Kelly Shackelford, voted one of the top 25 lawyers in Texas, told a packed crowd today about his defense of the right to pray of preachers, students and veterans.
Shackelford told a meeting of the Wichita County Republican Women's group at Luby's in Wichita Falls, Texas about several cases he has successfully argued in front of the United States Supreme Court during his outstanding career.
One of the dramatic cases was the story of the eight year old boy in the Dallas area school system who was told by teachers he would not be allowed to present 22 candy canes with religious references as gifts to his fellow students as part of the school's so-called "Winter Party," Shackelford said.
"It was really a Christmas Party, but the school system wouldn't allow them to use the word Christmas. So they called it the Winter Party," Schackelford said.
He further explained, "Jonathan was so determined that he hid his Christmas candy canes in his closet at home for a whole year in the hopes he would be able to present them to his classmates at the next Christmas. When we were able to win that case the Dallas news media was there the next year as he was allowed to present the candy canes."
"You know the Bible tells us that it is better to be cast into the sea with a millstone around one's neck than to cause one of these children to stumble."
He also told the story of the senior citizens who were told they could not pray over their meals because the food was provided by the federal government.
"One of the senior citizens named Barney who wore a big cowboy hat told me he was not going to have to hide in a corner somewhere to pray before he ate his meal. He was a veteran of World War II, and he had fought that war to defend the right to pray. Somebody from Bill O'Reilly's show called me and said, 'We want the guy in the cowboy hat on our show.' So Barney and I appeared on the O'Reilly Factor and discussed the case."
The likable lawyer said he first heard about the seniors' case when he saw a report about them protesting.
"I never thought I'd see seniors protesting, so it caught my attention immediately. I showed the story to one of my young lawyers and he was peeling out of the parking lot in his car to start checking on the case almost before I could finish telling him about it," Shackelford said with a smile.
"That young lawyer came back to me later and told me that city was treating the seniors so badly it didn't need to be warned, it needed to be destroyed," Shackelford said, chuckling.
Shackelford also said he reminded his lawyer that they were a Christian group and couldn't resort to such extreme measures.
After his Liberty Institute organization won an injunction against that city council which tried to prevent the seniors from praying over their meals, the voters actually voted those city council members out of office in the next election.
One of those senior citizens contacted Shackelford and told him she had been elected to the city council herself to fill one of the newly open seats.
Shackelford also told the story of a pastor who contacted him and said the federal government told him he "can't pray in Jesus name." When the Liberty Institute contacted the White House they received a brief response saying, "This is our prayer policy."
When Shackelford's organization took the federal government to court, a judge issued an order against the feds, saying, "We don't govern how people say their prayers. We don't tell preachers how to say their prayers."
And the preacher was then allowed to pray as he wanted.
Shackelford recounted that when he was in school he wasn't sure whether he wanted to be a preacher or a lawyer more.
"Some of my friends thought it was like a God or Satan choice," he joked, as the Luby's crowd laughed.
"But I decided to go the lawyer route. I felt more drawn to practicing law," he said.
He said his first job out of law school was a clerkship at a federal court that paid him $28,000 a year.
"It was a good experience," he said, adding that his real desire was to help pastors and churches in the legal system.
"Out of the blue two lawyers called me and asked if I'd go to work for them handling cases involving pastors and churches. They were so dedicated to the cause they paid me out of their own pockets. And that's how I got started in this work."
He said his Liberty Institute has won 99% of its cases and is undefeated against the ACLU.
Shackelford admitted to being shocked last year when the Solicitor General for the federal government argued in front of the Supreme Court that "the federal government has the power to tell churches who their pastors can be."
He said that fortunately that argument was denied by the judges, but it shows how hard the federal government is working to strip Americans of their religious rights as guaranteed under the Constitution.
A recent major case was the Mojave Desert Cross case in which the ACLU sought an order to have it torn down.
"This was a cross that veterans had erected in honor of their fallen comrades in battle. Fortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court went with us 5-4 on that case. But you can see how close it was," Shackelford said.
The genial Shackelford said his Liberty Institute is now fighting yet another case involving a cross referred to as the Mount Soledad Cross case.
Martha Hall, current parliamentarian and former president of the Republican Women, asked why the ACLU should be able now to try to have the Mount Soledad Cross taken down if the issue had already been decided in the Mojave Desert case. Hall has served as president of the Republican Women for the last four years. Hall is active in her church and teaches a Sunday School class.
Shackelford said the issue should be decided by the first ruling allowing the Mojave Desert Cross to stand but that didn't prevent the ACLU from filing another case against the other cross.
"The Ninth Federal Court of Appeals in San Francisco issued the order in the Mount Soledad case. I am hoping that ultimately we will prevail in that case also."
The Mount Soledad Cross is 29 feet tall and was first erected in 1913 near La Jolla, California. The cross is in the center of approximately 3,000 placques honoring veterans. A representative of the war memorial association said she was hopeful the courts would allow them to maintain the cross.
Jeff Mateer, an attorney for Liberty Institute, said the case could take months or even years to wind its way through the federal courts.
Liberty Institute was begun in 1972 by Shackleford as a small, non-profit advocacy law firm which defended the religious liberties of Americans. It has since morphed into a large legal powerhouse which has defended such high profile cases as the Mojave Desert Cross case as well as the cheerleader case in the Kountze Independent School District of Texas.
"The cheerleaders at Kountze wanted to write something on their spirit banners other than something like 'stomp the other team.' So they included Bible verses on their banners. The school administration told them they couldn't use the Bible references anymore. We were able to win a temporary injunction in court so they were allowed to go ahead with the quotes from the Bible," the constitutional attorney said.
He mentioned national news media from the Los Angeles Times to the New York Times had covered the landmark case.
Shackelford said in the past the battles for people's religious liberties have been fought in wars with guns but now they are being fought in courtrooms across America. With his Liberty Institute leading the way there is a good chance the religious liberties in this nation will be extended.
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