Robert Muise has spent the past 12 years in state and federal courts defending religious liberty, freedom of speech, the traditional family and the sanctity of life. In January of this year, he co-founded the American Freedom Law Center and was one of the first to file a lawsuit challenging the Health and Human Services mandate, on behalf of Priests for Life.
He spoke with Register correspondent Bob Horning.
Why did you go into law?
As a Marine officer commissioned in 1987, I took an oath “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” My focus then was on foreign enemies. I served as an infantry officer and deployed all around the world, including to the Persian Gulf during the first Iraq War in support of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
When we elected Bill Clinton as president in 1992, I became fearful about where our country was heading and that our Constitution might soon need defending at home, too. Like it or not, the courtroom is where the fight for faith and freedom is being fought. The direction of things like abortion and “gay rights” are being decided not in the legislative process, but in the legal system. I wanted to be at the front of this battle — a battle for America’s soul.
I was accepted to Notre Dame Law School with the help of professor Charles Rice, who teaches there and is a graduate of Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., as I am. After graduation, I served as a Marine judge advocate for several years; then I resigned my commission in 2000 as a major and began practicing in the private sector, handling constitutional cases.
Did anything in your childhood presage your career?
My three brothers and I grew up in Methuen, Mass., about 20 miles north of Boston. My father drove a delivery truck for a bread company, and we lived in a small, three-bedroom house. My dad was a Marine, and his dress blues were always hanging in the hallway closet. My brothers and I took turns wearing the uniform jacket and marching around the house. Two of my brothers also became Marines. Our dad, who died when I was 14, told us, “We live in the greatest country in the world, and it’s our responsibility to fight for it.” Between sports (I was captain of both my high school baseball and soccer teams) and the Marines, it was total testosterone in our house.
I hear the gender pendulum has swung to the other end with your children.
My wife, Christine, and I have 12 children. I like to say that all of them are boys, except 10. The first nine were girls.
What is the biggest threat to America today?
The erosion of the values America was built upon: freedom of religion and speech, the traditional family and sanctity of life. The strength of our nation lies in its commitment to a Judeo-Christian heritage and moral foundations and to an enduring faith and trust in God and his providence. We are losing these things, and we are losing the constitutional rights that were designed to protect our freedoms. Secular progressives have an agenda and know that Christians and Christian principles are their main obstacle. They don’t want us to be able to fight back. At the end of the day, it’s a battle between good and evil.
Can you give a couple of examples?
Yes. I’ll cite a couple cases we are working on in addition to our constitutional challenge to the HHS mandate. You can read about these, plus many more, on our website. We are defending an African-American Christian who was an associate vice president for human resources at the University of Toledo and who responded to a newspaper article comparing the struggles of homosexuals to the civil-rights struggles of African-Americans. Ms. Dixon objected to that comparison and wrote her own, personal opinion piece in response. For expressing her religious beliefs in the newspaper, she was fired (Crystal Dixon v. University of Toledo).
A man who has had a Nativity display every year for 63 years on a median at an intersection in Macomb County, Mich., was told to remove it because of a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (John Satawa v. Macomb County Road Commission). I recently argued that case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and based on the questioning from the judges, I am cautiously optimistic that we will have a favorable outcome.
You said that you filed a lawsuit against the HHS mandate. On what grounds? Why are it and Obamacare bad law?
Both the HHS “contraception mandate” and the individual mandate to purchase health insurance under Obamacare are unconstitutional. Both cases transcend the health-care debate and are, ultimately, all about our Constitution and the conflict between the power of the federal government vis-à-vis the liberty interests of those it governs. Consequently, these are not just Catholic issues; they are American issues.
Under Obamacare, Americans are being forced for the first time in our history to buy a particular product — in this case, health insurance. Unfortunately for all Americans, the Supreme Court recently upheld the power of the federal government to impose such mandates under Congress’ power to tax and spend. While the court held that Congress cannot command us to purchase health care under the Commerce Clause, it can nonetheless penalize us under the taxing and spending power if we don’t. In short, even if Obamacare was a perfect solution to the problems with our health-care system, because it erodes the Constitution, everyone loses.
If the HHS mandate is successful in its attempt to force religious institutions and others to provide free contraceptives and abortifacients in their health plans, what will they try next? Restrict the number of children in a family by citing “health” concerns or the cost to society, particularly if the child is expected to be born with a serious health condition? Will the government give rewards for not having children or impose penalties for having too many? This administration’s policies are leading us down the road toward a China-like one-child policy. This is plainly a battle between the culture of life and the culture of death.
I tell people who aren’t Christian or Jewish that they should still be thankful for our Judeo-Christian heritage enshrined in the Bill of Rights because that’s what protects them from governmental tyranny.
I notice that you are involved with a number of cases dealing with Islam and/or sharia law.
My partner, David Yerushalmi, is Jewish. Among other things, he is an expert in constitutional law, with an emphasis on the First Amendment. He is also considered an expert on Islamic law and its intersection with Islamic terrorism and national security.
I will tell you briefly about two cases. Christian missionaries were handcuffed and jailed for sharing the Gospel to Muslims at an Arab festival in Dearborn, Mich., because they were allegedly disturbing the peace. A four-minute video on our website shows what happened and helped us win the criminal case. This case is a prime example of the “civilization jihad” being waged within our borders (Acts 17 v. City of Dearborn).
In another case (Nieto v. Flatau), I successfully challenged a speech restriction at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., that prohibited a retired combat Marine, who was grieving the loss of his son killed by Islamic terrorists on the USS Cole, from displaying decals and signs on his vehicle condemning such acts because officials claimed that the decals and signs would offend Muslims. It shows the influence of political correctness when it comes to Islam.
There are other cases where we are fighting the use of sharia law in the U.S. court system, since it is already being used in some jurisdictions. David Yerushalmi has written legislation called “American Laws for American Courts,” which we hope will be passed in more states, just as it was recently in Kansas. It basically restricts the application of a foreign law that would violate the right of a citizen granted under the U.S. Constitution.
Why is sharia (Islamic law) detrimental?
It is antithetical to our fundamental principles. Under sharia, there is no freedom of religion, no free speech, women are treated as second-class citizens, and the law has to come from Allah. It denies liberties and is therefore a threat to the Constitution.
Most people don’t know that 80% of the mosques in the United States distribute literature that promotes violence against nonbelievers. This statistic is based upon a peer-reviewed study published in one of the most prominent journals on terrorism. And
, in its own writings, the Muslim Brotherhood states that its goal is to destroy America from within.
Do you foresee, then, the real possibility that freedoms we have always enjoyed as a country could be lost?
President Reagan said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.” We are a blessed nation, but if we turn our backs on God, the consequences will be dire.
How do you prepare spiritually for your cases?
I pray a lot, especially since litigation is like constantly having final exams. I do the Liturgy of the Hours every morning with my family. I go to daily Mass when I can, though traveling so much makes it difficult. With a busy schedule and a large family, I ask the Lord to multiply my time like he did the loaves and fishes.
Being partners with an Orthodox Jew helps. David says, “I work hard 24/6,” and he completely unplugs on the Sabbath. I try to do the same on Sunday.
What will it take to wake up America to the threats that you mention?
We are perilously close as a culture to the point of no return. My hope is that people are waking up, especially due to some of the things this administration has done. I think President Obama overplayed his hand with the HHS mandate. He expected the bishops to fold. They didn’t; they said, “No.”
One reason we file lawsuits is to educate people as to what is happening in our country. We always take a case expecting to win, but even if we don’t, we can get our message out. We also let the other side know that we won’t take their secular agenda sitting down. For too long the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] has been going unchecked.
We need Americans to exercise their rights, to stand up for their rights, to be willing to be a plaintiff. We can’t go to court without a plaintiff.
Do you want to give up sometimes, thinking the culture is turning too quickly and is too far gone? We are in danger from those who have an anti-Christian bias and who want to take away our rights so they can advance their agenda. But I will never give up, never lose hope. It only makes me want to work harder, to sharpen my sword and keep going. Marines and Christians don’t quit.
Register correspondent Bob Horning writes from Ann Arbor, Michigan.