Liberty Institute Vows To Fight Secularism

The Liberty Institute, a nonprofit legal defense organization based in Texas, has offered to defend, pro bono, any law enforcement agency that is threatened with a lawsuit by the Freedom From Religion Foundation for putting In God We Trust on their patrol cars.

In a post on their website about Childress, TX Police Chief Adrian Garcia receiving a letter from the FFRF protesting his use of IGWT, the Liberty Institute wrote, “Liberty Institute offers to represent any police or sheriff department that receives a similar harassing letter from FFRF.” Chief Garcia, you might recall, handled the “harassing” letter how any professional law enforcement officer would handle a disagreement over policy – he told the FFRF to “go fly a kite.”

In the post, Liberty Institute President and CEO Kelly Shackelford said, “The idea that it’s illegal for police or sheriffs to have the national motto on their car is ridiculous. The America the complainers are attempting to create would be a nation hostile to religion and its religious heritage. It would be a nation that strips any mention of God from public places or property. That might have worked in an atheist nation like the USSR, but it does not work in the United States of America.” (Emphasis theirs)

Of course, nobody is trying to create an atheist nation, though it is interesting that the Cold War fear of the now-defunct Soviet Union still has potency as a persuasive rhetorical device. What Shackelford and many like him do not seem to understand is that government failure to promote religiosity does not automatically mean it promotes atheism; it simply means that the government is secular. Those two words do not mean the same thing. Atheism is a distinct ideological position defined by its relationship to religion (theism, specifically). Secular simply means that religious or theological issues are not considered. So let us be clear here: only one side in the In God We Trust argument is attempting to promote a specific theological viewpoint – and it isn’t the FFRF or other secularists.

The Liberty Institute defines itself as “dedicated solely to defending and restoring religious liberty in America.” Far from being freedom-fighters, the Liberty Institute is nothing more than a paranoid and delusional organization, steeped in the right-wing ideology that Christians are being persecuted in this country. Using a misrepresentation of the Declaration of Independence reference to a “Creator,” the Institute says, “The threat [to religious liberty] is grave. If government prohibits the right to freely acknowledge God, then government replaces God and can remove any ‘rights’ at its will.” The Liberty Institute does not seem to understand that it is the Constitution that guarantees our rights, not a passing reference to a deity.

In a further and more insanely stupid statement, the Liberty Institute claims that one of the organizations threatening religious liberty is Americans United for Separation of Church and State – an organization headed by Barry Lynn, who, in addition to his position as Executive Director, is also an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. The Liberty Institute believes that Rev. Lynn is actively working to destroy his own religious freedom.

The beliefs of the Liberty Institute are telling when considering the motivations of people they defend. Does Chief Garcia really want to display the national motto, or is he making an overt religious statement using his public office? I think we all know the answer to that question and, when it comes to accepting legal defense from organizations like the Liberty Institute, government agents should be harshly judged on the company they keep.

Thomas Essel

Thomas Essel is an outspoken secular activist and serves as Assistant Director for The Original Motto Project. Thomas also writes for the Patheos Atheist blog Danthropology and his work has appeared in the Springfield News-Leader. You can contact Thomas at: Thomas@originalmotto.us