Special to the Village News
Inside the bottom floor of a modest two-story office building in Murrieta, significant legal issues are being examined – and court strategies established – for battles and issues of immense importance to those who feel the nation is losing its Judeo-Christian heritage.
"We have successfully defended, and continue to defend, pastors against contempt charges and discrimination, employees against unjust mandates that violate religious beliefs, and believers suffering from violations of their First Amendment rights," said attorney Robert Tyler, president and founder of Advocates for Faith & Freedom.
"We believe God has tasked and privileged us with being a voice for His Kingdom."
Tyler and three other attorneys on staff, as well as two contract attorneys and two paralegals, make up the legal team. Advocates for Faith and Freedom has multiple staff meetings weekly, each beginning and ending with prayer.
"In today's culture, our nation's foundation is being eroded by legal challenges to the family structure, religious freedom, basic property rights, and parental rights," Tyler added. "Court decisions across the nation have created a society increasingly devoid of the message and influence of God. Our work is focused on representing Christians and churches without charge because protecting our First Amendment rights is critical for us to continue to exercise our faith freely. This is the keystone that motivates and impassions us to remain diligent."
Tyler does not receive a salary but engages in fundraising to support expenses and the staff. Advocates for Faith and Freedom was founded in 2005 by a group of individuals who are passionate about preserving religious liberty in the legal system. Since 1995, Tyler has worked in the realm of constitutional law, both in private practices and a large organization, but he developed a vision along the way to begin his own nonprofit legal organization.
"Now the things that I talked about 20 years ago, that seemed extreme at that point, are unfortunately the norm."
The Christian organization has handled multiple nearby and statewide cases of national consequence in recent months:
• Jessica Tapia, a former Jurupa Valley High School teacher, contends she was fired for not hiding students' gender transitions and identities from parents. A state law passed in 2014, AB 1266, forbids teachers from talking to parents about their child's gender choices without consent from the student. She chose not to lie to parents and Tyler is representing the teacher in suing the school district for wrongful termination.
• Advocates filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in U.S. District Court challenging the California Department of Social Services' decision to permanently cut off public funding to feed needy children at a religious preschool in El Cajon. The church refused to abandon its religious beliefs regarding human sexuality by relenting to the CDSS demand to align all of its employment decisions, including key positions involved with instilling religion, to the state's new divergent sexual orthodoxy. The federal USDA exempts religious schools from sexual orientation and gender identity mandates
• Calvary Chapel San Jose sued Santa Clara County for implementing and enforcing unconstitutional COVID-19 public health orders. The county issued a shelter-in-place order and an aggressive fine system. It is trying to collect $2.87 million in COVID-19 fines from the church. The Supreme Court has admonished California five times and ruled their orders as applied to churches violated the 1st Amendment. Advocates has successfully overturned the contempt charges and over $200,000 in fines and sanctions levied against the church and pastor, but there are more court proceedings about the $2.87 million in fines. The case has bounced back and forth between state and federal courts.
Tyler said a serious aspect of the proceedings was Santa Clara County paying a company to track Calvary's visitors through geo-tracking. Tyler said the county did not acquire a warrant before surveilling the church, nor did they apply any apparent limitations on their surveillance efforts. They placed a geofence around the church property for over a year, allowing the county to track congregants anywhere, including the bathroom, nursery, sanctuary and prayer rooms.
Advocates is also being proactive, recently filing a lawsuit challenging California Senate Bill 107 on behalf of Our Watch, a nonprofit organization in Murrieta dedicated to protecting parental rights. This bill, otherwise known as the Transgender Sanctuary Bill, allows children to flee from other states to obtain irreversible medical procedures, puberty blockers, and cross-sex hormones.
The bill denies parents the right to access their child's medical information as it relates to "gender-affirming health care" or "gender-affirming mental health care" and allows California courts to take emergency jurisdiction over a child seeking gender-affirming care.
"SB 107 is a dangerous piece of legislation that strips the right of parents to direct the care and upbringing of their child," said Mariah Gondeiro, the attorney handling the case for Advocates. "Parents, not the government, are best suited to decide whether their child should undergo life-altering drugs and surgeries that will impair their ability to become a parent later in life."
"One of my top priorities has been the preservation of parental rights, and I believe SB 107 is a dangerous, irresponsible law that is an assault on those rights," said Pastor Tim Thompson, president of Our Watch and pastor of 412 in Temecula Valley.
The lawsuit alleges that SB 107 violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Full Faith and Credit Clause, as it was passed in direct hostility to the laws of conservative states like Alabama and Texas. The plaintiff seeks to declare the bill unconstitutional.
In 2022, Advocates received $233,107 in attorney fees awarded by the courts and $787,413 in donations. Its total expenses were $864,502, meaning a surplus of $156,018. The organization is actively looking to hire another attorney.
"We have a very efficient budget and try to maximize every bit we can to go directly into the cases, with as little as possible towards overhead," said Tyler, a Wildomar resident. "An incredible 93% of all donated funds go to directly support our legal work.'
Among the major court cases in 2022, Tyler noted these major victories:
• Advocates won a federal appeal of a lawsuit seeking to roll back vote-by-mail laws and tighten signature verification and voter identification requirements in state elections. The state may request the U.S. Supreme Court review the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court. If not, it will go to trial. "We can win this case and restore integrity in all elections across the country," Tyler said.
• Advocates has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule the Ninth Circuit's ruling where more than 20 lifeguards sought to prevent their union from collecting union dues without their consent.
• Advocates won a case against OSHA, which imposed over $60,000 in fines on Calvary Christian Academy in San Jose for allegedly violating COVID-19 reporting requirements and not mandating masks.
• When the City of Las Vegas arrested and cited a pastor in a public walkway for preaching in public using minimal amplification just as secular speech is allowed, the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court holding that the case should have been allowed to proceed to trial.
"In today's culture, our nation's foundation is being eroded by legal challenges to the family structure, religious freedom, basic property rights, and parental rights. Court decisions across the nation have created a society increasingly devoid of the message and influence of God," Tyler said. "Our work is focused on representing Christians and churches without charge because protecting our First Amendment rights is critical for us to continue to exercise our faith freely. This is the keystone that motivates and impassions us to remain diligent!"
Tyler noted that what happens in California gets exported to the rest of the country and then to the world.
"That's why we have to battle in California," he said. "I understand why a lot of people have left California and it sure seems enticing, but the funny thing is that a number of my friends and family left to go to Idaho and they have found the school district they are within was suddenly adopting the policies and philosophies that started in California. Unfortunately, people who think they can flee the state of California and find some solace in another state are just simply fooling themselves.
"It feels like those of us who stay in California to preserve basic constitutional freedoms and principles, we are missionaries in a foreign land."
He said the recent effort of parents getting involved with the schools absolutely makes a difference.
"You know that the voices of the majority and the sane need to be unleashed because for way too many years, it's been the silent majority. We have been busy coaching youth sports or participating in the PTA or sitting in the church pews singing worship songs, while the outside society has been screaming for some help."
Tyler believes people are awakening after seeing the extent that the government would go to censor and silence dissenters. "It's the evil of censorship and this totalitarian type of philosophy that the woke culture is pushing on society."
"I think that that change is only going to come through a revival – people to faith – and will not likely come through legislation or even judicial decisions. We need people of faith who are sane to express their opinions and to not cower to the evil Marxist philosophy that is really being forced on our children and grandchildren."