OUR HERITAGE MATTERS: Protecting America’s Public Religious Expressions of Faith

February 26, 2015





First Liberty Institute squares off against legal groups trying to shut down prayer, and remove religious imagery and other expressions of faith across the nation

On the night of February 17, the council chamber of a small American city was packed to standing-room-only capacity. The crowd was tense. Their city’s tradition of beginning every council meeting with prayer was under attack. The out-of-towner sternly warned that the city was violating the Constitution. What would the council decide?

The verdict: No compromise. The city would not cave in to the bully tactics of the secularists. And, as the mayor publicly acknowledged, the council was given confidence through the legal guidance of First Liberty Institute. Prayer would continue before city council meetings.

This scene is only one example of growing rebellion against the “big bad wolves” who threaten to use lawsuits to blow down the heritage of religious freedom ingrained in American society. And increasingly, cities and towns across America seek First Liberty Institute’s steady hand to guide and advise them in securing their religious rights.


The targets of such intimidation are cities, towns, and schools across our nation. They are under constant threat of lawsuits from anti-religion legal bullies. Powerful, well-funded organizations such as the ACLU, Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Atheists, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and others are trying to intimidate American citizens and cleanse our nation of its religious heritage.

Their threats include challenges to: 

  •  Praying in public
  • Displaying Nativity scenes or menorahs
  • Displaying the Ten Commandments
  • Including religious words or symbols on veterans memorials or governmental buildings such as county courthouses and state capitols

All the targeted expressions are part of America’s heritage—woven into our cultural and social fabric by decades and even centuries of Americans who worked, sacrificed, risked, lived and died in communities where these expressions were, and are, a vital element. Those trying to tear them out, singling them out just because these expressions are religious, insult the history of the communities they are attacking. This is not a defense of freedom of religion, but a discriminatory attack on religion and America’s heritage.

Our Founding Fathers would cringe. They would recoil if they could see the intimidation tactics these anti-religion bullies are using to try to silence our nation’s expression of faith. But those who carefully crafted our First Amendment freedom would also be proud to see concerned Americans like you stand with us against these anti-religion attacks.


Through the ongoing support of friends like you, First Liberty Institute has been able to assist towns, schools, and citizens in other vulnerable locations in protecting their religious liberty rights. Recent work includes helping:

  • The State of Oklahoma to protect the Ten Commandments monument on the Oklahoma State capitol grounds — The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a state court lawsuit in August 2013 to see the removal of the Ten Commandments monument on the Oklahoma state capitol grounds. The Oklahoma Legislature and Governor previously enacted legislation authorizing First Liberty Institute to represent the State of Oklahoma alongside the Oklahoma Attorney General to defend the State in this type of case involving a Ten Commandments monument. After a judge ruled the monument to be constitutional in September 2014, the ACLU appealed the case, and First Liberty Institute is ready to continue its defense. Additionally, American Atheists filed a lawsuit in federal court (the ACLU lawsuit was in state court). First Liberty Institute is also serving as counsel for Oklahoma alongside the Oklahoma Attorney General in the federal lawsuit.  
  • The students and families in a community south of Dallas/Ft. Worth to protect dedication plaques with religious references on two schools — Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to the Midlothian Independent School District (ISD) complaining of two long-standing dedication plaques with a religious reference for their respective schools. FFRF was irritated that the plaques, which had hung for almost two decades, had a religious message and could be seen by students at two elementary schools in one of America’s largest metro areas. The plaques, emblazoned with the “offensive” words, “Dedicated . . . to the education of God’s Children and to their teachers in the Name of the Holy Christian Church Soli Deo Gloria,” have been affixed to the school buildings for the past seventeen years, but only recently became the subject of a freedom of speech debate. First Liberty Institute’s preliminary investigation led to the finding that the school district created a limited public forum for the plaques relating to the topic of the building dedication.  The plaques at issue were private speech, and the First Amendment prohibits the government from censoring private speech simply because of its religious viewpoint. First Liberty Institute congratulated the Midlothian ISD on their courage and their desire to follow the Constitution.
  • The families of 49 fallen World War I servicemen near Washington, D.C. to protect the memorial that honors their sons —The American Humanist Association sued to have the historic Maryland World War I “Mothers’ Memorial” in Bladensburg, Maryland, struck down as unconstitutional and removed. One of the oldest World War I memorials in the United States, the memorial’s cross honors 49 fallen servicemen from Prince George’s County. Ten mothers of these fallen sons were instrumental in having this “Mothers’ Memorial” erected in 1925. On behalf of our client, The American Legion, First Liberty Institute filed a motion to intervene in this lawsuit and a federal Court granted this right to intervene which allowed The American Legion to join the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission as a defendant in the matter to protect the historic memorial. 


Which brings us to the scene that began this article. Earlier this month, First Liberty Institute came to the aid of the City of Nacogdoches, Texas—known as “the oldest city in Texas”—which had received a complaint from a non-resident about the city’s 25-year tradition of beginning its city council meeting with prayer.

“When the city council received a threat from an outsider,” First Liberty Institute Senior Counsel Mike Berry said, “they were justifiably concerned that their tradition of opening city council meetings with an invocation might be stopped.”

But when the city reached out to First Liberty Institute for counsel, we were able to help them create an invocation policy. 

“We met with the city council and answered their questions regarding the constitutionality of invocation policies—including questions about the May 2014 Supreme Court case of Town of Greece v. Galloway, which held that invocations before government meetings are constitutionally permissible,” Berry continued. (First Liberty Institute filed an amicus brief in that major Supreme Court victory for religious freedom.)

We drafted an invocation policy for them to review,” he said. “The Mayor motioned that the Council adopt the policy, and last week, in a standing-room-only meeting, the Council unanimously voted in favor of adopting the policy we drafted. The Mayor publicly acknowledged First Liberty Institute’s role in guiding them through this legal minefield, and thanked us in front of all present.”

Because of First Liberty Institute’s expert legal advice, the City of Nacogdoches can now stand with confidence knowing that the Constitution supports their historic practice of opening city council meetings with prayer—and this right is now memorialized in the writing of the city’s invocation policy.


Simply put, our nation’s religious heritage and traditions matter, and First Liberty Institute never backs down in our efforts to protect public religious expression of faith—including, among others:

  • Public prayer before government meetings
  • Religious wording on plaques and memorials
  • The display of Ten Commandments and Nativity scenes or menorahs on public and private property
  • The expression of “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance
  • The use of “In God We Trust” in government buildings and documents
  • State laws that protect religious liberty

The law is on the side of religious freedom, and that’s why First Liberty Institute wants to help localities fight back and win with our legal assistance. Thank you for your gift today to help support this crucial effort, and please continue to pray with us as we fight the counter-efforts of anti-faith organizations that want remove public religious expression across America.

Other stories:

WE CAN WIN: Why Now Is the Time to Stand for Religious Freedom

About First Liberty Institute
First Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit

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