Liberty Counsel, Inc.
FoundedDecember 26, 1989; 31 years ago (1989-12-26)[1]
FounderMathew D. Staver
Type501(c)(3) nonprofit organization[2]
59-2986294[3]
HeadquartersMaitland, Florida, United States[1]
ServicesPro bono assistance and representation[4]
Mathew D. Staver
Anita L. Staver
Candice McGuire
Robert Miller
Revenue (2015)
$5,572,566[3]
Expenses (2015)$5,263,709[3]
Employees (2014)
38[a][3]
Volunteers (2014)
264[3]
Websitewww.lc.org

Liberty Counsel is a 501(c)(3)[2] tax-exempt religious liberty organization that engages in litigation related to evangelical Christian values.[5] Liberty Counsel was founded in 1989[1] by its chairman Mathew D. Staver and its president Anita L. Staver, who are attorneys and married to each other. The Southern Poverty Law Center has listed Liberty Counsel as an anti-LGBT hate group, a designation the group has disputed.[6] The group is a Christian ministry.[7]

History

Liberty Counsel started as a religious liberty organization that focused its litigation efforts on freedom of speech cases.[8] The organization used freedom of speech arguments instead of religious free exercise claims in its cases.[9] In addition to litigation, Liberty Counsel saw education of its members and public officials regarding religious rights as a goal.[10]

Positions and responses

In 1990, Liberty Counsel supported a change in public library rules which had excluded religious and political events from library meeting rooms until the ACLU met with a library official.[11]

In 1998, Liberty Counsel was part of a coalition of organizations that backed a state-level "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" in Florida; others supporting the bill were the ACLU, Florida Family Counsel, Aleph Institute and Justice Fellowship.[12]

In 2009, a Liberty Counsel attorney from its Tennessee office worked with city commissioners to draft an ordinance limiting the permitted locations for adult bookstores and similar establishments.[13]

In 2011, the organization expressed that defining "personhood" as beginning at conception was a path to barring abortion.[14]

Liberty Counsel opposed the repeal of the U.S. military's former policy "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" that banned personnel from openly identifying as gay, lesbian, or bisexual.[15] The group opposes the addition of sexual orientation, gender identity, or similar provisions to hate crimes legislation,[16] including the anti-lynching bill passed unanimously by the Senate in 2018.[17] The group issued a statement, saying that an "anti-lynching bill should apply to everyone".[18] It also opposes same-sex marriage and same-sex civil unions.[19]

Liberty Counsel has been listed as an anti-gay group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).[20] In 2015, SPLC listed the group as a hate group, in part because Liberty Counsel opposes LGBT participation in scouting and because Liberty Counsel's leadership implicitly compared gay men to pedophiles.[21][22] Liberty Counsel has challenged that SPLC's designation[23] and the Associated Press's reporting thereof.[24] Fox News referred to that designation as a "smear".[25]

In 2017, Liberty Counsel sued GuideStar USA, Inc., an information service specializing in U.S. nonprofit ratings, for flagging Liberty Counsel as having been labeled a hate group by the SPLC. In 2018, a Virginia federal judge dismissed Liberty Counsel's suit, ruling that GuideStar's "expressive right to comment on social issues" was protected by the First Amendment. The SPLC was not named in the lawsuit.[26] The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit rejected Liberty Counsel's appeal.[27] GuideStar removed the SPLC annotations from the entries for Liberty Counsel and 45 other organizations shortly after adding them, citing "harassment and threats directed at our staff and leadership" and "our commitment to objectivity and our concerns for our staff's wellbeing."[28]

In 2020, Liberty Counsel launched "ReOpen Church Sunday" to encourage Christian leaders in the United States to hold in-person services on the first weekend of May. On-site religious services had stopped in some locations due to the coronavirus pandemic.[29]

Activities

Orlando Magic general manager Pat Williams was the scheduled keynote speaker for the organization's kick off banquet in 1990.[30]

In 2000, Liberty Counsel threatened legal action against a public library in Jacksonville, Florida after the library held a party that featured readings from Harry Potter books and distributed "Hogwarts' Certificate of Accomplishment" to the children who attended.[31] Staver said, "Witchcraft is a religion, and the certificate of witchcraft endorsed a particular religion in violation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause."[32][33]

Liberty Counsel sponsors an annual "Day of Purity" campaign where youth wear white T-shirts to show their commitment to sexual abstinence until marriage.[34][35][36]

In December 2005, Liberty Counsel issued a press release accusing an elementary school in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, of changing the lyrics of Christmas songs to make them more secular, and said that it would sue the school district "if the district does not immediately remedy the situation." The school was putting on the play "The Little Tree's Christmas Gift", written by Dwight Elrich, a former church choir director.[37] Liberty Counsel represented a parent who objected to using secular lyrics to the tune of Silent Night.[38] The Dodgeville school district sought a retraction and an apology from Liberty Counsel, as well as reimbursement of $20,000 spent in personnel, security, and attorney fees to fight the accusation. Liberty Counsel's Staver refused, asserting, "There is nothing to apologize for or retract."[39]

When a Deltona, Florida city hall Black History Month display intended to include only memorabilia provided by city employees removed religiously-themed paintings by Lloyd Marcus, Liberty Counsel sued. The city opened up the display to material provided by citizens, including Marcus, while saying that this change was not occasioned by the suit.[40][41]

In November 2015, a Wisconsin school cancelled plans to read the book I am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and transgender teen Jazz Jennings, after Liberty Counsel threatened a lawsuit.[42] The planned reading had been to help the students comprehend what one of their fellow students was going through and to give her support. In response to the cancellation, a public reading of the book was held at the local library the following month, an event that drew an attendance of almost 600 people.[43] This led to similar reading events held in dozens of public schools, churches, community centers, and libraries in eight states on January 14, 2016,[44] and then the recurring annual event "Jazz & Friends", backed by the National Educational Association and the Human Rights Campaign.[45][46]

In March, 2020, Liberty Counsel defended a Florida megachurch pastor who was arrested for "unlawful assembly" after holding church services in violation of a public health emergency order.[47] Charges against the pastor were later dropped after Florida Governor DeSantis declared churches an essential activity.[48]

Liberty Counsel engaged in attempts to overturn the 2020 United States presidential election in favor of Donald Trump after the 2021 storming of the United States Capitol. In an email about the event, Chairman Staver characterized the rioting crowd as "concerned marchers."[49][50] Staver also wrote that Liberty Counsel condemns the violence that broke out. [51]

In March of 2021, the organization wrote a letter to the Dean of the Louisiana State University School of Dentistry, Robert Laughlin, denouncing his mandate that all dentistry students receive a vaccine for COVID19, and calling the mandate a violation of religious liberties. This campaign resulted in LSU revising the vaccine mandate. [52]

Lawsuits

In 1993, Liberty Counsel sued the Orlando airport over a literature distribution policy that required proof of liability insurance.[53] The court granted the couple who sought to distribute religious literature a 10-day restraining order allowing them to distribute their material, but refused to extend it beyond the date originally requested. The attorney for the airport said that the couple had not completed the form needed to distribute literature, and that homeowners could generally get the needed insurance for $10.[54] After the couple filed an appeal, the airport stopped requiring those who want to pass out literature to obtain a $100,000 insurance policy and changed what information was placed on badges that such distributors were required to wear.[55]

Liberty Counsel filed a federal lawsuit challenging a 1993 injunction restricting protests near an abortion facility. Liberty Counsel represented the plaintiffs challenging the injunction, which barred protesters from interfering with those entering or exiting an abortion facility within a 36-foot buffer zone. The Florida Supreme Court upheld the injunction but a federal appeals court stuck down the injunction. The case, Madsen v. Women's Health Center, Inc. reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 1994 upheld part of the injunction prohibiting protests within 36 feet of the facility and making loud noises, while invalidating the part of the injunction that placed a 300-foot ban on approaching patients or the homes of facility staff, finding that this was too restrictive.[56] The Court ruled 6-3 striking down the 300-foot zone around people going in and out of the clinic and striking down the prohibition against images "observable" from inside the clinic.[57] The court upheld the 36-foot buffer zone.[58] An audio recording of the case was made by the Supreme Court.[59]

In 2000, the group represented eight absentee voters in a lawsuit over recounting ballots for the presidential election.[60][61]

In Lawrence v. Texas (2003), the group submitted an amicus curiae brief urging the Supreme Court to uphold a Texas statute that criminalized homosexual sodomy.[62]

The Supreme Court agreed to take a case in 2004 regarding displays of Ten Commandments on government property. Liberty Counsel represented Kentucky counties that posted copies in courthouses.[63]

Liberty Counsel represented Dixie County, Florida against the American Civil Liberties Union in a 2007 lawsuit involving a Ten Commandments monument.[64]

In 2010, Liberty Counsel filed a lawsuit against Obamacare but the Supreme Court declined to take the case. In 2012, the High Court ordered an appeals court to reconsider the case.[65][66]

After New York enacted the Marriage Equality Act, legalizing same-sex marriage in New York, in 2011, Liberty Counsel sued, seeking to invalidate the law. The New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, rejected Liberty Counsel's claim, and in 2012, the state's highest court declined to hear a further appeal.[67][68]

In 2012, Liberty Counsel unsuccessfully maintained a case[69] at the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia on behalf of Liberty University against the Affordable Care Act. On July 12, 2013, the appeals court upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act over Liberty's arguments against the "employer mandate."[70]

In the case of Miller v. Davis, Liberty Counsel represented Rowan County (Kentucky) Clerk Kim Davis, an Apostolic Christian who in 2015, stopped issuing marriage licenses after the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry. She lost an earlier ruling in 2015[71] and in 2016, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed an injunction against her at the request of Liberty Counsel after a new Kentucky law was passed that made the case moot. At the same time, they refused to vacate a contempt decree against her.[72] Liberty Counsel filed for a stay pending appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case.[73][74] The case was dismissed as moot on April 19, 2016.[75]

Liberty Counsel also represented former Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis who has fought issuing any marriage licenses because she did not want to issue licenses to same-sex couples based on her religious objection.[76][77] The case was petitioned before the U.S. Supreme Court, which denied certiorari in October 2020.[78] The issue before the Court was her qualified immunity defense.[79]

After a Massachusetts public library denied Liberty Counsel's requests in 2013 and 2014 to use a meeting room for prayer, singing hymns and presenting Christian ideas, the group sued. The library then changed its policy to allowed religious and political viewpoints.[80]

In 2021, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of Liberty Counsel's client, Jackson County, Indiana, by upholding a Christmas display including a Nativity scene in front of a county building. After the Freedom From Religion Foundation demanded that Jackson County remove the Nativity scene, the ACLU filed suit on behalf of a taxpayer. The ACLU won in the lower court, but was reversed on appeal.[81]

Founder

Liberty Counsel's founder, Mathew Staver, was dean of Liberty University School of Law for eight-and-a-half years. He worked to start the school with Jerry Falwell.[82][83]

Related organizations

Liberty Counsel currently or previously had interlocking boards with other organizations.[3]

See also

Publications

Notes

  1. ^ In addition, 2 leased employees and 36 employees of another nonprofit organization provided services to Liberty Counsel.[3]

References

  1. ^ a b c "Liberty Counsel, Inc.". Detail by Entity Name. Division of Corporations. Florida Department of State. Accessed on July 6, 2016.
  2. ^ a b "Liberty Counsel Inc." Exempt Organizations Select Check. Internal Revenue Service. Accessed on July 6, 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p "Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax". Liberty Counsel Inc. Guidestar. June 30, 2015.
  4. ^ "About Liberty Counsel". Liberty Counsel. Accessed July 6, 2016.
  5. ^ Hetzner, Amy (March 23, 2001). "Group Sues Schools Over Religious Cards". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on September 1, 2017. Retrieved 2016-08-05.
  6. ^ Walters, Joanna; Thielman, Sam (2016-02-03). "Liberty Counsel: the law firm whose mission is to defend 'God's authority'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2020-05-07.
  7. ^ Andrea Diaz. "Elementary school principal placed on leave after banning all things Christmas from classrooms". CNN. Retrieved 2020-08-03.
  8. ^ Niebuhr, Gustav (July 8, 1995). "Conservatives' New Frontier: Religious Liberty Law Firms". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 17, 2020.
  9. ^ Hacker, Hans J. (2005). The culture of conservative Christian litigation. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. pp. 39–41. ISBN 0742534456.
  10. ^ Kjupe, Paul A.; Olson, Laura R. (2014). Encyclopedia of American Religion and Politics. New York: Infobase. p. 121. ISBN 1438130201.
  11. ^ Banks, Adelle M. (February 23, 1990). "In Defense of Religious Freedom Lawyer-Pastor: Right to Worship Threatened". The Orlando Sentinel. Archived from the original on September 17, 2020. Retrieved September 17, 2020.
  12. ^ Christine Walker (April 8, 1998). "Religious Freedom Act Clears Committee". Sun-Sentinel.
  13. ^ Witt, Terry (February 26, 2009). "City approves two sex-business ordinances". Levy County Journal. pp. A1, A5. Archived from the original on August 19, 2020. Retrieved August 19, 2009.
  14. ^ Fausset, Richard (November 4, 2011). "Mississippi attempts to define the start of personhood". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2020-07-20.
  15. ^ Catholic Online. "'Don't Ask Don't Tell' Upheld by Supreme Court". catholic.org. Archived from the original on 2011-06-06.
  16. ^ http://www.lc.org/media/9980/attachments/hatecrimes.pdf[permanent dead link]
  17. ^ "Evangelical group wants gays removed from anti-lynching bill". NBC News. Retrieved 2019-01-13.
  18. ^ Lockhart, P. R. (2019-01-11). "An evangelical group is trying to strip LGBTQ protections from an anti-lynching bill". Vox. Retrieved 2020-07-21.
  19. ^ "Liberty Counsel website - Advancing Family Values". Archived from the original on 2010-08-19. Retrieved 2019-01-13. First case ever to declare a Vermont civil union is not equivalent to marriage, and a state and federal Defense of Marriage Act permits a state to ban same sex unions.
  20. ^ "Active Anti-LGBT Groups". Southern Poverty Law Center.
  21. ^ "Active Hate Groups in the United States in 2014". Southern Poverty Law Center.
  22. ^ Boy Scouts Organization Demise. Podcast, Liberty Counsel. Aug 11, 2015. https://www.lc.org/faith-and-freedom-full-article/boy-scouts-organization-demise
  23. ^ "Liberty Counsel challenges SPLC 'hate group' label". onenewsnow.com. Retrieved 2015-10-26.
  24. ^ "Kim Davis' Attorneys Attack Associated Press For Identifying Them As A "Hate Group"". Media Matters for America. Retrieved 2015-10-27.
  25. ^ "Southern Poverty Law Center brands some peaceful groups as 'hate groups'". Fox News. 2017-07-14. Retrieved 2020-05-05.
  26. ^ "Maitland-based Liberty Counsel loses lawsuit over 'hate group' label". Orlando Sentinel. Associated Press. 24 January 2018. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
  27. ^ Liberty Counsel, Inc. v. Guidestar USA, Inc., No. 18-1157 (4th Cir. 2018) (pur curiam) (unpub.).
  28. ^ "Update Regarding SPLC Flags on GuideStar Nonprofit Profiles". GuideStar. GuideStar. 23 June 2017. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
  29. ^ Jenkins, Jack (April 23, 2020). "Conservative group calls for 'ReOpen Church Sunday'". Religion News Service. Retrieved September 17, 2020.
  30. ^ "Lecture has Ethical Dose on Medicine". Orlando Sentinel. February 17, 1990. Retrieved 2020-10-08.
  31. ^ "Jacksonville parents object to Harry Potter's 'witchcraft' | StAugustine.com". staugustine.com. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2015-10-26.
  32. ^ "Jacksonville Library Drops Harry Potter Certificates". American Library Assoc. Archived from the original on October 13, 2008. Retrieved October 22, 2008.
  33. ^ Fowler, Sarah (September 14, 2015). "The legal team behind Kentucky's defiant clerk". BBC. Retrieved January 12, 2019.
  34. ^ Ave, Melanie (August 27, 2005). "More teens today just saying no _ to sex". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved 2020-07-21.
  35. ^ "Day Of Purity - Liberty Counsel". Liberty Counsel Day of Purity. Retrieved February 5, 2021.
  36. ^ Jacobson, Susan (February 11, 2013). "Day of Purity provides alternative to Valentine's Day". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved February 5, 2021.
  37. ^ "Have a Holly, Jolly Holiday", The Washington Post, Dec. 20, 2005.
  38. ^ Lewin, Adrienne (December 9, 2005). "Critics Aren't Keeping Quiet Over 'Silent Night' Lyrics Change". ABC News. Retrieved February 5, 2021.
  39. ^ "Haven't heard last on 'Silent Night'; Wis. school board is seeking redress from Christian legal group", Richmond Times-Dispatch, January 14, 2006.
  40. ^ Peppard, Jim. "City of Deltona Agrees to Hang Disputed Religious Paintings". 10 Tampa Bay. Retrieved 20 July 2020.
  41. ^ Sarmah, Satta (January 5, 2009). "Faith in the Law". Orlando Sentinel. Archived from the original on July 20, 2020. Retrieved July 20, 2020.
  42. ^ "Wisconsin School Cancels Book Reading About Transgender Teen After Lawsuit Threat". Time. Retrieved 2020-05-29.
  43. ^ Finn, Amanda (December 3, 2015). "In response to controversy, hundreds pack Mount Horeb library for reading of transgender book". Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved May 29, 2020.
  44. ^ Erickson, Doug (January 14, 2016). "Inspired by Mount Horeb, 'I Am Jazz' book is read across the country Thursday". Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved May 29, 2020.
  45. ^ Reistad, Meghan (December 7, 2017). "MMSD supports transgender and nonbinary youth with "I Am Jazz" book reading". Retrieved May 29, 2020.
  46. ^ "Save the Date for "Jazz & Friends" 2020". Human Rights Campaign. August 29, 2019. Retrieved May 29, 2020.
  47. ^ Parke, Caleb (March 30, 2020). "Florida pastor's legal team responds to 'entirely inappropriate' arrest". Fox News. Retrieved February 5, 2021.
  48. ^ Martin, Mark (May 15, 2020). "Charges Dropped Against FL Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne, Arrested for Holding Church During Stay-at-Home Orders". CBN News. Retrieved February 5, 2021.
  49. ^ Holmes, Juwan J. (January 8, 2021). "Anti-LGBTQ group still praying that God will give Donald Trump "a miraculous victory"". LGBTQ Nation.
  50. ^ Staver, Mat. "The Future Hope of the Republic". Liberty Counsel. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  51. ^ Staver, Mathew (January 7, 2021). "The Future Hope of the Republic - Liberty Counsel". Liberty Counsel. Retrieved 2021-02-05.
  52. ^ https://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/coronavirus/article_759d3766-8d7a-11eb-80b9-27a368dd9d54.html
  53. ^ Banks, Adelle (April 6, 1993). "Airport Sued Over Strict Rules On Religious Tracts". The Orlando Sentinel. Archived from the original on July 20, 2020. Retrieved July 20, 2020.
  54. ^ Leusner, Jim (April 21, 1993). "Judge's Ruling Puts Halt to Religious Handouts". Orlando Sentinel.
  55. ^ Banks, Adelle (May 7, 1993). "Airport Eases Soliciting Rules". The Orlando Sentinel. Archived from the original on July 20, 2020. Retrieved July 20, 2020.
  56. ^ Crawford, Craig (July 1, 1994). "Court Keeps Protesters at Distance". The Orlando Sentinel. Archived from the original on July 20, 2020. Retrieved July 21, 2020.
  57. ^ 1994 article (PDF)
  58. ^ Madsen v. Women's Health Center - Cornell University
  59. ^ Madsen v. Women's Health Center, Inc. - Oral Argument, U.S. Supreme Court Media
  60. ^ Staff, Kevin P. Connolly,Rene Stutzman and Robert Perez of The Sentinel. "GOP NERVOUSLY KEEPING TABS ON SEMINOLE SUIT". OrlandoSentinel.com. Archived from the original on August 3, 2020. Retrieved 2020-08-03.
  61. ^ Bloodsworth, Doris. "SPONTANEOUS RALLIES ARE CAREFULLY STAGED". OrlandoSentinel.com. Archived from the original on 2020-08-03. Retrieved 2020-08-03.
  62. ^ Dale Carpenter, Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas (NY: W.W. Norton, 2012), 204-5
  63. ^ "Court takes on Commandments case". 2004-10-12. Retrieved 2020-07-20.
  64. ^ "Ten Commandments stand at Dixie courthouse, after lawsuit is dismissed". Gainesville.com. Retrieved 2015-10-26.
  65. ^ Group, Sinclair Broadcast (2014-07-02). "Liberty Reacts to 'Hobby Lobby' Ruling". WSET. Retrieved 2020-07-20.
  66. ^ "Supreme Court revives Obamacare challenge". Baptist Press. Retrieved 2020-07-20.
  67. ^ Snow, Justin (6 August 2012). "Anti-Gay Group Challenges Marriage Equality In New York". Metro Weekly. Archived from the original on 17 August 2012. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
  68. ^ Lovett, Ken (October 23, 2012). "Court of Appeals refuses to hear gay marriage appeal". Metro Weekly. Retrieved October 23, 2012.
  69. ^ Appeals Court Hears Challenges
  70. ^ Liberty University v. Lew (PDF)
  71. ^ Justin, Wm. Moyer (13 August 2015). "Federal judge orders Christian clerk to issue same-sex marriage licenses". Washington Post. Retrieved 17 August 2015.
  72. ^ "WLWT5". July 13, 2016. Retrieved July 29, 2016.
  73. ^ Wynn, Mike. "Rowan gay marriage licenses upheld on appeal". The Courier-Journal. Retrieved 2020-07-20.
  74. ^ Liptak, Adam (August 31, 2015). "Supreme Court Says Kentucky Clerk Must Let Gay Couples Marry". The New York Times. Retrieved August 31, 2015.
  75. ^ "Miller v Davis | Judiciaries | Government". Scribd. Retrieved 2020-07-20.
  76. ^ Kentucky Clerk's Request For A Stay Is Denied By US Supreme Court NPR
  77. ^ "Couples denied marriage licenses can sue Kim Davis". The Mercury News. 2019-08-23. Retrieved 2020-05-15.
  78. ^ "Supreme court rejects appeal from clerk who refused to register gay marriage". 2020-10-05. Retrieved 2020-10-08.
  79. ^ Howe, Amy (October 5, 2020). "Justices issue new orders from last week's conference; Thomas criticizes same-sex marriage ruling". SCOTUSblog. Retrieved October 8, 2020.
  80. ^ Troknya, Mark (April 28, 2016). "Library Meeting Room Conflicts". Public Library Association. Retrieved 2020-10-08.
  81. ^ Magdaleno, Johnny (February 4, 2021). "Nativity scene OK in front of Jackson County Courthouse, federal appeals court rules". www.msn.com. Retrieved February 4, 2021.
  82. ^ "Falwell Saw Law School as Tool to Alter Society". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2007-05-21.[permanent dead link]
  83. ^ "President announces resignation of Liberty Law Dean Mat Staver | Liberty University". www.liberty.edu. Retrieved 2020-05-15.