Oregon cited as ‘tough terrain’ for religious liberty

By Christian News NW
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The California-based Pacific Justice Institute’s name obviously reflects its West Coast roots, but the Christian legal defense organization is now in such demand nationally that it has had little choice but to stretch its boundaries. But founder and president Brad Dacus, who paid a quick visit to Portland last month, emphasized his agency’s expanding work to preserve religious freedom is pursued carefully and prayerfully, and with a humble dependence on God’s provision.

“If anything really exciting is happening with PJI, don’t look to me,” Dacus said at an Aug. 6 dinner at The Slide Inn restaurant with about 35 local friends and supporters of the organization. “It’s God’s doing.”

Dacus founded PJI in 1997 after working for The Rutherford Institute, another agency focusing on religious freedom issues. Joining with him in starting PJI was Edwin Meese, former U.S. attorney general under President Ronald Reagan. Receiving many thousands of requests for legal help each year, PJI strives to provide assistance free of charge to defend religious freedom, parental rights and other civil liberties. It is funded through gifts from supporters.

PJI is based in Sacramento and has three additional local offices in California, but also expanded in recent years to Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Colorado. More recently, it has rapidly launched offices across the nation in New York, Texas, Florida, Mississippi, Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan.

In guiding the agency’s growth, Dacus, who is also a commissioned minister who often speaks in churches — for example, he preached last month at Portland’s Calvary Chapel Southeast — clearly sees PJI’s efforts as not just legal, but also spiritual.

“Basically, our desire is that Satan have no place to go on vacation in the United States,” he quipped, but only half-jokingly.

Out of necessity, Oregon was the first state outside California to have a PJI office, said Dacus. “You guys were keeping us real busy, because we had a growing number of cases here in Oregon,” he said.

Dacus alluded to the state’s liberal political leanings when he described Oregon as “tough terrain” for the kinds of issues that receive PJI’s focus. “It’s not exactly friendly territory.”

Staffing the Oregon office since 2018 is Keizer resident Ray Hacke, praised by Dacus as a “strong, firm litigator” — so much so he has nicknamed Hacke “the Bulldog.”

Dacus gave a quick overview of some recent PJI cases in Oregon, including:

• A church in Umpqua, which faced legal hassles trying to convert one room in its house of worship into a living quarters for its pastor and his wife. That case went all the way to federal court.

•A bill in the state Senate that sought to give the state education agency oversight of private schools if they were involved in interscholastic activities. That legislation was eventually killed.

•A teacher prohibited by the Grants Pass School District from preaching about the consequences of sin during his off-hours youth evangelistic efforts.

•Also in the Grants Pass district, two educators fired last month for allegedly improperly using school time and equipment to promote personal beliefs regarding proposed LGBTQ legislation; PJI contends they were fired instead for their traditional Christian worldview and for not conforming to liberal politics.

•A lawsuit by a Christian school against Clackamas County after the school was told by the county it could not use the facilities of a Milwaukie church.

In the wider area it serves, PJI gets many cases regarding social workers threatening to take children from parents. More than 50 such cases are in ongoing litigation, and PJI’s work saves these parents literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, Dacus said.

An overwhelming number of the calls tor help that PJI receives lately deal with people’s concerns over COVID-19 mask and vaccine mandates. The situation across the nation is very fluid right now, particularly as state and local governments respond to the recent increase in cases of COVID’s Delta variant.

“The directives are pouring out so fast, we don’t know where we’re going to be in a week,” Dacus said.

In addition to national growth, PJI also has several new initiatives. They include:

•The Church Finds Its Voice, a campaign to see more churchgoers register to vote. An initial effort focused on eight congressional districts and involved 312 churches, resulting in 10,454 new voter registrations. “If a church is filled with the love of Jesus, it’s going to care for those outside the church walls,” said Dacus. “I believe voting is a manifestation of that care.”

•Production of a sexual harassment training course that reflects a conservative and Biblical worldview.

•Online Zoom conference calls held as often as every two weeks, and hosted by Dacus, that focus on current issues of legal concern for the Christian community. The calls typically now draw 1,000 or more viewers.

•Brief radio spots as well as a weekly 30-minute commentary, heard on hundreds of stations nationally and featuring Dacus.

In all it does, PJI seeks to represent God well and ultimately draw people to Him, Dacus said: “There’s only two kinds of people — those who know Jesus and those who need to know Jesus.”

For details, go to pacificjustice.org.

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