original intent of the Constitution are confirmed.”

Kelly Shackelford, President, CEO & Chief Counsel

The Biggest 30 | First Liberty

Moment of Impact #17

Confirmation of 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 | First Liberty

Moment of Impact #16

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 | First Liberty

Moment of Impact #15

Impact and Hope for Coach Kennedy

“This spring I was privileged to attend a conference where our CEO, Kelly Shackelford, participated in a panel discussion with our client, Joe Kennedy—the high school football coach from Washington that was fired for praying on the field after games. Just before the session began, we presented Coach with 2 huge stacks of cards, all of which were letters of support signed by supporters who wanted to offer him encouragement and hope while 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 vast impact that each one of your signatures and heart-felt notes had on him. Truly amazing.”

Alison Nevans, Social Media Manager

The Biggest 30 | First Liberty

Moment of Impact #14

First in the Fight at the Supreme Court

“When I hear of an incident where religious freedom is under threat – I like to say, ‘First Liberty rides to the sound of the guns.’ It’s another way of saying that we aren’t afraid to jump into the fight. We recently saw ourselves in that situation. At the eleventh hour, we were asked to handle a case for two Catholic schools in Puerto Rico, where if the current ruling from the Puerto Rico Supreme Court stood, it could make for very bad law in the future. To overturn that decision, they needed to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court – and so they turned to us. We charged towards the battlefront and submitted our petition to the Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, and it’s possible that we could hear a decision soon. If a court or state agency can tell a church or school how to operate, it’s only a matter of time until government is telling churches what to believe.”

Hiram Sasser, General Counsel

The Biggest 30 | First Liberty

Moment of Impact #13

Seeing Millennials 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 | First Liberty

Moment of Impact #12

Equipping Religious Liberty Advocates

“During the 2018 First Liberty Fellowship Program, it was so inspiring and encouraging to see a room filled with college students who were excited and motivated to learn more about religious liberty. As a member of the inaugural class of the Fellowship Program in 2016, I remember how encouraged I was by the work of First Liberty Institute. To have the opportunity to lead the program now is a dream come true. We have some of the brightest scholars from across the country participate as faculty members in our program, and the students walk away with the knowledge and skills to be the next generation of advocates for religious freedom. Through the Fellowship Program I have been able to pass along my passion for religious liberty to like-minded students and to those of my generation, and to see that passion 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 | First Liberty

Moment of Impact #11

Impacting Court Decisions with Amicus Briefs

“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 there was a case that would affect our ability to hold government officials accountable for restricting religious freedom, and we knew we had to act. I worked with our legal team to write and file what’s called an amicus brief, letting the court know where we stood on the issue. Writing amicus briefs is a significant way we’re able to impact the court’s ruling. In fact in one case, the Supreme Court cited 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, Counsel

The Biggest 30 | First Liberty

Moment of Impact #10

Being Motivated by Astonishing Stories of Bigotry

“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, Counsel

The Biggest 30 | First Liberty

Moment of Impact #9

Kavanaugh & Gorsuch Upholding 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.” Their decision to uphold the Constitution is exactly what we expect from principled, conservative judges. It also causes us to wonder if the Court will overrule other precedents, like Lemon v. Kurtzman, which has haunted religious freedom for nearly 50 years. We’ll find out soon when the Court rules on the Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial case.”

Jorge Gomez, Content Strategist & Senior Writer

The Biggest 30 | First Liberty

Moment of Impact #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

Moment of Impact #7

Bringing Kelly’s Story to You

“I love a good story. And Kelly Shackelford’s stories about his 30 years fighting for religious freedom are fascinating. He’s a top attorney who knows how to win. He says right now we are seeing a seismic shift in the U.S. courts. Kelly thinks 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.

Moment of Impact #6

Honoring the Sacrifices Made Defending Our Religious Liberty

“After observing the oral argument in The American Legion v. American Humanist Association (the Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial case), I emerged from the Supreme Court building and walked down the steps. A huge crowd of people, including media, supporters, protestors, and others, had gathered. As I reached the crowd, I saw a lady standing silently, solemnly, while holding a picture of what could only be her son’s Marine Corps Boot Camp photo. I asked if she was a Marine mother, and she explained that she was, but her son had been killed in combat in Afghanistan. She was here to show her support for the memorial, and that she understood why Gold Star mothers would want such a memorial. I told her that I was a Marine, and that I also work for First Liberty, the firm who is defending the veterans memorial. She thanked me profusely for our work, and gave me a warm embrace. 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

The Biggest 30 | First Liberty

Moment of Impact #5

There Really is Something Special About 30

“Our theme of 30 came about in a conversation with Kelly after one of his speaking engagements. The number ‘30’ kept coming up. As we talked we just put it all together. I knew 2019 was his 30th year defending religious liberty, and there was also the 30 year old comment by Justice Kennedy about the Lemon test, 30 years of discrimination against our Airmont clients, and the 30 hour rule in the Senate, just to name a few. It was undeniable. There really is something special about 30. This June 30th we’re counting up (instead of down) to 30 because Kelly has no intention of stopping—he’s counting on you for support as he continues to pursue the next crucial victory for our religious freedom!”

Todd Winking, Senior Director of Marketing

Moment of Impact #4

Standing with Our Clients Who Face Violence

“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. It’s a sad irony that vandals very likely used bricks and debris from the dilapidated building our client had previously petitioned the city to tear down. 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

Moment of Impact #3

Bladensburg Oral Argument

“My favorite moment from being at the Supreme Court during the Bladensburg Oral Arguments, was when opposing counsel was arguing 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

Moment of Impact #2

National Day of Prayer

“This year I was honored to attend the National Day of Prayer event at The White House where I witnessed President Trump’s remarkable speech on Religious Liberty. The moment I heard him say, ‘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 the freedom of religion and safeguards this right against government infringement,’ I felt a sense of duty, valor and honor knowing that we are right in the middle of a year of opportunities, challenges and victories that will 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

Moment of Impact #1

FAA Investigates Religious Discrimination Against Chick-fil-A

“Federal tax payers shouldn’t have to subsidize religious bigotry’, was our first thought when we discovered 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. This is when we knew a letter must be sent to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao calling for an investigation. And, on May 24, 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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