Across from an empty field in Plano, down the street from the gigantic white steeple of the Messiah Lutheran Church, is a place called The Hope Center. Outside, it looks like the Great Wolf Lodge water park in Grapevine. But inside is a 185,000-square-foot business campus with an enormous deer-antler chandelier in the lobby and offices for more than 40 Christian ministries and enterprises. The Hope Center is also the home of the Liberty Institute, which means it’s quickly becoming a national headquarters of one side in the battle for religious freedom.
If you’re a cake maker (or a florist, or a photographer, or a venue owner) and you don’t want to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, the Liberty Institute is there for you. It is the anti-ACLU, the same law firm that made headlines a few years ago when it sued the Plano school district after a third-grader was told not to hand out candy cane-shaped pens attached to religious messages. It represents a doctor in Georgia who was fired because of things he said on a Sunday in church, and Craig James, the running back-turned-sportscaster-turned-failed candidate for Senate who was fired from Fox Sports Southwest after his comments about gay people. After the landmark Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage this summer, courts will see even more cases like this—and the Liberty Institute is staking out its territory.
Started as a small, libertarian advocacy group in 1972, the organization now has a staff of 10 lawyers engaged in more than 100 legal matters around the country, including about 30 active court cases. It advises legislators in more than 20 states and has offered its services pro bono to court clerks in Texas who don’t want to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
While a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage, at least 40 percent don’t. And a large number of Americans say businesses should have a right to refuse service based on their religious beliefs. According to the nonprofit’s IRS forms, donations have gone from just over $2 million in 2009 to $8.4 million in 2013.
“In the last five years, hostility toward religion has grown rapidly,” says Jeff Mateer, general counsel at the Liberty Institute. “In our country there is a clash between people of faith and secularists, and as our society becomes more secularized, there is more conflict. We’ve made a strategic decision to take on more cases nationally, and with that our profile has risen.”
If you think all the issues around same-sex marriage are settled, think again. For the Liberty Institute, the fight has just begun.