December 18, 2014

Church and State

Working Religiously

The future of attorney Mathew Staver's battle to 'take back America' hinges on a ruling expected this month.

Pat Dunnigan | 6/1/2005
Longwood attorney Mathew Staver, president and founder of the religious litigation organization Liberty Counsel, says he's fighting a battle to "take back America." This month Staver awaits the outcome of a critical ruling, an anticipated decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on two cases involving the public display of the Ten Commandments.

In March, Staver argued before the high court on behalf of McCreary County in Kentucky, where the constitutionality of a framed copy of the commandments on a courthouse wall is at issue.

Staver says the case has the potential to overturn 35 years of precedent that "gives rise to the myth of 'separation of church and state.' " And although Liberty Counsel describes its mission as "winning the battle for our culture one case at a time," this case is billed as a must-win.

"Our heritage and our future are riding on this case," Staver tells supporters in one fund-raising pitch.

In the meantime, Staver has become one of the country's most sought after culture warriors. He juggles requests for media interviews while traveling around the country attempting to derail efforts to sanction same-sex marriage, filing lawsuits on behalf of Christian teachers and students who want to bring their faith into the public schools, and defending abortion protesters.

As of mid-April, the 15-year-old organization had as many as 80 cases in litigation and another 200 cases developing, Staver says. "I meet a lot of people who are oppressed because of their Christian values," he says.

Staver's clients do not have to pay their lawyers. The organization's $1.6-million annual budget is funded through donations and legal fees collected in winning cases chosen to advance an agenda focused on "religious freedom, the sanctity of human life and the traditional family."

It's an ambitious effort, pushed with the help of his wife, attorney Anita Staver, a small staff of lawyers working out of warehouse offices near Orlando and the pro bono assistance, Staver says, of 650 or so like-minded lawyers around the country.

Chris Weiss, a construction lawyer and partner in Holland & Knight's Orlando office, serves as board chairman and is the organization's chief fund raiser in Florida. He and Staver met when a member of Weiss' church was arrested at an anti-abortion protest.

For Staver, 48, the work is a calling that draws on his background as a theology student and a former pastor in Kentucky. But he also draws on legal skills honed in more than a decade of far less provocative work representing employers in workers' compensation disputes. Throughout his career, he has been a prolific contributor to professional and legal journals; his curriculum vitae includes a 20-page list of publishing credits. Not surprisingly, the author of both "Collateral Offsets to Workers' Compensation Benefits" and "Opening the Library Door for the Gospel" finds his current practice more satisfying.

"I am just as passionate now as when I started," he says.

Tags: Politics & Law, Around Florida, Government/Politics & Law

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