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Christian First Liberty Institute Turns Small Distortions into Big Cash Grabs

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At the Freedom From Religion Foundation, we take pride in having our finger on the pulse of all things freethought. That’s why it caught us by surprise when we received an email last week from First Liberty Institute, an ultraconservative Christian rights organization, touting what it called a “key fight for Religious Liberty” at the Supreme Court that First Liberty won. Oh? Which case would that be? First Liberty describes the case as “a ruling upholding and reaffirming the constitutional right of Americans to pray in their own home.”

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Wow! How is it FFRF never heard of this case? That’s because the case didn’t do anything of the sort.

This is what actually happened: The Supreme Court reversed and remanded a 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ verdict. The appeals court had ruled that some police officers had a type of immunity from being sued called “qualified immunity,” over a woman’s claim that these officers told her to stop praying while they were in her home. The Supreme Court sent the case back down to the lower courts because the woman originally filed her case without a lawyer, and there was no information on why the officers were in the apartment or about “any legitimate law enforcement interests that might have justified an order to stop praying at the specific time in question.”

What aspect of the right to pray in one’s home does First Liberty think it is litigating in this case? No one is advocating for the police to stop people from praying in their own homes. Certainly not in the United States, where three out of every four citizens identify as religious and two out of three identify as Christian (the same religion as the plaintiff represented by First Liberty).

In fact, the court went out of its way to note that it was not making some sweeping decision about the right to pray. It instead reiterated the common sense idea that “there are clearly circumstances in which a police officer may lawfully prevent a person from praying at a particular time and place. For example, if an officer places a suspect under arrest and orders the suspect to enter a police vehicle for transportation to jail, the suspect does not have a right to delay that trip by insisting on first engaging in conduct that, at another time, would be protected by the First Amendment.” How First Liberty sees that as a “key” win for religious liberty is beyond us. Yet, if you only read First Liberty’s emails and press releases on the case, you’d have little sense of what actually happened.

First Liberty is no stranger to unabashedly distorting the facts to its supporters and the general public in an effort to fundraise. This is the organization, after all, that puts out an annual report called “Undeniable” that fabricates hostility toward religious freedom to fan the flames of the Christian persecution complex. The report is full of intellectually dishonest distortions, such as cataloguing court decisions that uphold state/church separation as “attacks” on religious freedom. You can read FFRF’s thorough debunking of this shameful report, which we called “Unreliable.”

First Liberty’s email updates about ongoing cases are pretty much just pleas for more money. But their persistent fundraising efforts seem to be working. There’s certainly money to be made from defending the most popular religion in America, though defending it from what we don’t know. The 9 percent of members of Congress who are non-Christian? The three Jewish justices on the Supreme Court?

Unlike First Liberty, FFRF doesn’t exaggerate our accomplishments to raise funds. You can rest be assured that when we’re asking for money, it’s with the fullest of candor and with our complete assurance that it will be put to the best use possible.

There’s a lot that distinguishes us from our counterparts on the Religious Right.

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