Since 1997, First Liberty has been on the front lines of the fight for religious liberty. Throughout our history, we have secured key victories for our clients and have helped establish legal precedents that protect the First Amendment rights of millions of Americans.
Today, First Liberty is the largest legal organization in the country solely dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty, taking on hundreds of Constitutional law and religious liberty cases each year.
Currently, First Liberty has a record number of important cases that are headed toward the U.S. Supreme Court.
Below is a timeline of First Liberty’s landmark victories and crowning achievements throughout our history:
2016: Liberty Institute Renamed First Liberty Institute
Liberty Institute officially becomes First Liberty Institute—the largest legal organization in the United States dedicated exclusively to protecting religious liberty for all Americans.
2016: First Liberty Files Amicus Brief Supporting Non-Profit Religious Organizations
Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell & East Texas Baptist v. Burwell, 15-105, U.S.
On behalf of Christian & Missionary Alliance colleges and retirement communities, First Liberty files an amicus brief at the Supreme Court, arguing that the HHS mandate forces certain religious organizations to violate their faith by compelling them to provide insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs to employees.
2015: Veterans’ Right to Practice Native American Faith Protected
VA Medical Center vs. Native American Religious Practitioners
Liberty Institute successfully ends discrimination and harassment toward a group of veterans in Wichita, Kan., who may now conduct their Native American faith rituals freely.
2015: Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial Saved from Destruction
American Humanist Association, et al. v. Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, 8:14-cv-00550-DKC, U.S. District Court, District of Maryland (November 30, 2015)
A U.S. District Court Judge rules that the cross-shaped WWI Veterans Memorial in Bladensburg, Maryland is constitutional after First Liberty defends the memorial on behalf of The American Legion.
2015: Historic Houston Churches Saved
Latter Day Deliverance Revival Church and Christian Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church v. Houston Housing Authority
The Houston Housing Authority dismisses eminent domain proceedings against two historic Houston churches after First Liberty files a lawsuit defending the churches.
2015: Settlement Won for Journalist Fired for Religious Beliefs
Eschliman v. Shaw Media, Inc. and Newton Daily News
First Liberty wins a favorable settlement for Bob Eschliman, a journalist fired from his position as editor of a daily newspaper for expressing his religious briefs on a personal blog.
2015: Victory for U.S. Navy Chaplain Wes Modder
Chaplain Wes Modder v. U.S. Navy
The Navy threatens Chaplain Modder with the termination of his 20-year career because he counseled sailors according to his biblical beliefs. Liberty Institute defends Chaplain Modder and he is exonerated of all charges.
2015: First Liberty Files Amicus Brief in Supreme Court Marriage Case Supporting Religious Liberty Rights
Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S._(2015)
In this historic U.S. Supreme Court case, First Liberty Institute files an amicus brief on behalf of 20 major national Christian religious organizations, public speakers, and scholars, arguing that the First Amendment Free Speech Clause protects ministers, teachers, and speakers who are compelled by faith to preach aloud their religious beliefs on marriage. In the June 2015 decision, the Court opinion recognizes the concerns expressed in First Liberty’s amicus brief, and addresses the importance of religious freedom protections.
2015: Pledge of Allegiance Declared Constitutional in New Jersey
American Humanist Association v. Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District, MON-L-1317-14, Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division: Monmouth Co. (February 4, 2015)
The American Humanist Association files a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance because it contains the words “Under God.” First Liberty intervenes in the case on behalf of the American Legion and successfully defends the Pledge.
2015: Jewish Synagogue’s Right to Meet for Worship Protected
Schneider v. Congregation Toras Chaim, No. 429-04998-2013, Collin County, Texas
A Texas District Court Judge upholds the right of a synagogue to continue meeting in home after First Liberty defends the congregation from a neighbor’s lawsuit seeking to prohibit worship services in a home.
2015: Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial Protected with Land Transfer
Trunk v. U.S. and Mt. Soledad Memorial Association
After 25 years of legal battles, the federal government sold the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial and the land surrounding it to Liberty Institute’s client, the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association. The land transfer protects the cross from the ACLU’s attempt to tear it down.
2015: First Liberty Files Supreme Court Brief to Protect Religious Exercise in Prisons
Holt v. Hobbs, 574, U.S._(2015)
First Liberty files an amicus brief on behalf of leading academic sociologists Dr. Ronald Akers, Dr. Byron Johnson, and D. Sung Joon Jang, urging the High Court to reverse a ruling that prohibited an inmate from having a beard for religious purposes.
2014: U.S. Supreme Court Protects Prayer Before Public Meetings
Town of Greece v. Galloway, 572 U.S._2014
On behalf of a group of highly respected theologians, First Liberty Institute files an amicus brief in Town of Greece v. Galloway, in which the Supreme Court reaffirms the constitutionality of public prayer before governmental meetings. As a result of the 5-4 decision, the practice of praying before governmental meetings will continue uncensored and uninterrupted throughout the nation.
2014: Regulations Against Pregnancy Resource Centers Declared Unconstitutional
Roman Catholic Diocese of Austin et al v. City of Austin, 1:11-cv-00875-LY, U.S. District Court, (W.D. Tex. 2014)
A federal district judge strikes down as unconstitutional an Austin ordinance that targeted the City’s pro-life Christian pregnancy resource centers (First Liberty represented three of the four centers in the case.)
2014: Elementary School Students’ Right to Pray, Read Bible Protected
Giovanni Rubeo and Gabriella Perez
First Liberty stops religious discrimination against two elementary school students who were told not to read their Bible during free time or pray over their lunch.
2014: Victory for U.S. Air Force Veteran After Wrongful Termination
First Liberty successfully protects veteran Senior Master Sergeant Phillip Monk, who raised a religious discrimination claim against his commander in the U.S. Air Force. Because of First Liberty’s intervention, Monk is able to retire honorably, creating a precedent for the further protection of religious freedom in America’s military.
2014: First Liberty Files Amicus Brief in Hobby Lobby Case
Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, 573 U.S._(2014) & Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Burwell, 13-356 U.S._(2014)
In a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that recognizes the right of business owners to operate according to their religious beliefs, First Liberty files an amicus brief supporting Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation.
2014: First Liberty Institute Founds Military Division
First Liberty founds its Military Division, focused on protecting the religious liberty of current service members and veterans, with Senior Counsel Mike Berry as the Director of Military Affairs.
2013: Kelly Shackelford Delivers Lecture at U.S. Supreme Court
First Liberty President and CEO Kelly Shackelford lectures on both the drama and law behind the famous U.S. Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines and its significance for religious liberty. Speaking in the chamber of the U.S. Supreme Court, Kelly tells the story of how two brave families stood their ground and paved the way for the protection of freedom, including religious freedom, in the schoolhouse today. Read “Supreme Irony,” an adapted version of Kelly’s 2013 Supreme Court lecture.
2013: Religious Freedom Protected for College Students
After two college students are punished and mistreated for their religious beliefs, First Liberty intervenes, securing official apologies from college officials to both students.
2013: School Teacher Defended after Unlawful Termination
Tutka v. Phillipsburg (NJ) School District
First Liberty defends Walt Tutka, who was terminated for providing a Bible to a student when the student requested a copy. After First Liberty’s work on Tutka’s behalf, the EEOC issued a Final Determination Letter finding that the New Jersey school district discriminated against Mr. Tutka.
2013: Victory for Kountze Cheerleaders at Trial Court
Matthews v. Kountze ISD, 53526 (Hardin Cnty. Ct. Tx. May 8, 2013)
Students’ rights to private religious expression are upheld at the trial court level, after First Liberty sues Kountze, Texas Independent School District for censoring the free speech and religious expression of its cheerleaders.
2012: Mojave Desert WWI Veterans Memorial Cross Saved
Salazar v. Buono, 559 U.S. 700 (2010)
Following First Liberty Institute victory at the U.S. Supreme Court, the Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial Cross is restored to its original location, where it stands today.
2012: Church Protected from Discriminatory Zoning Ordinances at Fifth Circuit
Opulent Life Church; Telsa DeBerry v. City of Holly Springs, Mississippi, 697 F.3d 279 (5th Cir. 2012)
First Liberty won a precedent-setting victory at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit for a small African-American church, protecting it from an unconstitutional city ordinance that treated the church unequally.
2012: First Liberty Institute Becomes a National Organization
Under the name “Liberty Institute,” First Liberty becomes a national organization, expanding litigation from Texas to all 50 states.
2012: First Liberty Files Amicus Brief on Behalf of Religious Schools
Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, 565 US_(2012)
First Liberty files an amicus brief at the Supreme Court on behalf of religious schools nationwide, including Jewish, Christian, and Seventh Day Adventists private schools. The Court’s 9-0 decision in favor of the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran School established strong protections for religious employment decisions.
2011: Government Stopped from Banning Religious Expression at Military Funerals
Rainey et al. v. VA et al., 4:11-cv-01992 (S.D. Tex. filed May 26, 2011)
Representing Pastor Scott Rainey, the VFW, The American Legion, the National Memorial Ladies, and veterans’ widows, Liberty Institute sued the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs to stop anti-religious hostility at the Houston National Cemetery, resulting in a consent decree, which affected national policies of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and protected the religious freedom of more than 21 million veterans across America.
2011: Win the Right for Students to Reference Faith in High School Graduation Speeches
Shultz v. Medina Valley I.S.D., 5:11-cv-00422-FB (W.D. Tex.)
First Liberty successfully defends the free speech and religious expression rights of high school senior Angela Hildenbrand, who was threatened with arrest if she prayed during her graduation speech. This victory paved the way for future high school seniors (like Remington Reimer in 2013) to reference their faith in their graduation speeches.
2011: Students’ Rights Upheld in “Candy Cane” Case
Morgan v. Swanson, 09-40373, (5th Cir. 2011)
In a landmark decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit finds that elementary students have First Amendment rights, contrary to the school officials’ arguments, and therefore, cannot be subjected to religious discrimination. First Liberty was pivotal in this outcome.
2011: Kelly Shackelford Named One of 25 Greatest Texas Lawyers
Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of First Liberty Institute, is named one of the 25 greatest Texas lawyers of the past quarter century by Texas Lawyer magazine. Photo courtesy The American Legion.
2010: First Liberty Supports Autonomy of Religious Groups on Campus
Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, 561 U.S 661 (2010)
First Liberty files an amicus brief at the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing for the rights of student-led religious groups on campuses after the Christian Legal Society Chapter of the University of California, was denied recognition because of its statement of faith membership requirement.
2010: American Missionary Rescued from Haitian Jail
First Liberty partners with a prominent law firm in Washington, D.C. (including former attorneys for President George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton) to secure the release of Amarillo native Jim Allen from a Haitian jail.
2010: Employee Religious Rights Upheld
Shatkin v. University of Texas at Arlington, 4:06-CV-882-Y, U.S. District Court, (N.D. Tex., 2009)
First Liberty successfully represents two employees of the University of Texas at Arlington who were discharged for praying for their coworker in their office after work hours.
2010: Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial Saved at Supreme Court
Salazar v. Buono, 559 U.S. 700 (2010)
On behalf of multiple veterans’ organizations, First Liberty defends the Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial at the U.S. Supreme Court. In a landmark 5-4 decision citing First Liberty’s amicus brief 12 times, the U.S Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of the land transfer of the veterans memorial to First Liberty Institute’s client, the VFW.
2009: Liberty Legal Renamed Liberty Institute
Liberty Legal officially becomes Liberty Institute, quickly gaining renown as the premiere legal organization defending religious liberty in the State of Texas and beyond.
2008: Vietnamese Church Protected from City’s Abusive Actions
Plano Vietnamese Baptist Church, et al. v. City of Plano, Cause No. 366-00794-2008, Collin County, Texas (September 25, 2008)
A Texas district court grants First Liberty’s appeal, finding that the City of Plano abused its discretion in its treatment of a local Vietnamese Baptist church, and permitting the Church to take occupancy of its property.
2007: Church Autonomy Established at the Texas Supreme Court
Westbrook v. Penley, 231 S.W.3d 289 (Tex. 2007)
At the Texas Supreme Court, First Liberty successfully defends a church prosecuted for conducting internal operations according to its doctrinal standards, establishing the doctrine of “church autonomy” for the first time in Texas history.
2007: Religious Higher Education Institutes Protected from Government Control
HEB Ministries, Inc. v. Tex. Higher Educ. Coordinating Bd., 235 S.W.3d 627 (Tex. 2007)
After the State of Texas fined Tyndale Seminary for calling itself a “seminary” and operating without government approval, First Liberty wins a precedent-setting victory at the Texas Supreme Court, protecting the religious freedom and autonomy of religious institutions.
2005: Ten Commandments Display on Texas Capital Grounds Saved
Thomas Van Orden v. Rick Perry, 545 U.S. 677 (2005)
First Liberty Institute serves alongside the Attorney General of Texas and files an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Van Orden v. Perry, which reaffirms that the Ten Commandments monument outside the Texas Capitol is constitutional.
2004: Religious Rights Restored to Senior Citizens
Barton v. City of Balch Springs, 3:03-CV-2258-G (N.D. Tex., complaint filed September 30, 2003)
First Liberty successfully protects the religious liberty rights of senior citizens in Balch Springs, Texas, who were told that they could no longer pray before meals, have a short devotional, or sing gospel songs at the government-run Balch Springs Senior Center.
2003: Landmark Precedent Set for Parental Rights
Barrow v. Greenville Indep. Sch. Dist., 332 F.3d 844 (5th Cir. 2003)
First Liberty wins a landmark victory at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit for Karen Jo Barrow, who was denied the position of assistant principal at a public school for refusing to transfer her own children from a Christian school. The decision upholds the fundamental rights of parents to direct the education of their children.
2000: Victory for Religious Organizations at U.S. Supreme Court
Good News Club v. Milford Central School
First Liberty files a key amicus brief and assists lead counsel in preparing for argument before the United States Supreme Court. This case protected the rights of religious organizations to use public school facilities after school hours.
1997: First Liberty Institute Founded
First Liberty Institute is founded as a non-profit law firm focusing on Texas litigation, with Kelly Shackelford as President and CEO. (Originally called Liberty Legal Institute, the organization was founded as a division of Free Market Foundation.)