Congratulations to the Liberty Institute for using the civil litigation process to successfully defend Pastor Scott Rainey’s right to pray “in Jesus’ name” at the Houston National Cemetery. In the process, they defeated a national effort by the Veterans’ Administration to stifle religious liberty at all national cemeteries, an outrageous action never before taken.
Here’s a great summary of the case facts from Fox News Radio: Rainey, the pastor of Living Word Church of the Nazarene, has delivered prayers at the Memorial Day service for the past two years. But this year the cemetery’s director asked him to submit his prayer in writing. The prayer concluded with the words, ‘in the name of Jesus Christ, the risen Lord.’ Rainey told KRIV-TV that he was contacted four hours later by cemetery director Arleen Ocasio who told him to either remove the words or he would not be allowed to pray.
Rainey sued the VA, with litigators from the nonprofit Liberty Institute representing him. “It is very clear that a pastor has a right as a private citizen to speak his mind freely and not have the government censor or edit the content of his speech,’ said Jeff Mateer, general counsel of the Institute, who personally represented Rainey (quoted by Fox).
Trial lawyer Jared Woodfill, the chairman of the Harris County (Texas) Republican Party and the founding partner at Woodfill & Pressler LLP in Houston, rallied Harris County Republicans through a e-mail blast to county GOP members and the county GOP website to call the cemetery director and urge her to back off.
The judge ruled for Paster Rainey and issued a TRO against the cemetery. “The government cannot gag citizens when it says it is in the interest of national security, and it cannot do it in some bureaucrat’s notion of cultural homogeneity,” District Judge Lynn Hughes wrote. One day later, the VA caved, agreeing to not fight the TRO and allowing Pastor Rainey at pray as he planned. You can read the Liberty Institute’s lawsuit, the judge’s order, and the Institute’s press release at its website.
In an interview with Terry Lowry on his nationally syndicated ‘What’s Up’ radio program, Jared Woodfill discussed the case and the need for all Americans to protect their 1st Amendment rights by exercising their 7th Amendment right to a civil jury trial. He disclosed that VA headquarters was attempting to stop prayers at national cemeteries nationwide, not just in Houston, and the lawsuit apparently put a halt to that attempt.
Woodfill highlighted the importance of the right to a civil jury trial, as protected by the 7th Amendment. “Absolutely, obviously the 7th Amendment protections allowed the Liberty Institute to go into federal court and say, ‘Judge, we believe that this is unconstitutional, we believe this is a violation of this pastor’s First Amendment rights under the Establishment Clause.’ He reminded listeners of the importance of each of the ten amendments in the Bill of Rights. “…(O)ur Founding Fathers were very purposeful and intentional when they drafted the Bill of Rights. And I believe that every single one of those ten amendments is sacrosanct… The federal government should not be stepping on those rights… If the courts are not open to redress grievances such as these, then the federal government will continue to trample upon our rights… the great thing about the 7th Amendment is that it allows the court system to be open to redress these very types of wrongs.” You can download and listen to the entire interview with Jared Woodfill from this link (MP3 file).
So there’s another victory for religious liberty thanks to the 7th Amendment and the trial lawyers at the Liberty Institute. Anybody want to “tort reform” them out of federal court? And a big thanks to Jared Woodfill, who demonstrates every day in his dual roles that a true Constitutional conservative can be a Republican activist and a successful trial lawyer.
UPDATE: I discussed this on the nationally syndicated ‘What’s Up’ radio program with host Terry Lowry. You can download and listen to the podcast using this link.