Constitutional Freedoms

Veterans Understand Why Religious Freedom Is the First Liberty

The author, a three-time Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl champion, flew combat missions in the Persian Gulf War and now speaks for faith

In America, religious liberty is called our first freedom because it is foundational to freedom itself. First Liberty Institute, a nationwide law firm based in North Texas that I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside of for years, believes that freedom is free.

In other words, as the largest law firm in the nation dedicated to defending religious freedom for all Americans, First Liberty believes you shouldn’t have to pay a lawyer when the government violates what it’s bound to respect: your religious freedom.

First Liberty clients such as the Kountze Independent School District (ISD) cheerleaders understand this. In their most recent victory here in Texas, First Liberty defended these young cheerleaders’ right to paint inspirational Bible verses on run-through banners at football games.

Despite the local school district spending tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars trying to censor these high school girls, the Texas Supreme Court twice sided with their religious freedom.

“As a proud veteran of the United States Air Force, I can’t help but feel saddened at the thought of a bulldozer running down such memorials.

This victory was one of many over the years where First Liberty has defended the right of students in public schools to express and exercise their faith — a right they don’t sacrifice at the schoolhouse door.

Or First Liberty’s clients at Congregation Toras Chaim, a small Jewish congregation in North Dallas that, for years, has fought the City of Dallas simply to exercise their right to worship according to their faith on their own property. That fight continues today as the City of Dallas demands more parking spaces for those who do not drive cars on the Sabbath!

Related: In Defense of Prayer on America’s Military Bases

First Liberty impacts the entire nation. This month, the Supreme Court of the United States will decide whether it will hear oral arguments in two of the Texas firm’s most significant cases.

First, the Supreme Court will determine whether it was legal for a Bremerton, Washington, high school football coach and Marine Corp veteran to be fired from his job for taking a knee in silent prayer for 15-30 seconds after a football game.

Though no one ever complained, the school district ordered Coach Joe Kennedy to stop exercising his religious freedom in places he could be seen by the public. When he refused, the school district fired him. That case could very well determine whether teachers will be forced to forfeit their First Amendment freedom when passing through the schoolhouse gate.

In another case, the existence of veterans memorials that symbolize the sacrifice and bravery of America’s fallen heroes is in jeopardy. In short: we forget what we do not see.

Yet, incredibly, a federal court ruled that the nearly 100-year-old Bladensburg, Maryland, WWI Veterans Memorial must be bulldozed. Why? Because those who designed and preserve the memorial — Gold Star mothers and The American Legion — chose to build a memorial shaped like the crosses that marked the graves of their sons, who died on the European battlefields of World War I.

Related: New HHS Rule Expands Options to Protect Religious Conscience

Such a decision is not only outrageous, but puts in jeopardy monuments of similar design at Arlington National Cemetery. How will we remember the fallen or teach the next generation about service and sacrifice if we start bulldozing veterans memorials and cemeteries across America?

Americans should honor the way Gold Star mothers chose to remember the service and sacrifice of their sons, who died defending our freedom. As a proud veteran of the United States Air Force, I can’t help but feel saddened at the thought of a bulldozer running down such memorials.

The results of these cases and others First Liberty Institute is working on will have a profound and lasting effect on the freedoms and values that matter most to Americans. As a law firm grown in Texas, First Liberty is taking those values and freedoms nationwide.

Texan Chad Hennings is a three-time Super Bowl champion with the Dallas Cowboys and a U.S. Air Force combat veteran pilot, as well as an author and successful entrepreneur.