After a picture of high school football players praying over their coach landed on the front page of a local newspaper, activists sent the school district an angry letter threatening to sue. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Whether it’s Tim Tebow, Coach Joe Kennedy, or the thousands of players taking a knee together in prayer after a game, prayer seems to be a popular theme around football.
At Reitz High School in Evansville, Indiana, the players value prayer rather highly, it would seem. That became controversial only when a picture of the players gathered in prayer landed on the front page of the local newspaper.
Activists sent the school district an angry letter, threatening a lawsuit should school officials refuse to take action. According to them, the coach was violating the law because the picture showed him surrounded by his football players and everyone appeared to be praying.
But, let’s break down that picture a little closer. Yes, the coach was in the center, surrounded by his players, but it clearly shows the players, with bowed heads and hands laid on the coach, led by one player who’s lips are forming the prayers. The players were praying for their coach.
Activists would have this coach stop up his ears and run screaming from the scene of this religious activity. But, common sense—and the Constitution—would call this hostility to the free exercise of religion by the players. Students have a first amendment right to pray for their coach and the school cannot legally stop their religious expression.
Thankfully, that’s precisely what school officials told the activists.
To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.
Before he was the CEO of the Family Research Council, Jerry Boykin was a Major in the U.S. Army. A photo recently surfaced of Boykin leading his group of 100 men in a prayer prior to their efforts to save 100 Americans who were being held hostage in 1980. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Jerry Boykin has never shied away from a fight. As the CEO of the Family Research Council today, Boykin regularly shares his opinions on a variety of issues from his religious perspective.
But, Boykin hasn’t always been at FRC. A photo recently surfaced of Boykin from 1980. The black and white photo features a youthful Boykin, a Major in the U.S. Army then, with dark hair and matching beard. He’s addressing a group of about 100 Army Delta Force operators. The room is nondescript, cement walls covered with exposed wiring with but one decoration: a poster.
That’s not just any poster. It’s a collage of the pictures of the 100 Americans held hostage in Iran. Boykin’s Delta Force was about to go rescue them. But, Boykin and his men first paused to pray.
Many might second-guess this decision. Some might suggest that it was even illegal for Boykin to use his authority to coerce his men into praying. Others might conclude that the act was little more than civil religion; a meaningless act with no more efficacy than if the operators had gathered together and yelled, “Go team!”
But for the men about to dive into the face of death and danger, prayer is what they wanted and needed. Thankfully, though our servicemembers sacrifice much in the cause of freedom, they do not give up their religious freedom.
To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.
In 1991 the ACLU sent the Milwaukee police department a letter threatening to sue at Christmas because the police had an informal practice of not serving evictions on Christmas day. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
One of my family’s Christmas traditions is to read the classic Dickens tale, A Christmas Carol. It’s a beloved classic, telling of the once miserly and miserable Ebenezer Scrooge whose disdain for all things Christmas softened when the spirits of Christmas past, present, and future force him to reconsider his ways.
One poignant scene in the story is of a young couple in great debt to Scrooge, standing on the edge of financial ruin and, perhaps, facing eviction from their home. It’s Christmas and, while the Ghost of Christmases Yet to Come forces Scrooge to look on, the couple’s worry vanishes as they learn of Scrooge’s death, knowing that anyone other than Scrooge will be more understanding of their plight, especially at Christmas.
Well, maybe the ACLU should read the book. In 1991, it sent the Milwaukee police a letter threatening a lawsuit at Christmas. You see, the local government had an informal practice of not serving evictions on Christmas day. The ACLU claimed that this violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
I’m confident that not a single founding father was enough of a Scrooge so as to contemplate that a religion would be established if the police declined to evict tenants on Christmas Day.
Perhaps the local landlord that complained—and his friends at the ACLU—need a visit from Jacob Marley.
To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.
An atheist group has attacked the state senator of Connecticut for using his personal time during the Christmas season to ring the bell outside of a local Walmart for the Salvation Army. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Maybe it’s the relentless ringing, the high-pitched clinging, or just the reminder that there’s something to this season beyond ourselves, but some find the bell ringing a little annoying. At the end of the day, though, the Salvation Army bell ringers do good work.
That’s probably why Connecticut state senator George Logan rings the bell outside of a Walmart in Naugatuck, Connecticut each year. This would be an otherwise forgettable act of kindness, except that one atheist group took their annoyance to a whole new level. They sent him an angry Christmas letter.
But, the letter was less concerned about the bell ringing and more upset that he would dare support an ostensibly religious charity. Rather than support what the group considers a “church denomination,” it strongly argued that Logan should focus his attention exclusively on secular charities. This, the group suggests, would solve any appearance of promoting religion and “prevent citizens from feeling ostracized by their elected representatives.”
Well, if it’s not clear to you, let me explain that the law does not require any elected official, during his personal time, to serve only secular charities. Indeed, the Constitution protects the right of every citizen, elected or not, to serve the charity or house of worship of his choice. The galling bigotry that this organization has evidenced toward the free exercise of this citizen is appalling—especially at Christmas.
First Liberty Institute is stepping in after the Metro system in Washington D.C. rejected an advertisement submitted by the Archdiocese of Washington D.C. for being too religious. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
The Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority, Metro for short, ferries commuters by rail and bus throughout the nation’s capitol. In addition to commuters, they also carry advertisements.
And, at Christmas time, those advertisements look very Christmasy: there are Christmas gifts pictured, lots of red and green, and not too few holiday puns designed to persuade you to buy stuff.
The Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. also submitted an advertisement. It pictured a few shepherds and sheep under a starry sky, with the message, “Find the perfect gift” scrolled artfully across the sky. At the website displayed in the ad, one finds out that the perfect gift is Jesus, “the perfect gift of God’s love this Christmas.”
But, Metro rejected the ad. Macy’s and other stores plying the Christmas theme were all right, but according to Metro, there are two halves at Christmas: the secular and the religious. Secular ads are ok, but all religious ads are forbidden.
Yep, Metro will take Santa, but not Jesus, three French hens, but not the three wise men. Even the President’s own remarks at the recent national tree lighting could not appear on the side of a MetroBus.
But, that’s not the law. First Liberty is submitting arguments to courts in Washington, D.C. explaining that what Metro is actually doing is called, “viewpoint discrimination” and it’s a type of hostility towards religion the First Amendment forbids.
With the holiday season upon us, it is important that students and teachers are aware of their religious freedom when celebrating the holidays both in and out of the classroom. To learn more: FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
As the school semester winds down to Christmas break, it’s important to take a look at all the ways students might exercise their religious freedom in celebration of the holidays.
First, schools can celebrate “Christmas” just as easily as they can celebrate “winter.” Doing so provides an educational perspective of world history and the effect of religion upon culture.
Schools can also deck the halls in Christmas decorations. Decorations can further the cultural and religious heritage educationally important to the holiday.
Third, schools can include Christmas-themed artistic expressions in school plays. As long as its presented in an objective manner reflecting the traditions of Christmas, it’s just fine.
It is fine for students to wish one another “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah” and even hand out gifts significant to their religious tradition.
As they can throughout the year, students can also reference their faith in school assignments, class discussions, and private speeches during the holidays. The First Amendment is not suspended during the Christmas season.
And, finally, school employees can discuss their religious, holiday traditions outside of their official roles as educators. This means teachers can attend Christmas parties and religious gatherings outside of work without fearing the loss of their job.
With that, perhaps the best way to conclude is merely to say: Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and best wishes for a happy new year to all our students.
When two private Christian schools were forbade by the Florida High School Athletic Association to pray prior to a championship game, First Liberty Institute filed an appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
In 2015, the Florida High School Athletic Association forbade Cambridge Christian School from praying over the loudspeaker of the Citrus Bowl ahead of the state championship football game, even though both participating teams were Christian schools and each had a tradition of prayer before games.
Praying over the loudspeaker allows students on the field, and their parents and fans in the stands, to unite prior to kickoff. But, the FHSAA believes it violates the constitution.
First Liberty Institute filed an appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit on behalf of Cambridge Christian School. We argue that by banning two private Christian schools from praying over the loudspeaker before a football game while allowing other, non-religious messages to come across the same speaker, the FHSAA is telling high school kids that prayer in public is wrong.
We hope the Eleventh Circuit will recognize this for what it is: the censorship of religious speech—because it is religious—of two private, Christian schools.
First they told religious students that if you want to pray in school, then you have to attend a private, religious school. They did, but even then they have been told they cannot pray in public. Where else do these religious students have to go? Must they now form their own league in order to exercise the rights guaranteed to them under the Constitution?
Zoning and districting laws are not only used to gerrymander. In the case of a small town in Texas, Leon Valley, a city ordinance told a church that it was not allowed to apply for a special land permit so they could host services on their property. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
Years ago, Congress realized that cities and counties could use their zoning powers to preclude houses of worship from landing in their backyard. On the face, these laws appear neutral. But, the application of these laws can often be less than equal.
That’s why Congress included the “equal terms” provision of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. That provision makes it unlawful for the government to implement a land use regulation that treats a house of worship “on less than equal terms with a nonreligious assembly or institution.”
That’s what happened in the City of Leon Valley, Texas. The Elijah Group, a church, bought property within an area of town zoned for business. The church tried to apply for a special use permit so they could have services on their property, but were told that churches weren’t allowed to even apply for one. When they tried to hold services anyway, the city obtained a temporary restraining order from the court.
Ultimately, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit concluded that the city ordinance was invalid. By preventing the church from even applying for a special use permit, the church was not being treated on the same terms as a similar nonreligious institution.
In other words, federal law requires zoning laws apply equally to every organization, religious or not. After all, that’s only fair.
The use of cross-shaped memorials has been a long standing tradition in honoring the dead. In 1915 Major John McCrae wrote the famous poem, “In Flanders Fields” and the cross reference is no mistake. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
In May of 1915, Major John McCrae buried his friend. It is believed that after the burial he penned the now famous poem, “In Flanders Fields.” This is what he wrote:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
The reference to crosses was no accident. These were the markers used for temporary gravestones across Europe. When the graves were made permanent, the world community rejected efforts to convert the temporary, cross-shaped gravestones into rounded tombstones.
That is why today, across America, many veterans memorials are cross-shaped. And, that is why we defend them. Today, “the foe” of McCrae’s poem are those wishing to purge the religious from public view, including veterans memorials bearing religious imagery. But, we will not break faith, with those who died.
Following the tragic shooting at Columbine High School, school officials invited students to decorate tiles for the interior of the building. However, when students wanted to include such phrases, as “Jesus Christ is Lord “and” 4/20/99 Jesus Wept the school district said no. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
We all know the story of Columbine High School. When the school reopened, students were nervous to walk back into the hallways in which they had been held hostage and had their very lives threatened.
School officials decided upon a project that would provide a memorial to their fellow students as well as gently reintroduce the students to the physical building.
Students were invited to decorate ceramic tiles to be installed on the interior walls of the school. Of course, there were some guidelines for the artwork: the shooters could not be named, no references to the date of the attack, nothing obscene, and no religious symbols.
Some students wished to write “Jesus Christ is Lord” and “4/20/99 Jesus Wept” on their tiles, but that broke the rules. In Fleming v. Jefferson County School District, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit determined that the project was school-sponsored speech, bearing the imprimatur of the school and involving pedagogical interests. Therefore, the school could preclude particular religious viewpoints on the tiles without violating the First Amendment.
I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision to write and I’m not sure I agree with the court’s reasoning. Nonetheless, it reveals the difficulties present when a court is asked to balance the sometimes competing speech interests of a public school and its students.
After three years of litigation First Liberty clients are seeing relief after the Obama-era “contraceptive mandate” was rolled back by the Trump Administration. The new interim final rule should provide exemptions and protection from future administrations. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
Well, looks like it’s finally over. After three years of litigation, First Liberty Institute clients, including Insight for Living Ministries and several ministries of the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination received final relief from the U.S. Department of Justice in their fight for an exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate. The mandate forced ministries and other nonprofit organizations into the position of adhering to their religious beliefs or obeying the law.
This settlement came about a month after the Trump administration announced a new interim final rule rolling back the Obama-era, so-called “contraceptive mandate” and provides exemptions that should prevent future administrations from targeting the religious conscience of these ministries.
We are pleased that our clients can now get back to serving others instead of defending themselves against the government’s attacks on their faith. This should be a decision between these ministries and the God they serve, rather than one imposed by the government.
Of course, the last three years of litigation could have been avoided entirely if the Obama administration had simply recognized that the First Amendment protects the rights of conscience of these religious ministries against an administration intent on coercing their obedience.
We are grateful that the Trump administration has agreed to end this unnecessary and harmful assault on religious liberty.
John Brooks is a firefighter in Utica, New York who has been consistently harassed for his long hair. In 2014 he vowed to live his life as a Nazirite, and promised to not cut his hair. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
Employees have a right to live according to their religious beliefs both on and off the job.
John Brooks, a firefighter and paramedic in Utica, New York, just wants to be treated like every other firefighter in his department. He feels called to serve the people of Utica while also staying true to his convictions.
In 2014, Brooks made a personal promise to God to live his life as a Nazirite based on instruction in the Biblical book of Numbers. This vow included a personal promise to God not to cut the hair of his scalp. He considers his vow one of the most important events of his life.
Since becoming a Nazirite, however, the Utica Fire Department where Brooks has served for eleven years has singled him out for religious discrimination. He keeps his hair neatly tied behind his head and several other firefighters have longer hair than him, yet Brooks’ superiors forced him to wear a special hat and even a hair net. He has experienced ongoing harassment because of his special headgear and his hairnet once interfered with his firefighting equipment during a building fire.
First Liberty is fighting for Brooks’ legal right to live according to his sincerely held religious beliefs. Utica should apologize to Brooks, grant him a religious accommodation, and treat him equally with other firefighters in his department.
Animal activists threatened the Chabad of Irvine, a small Orthodox Jewish congregation in California for its historic religious practice involving the humane killing of a chicken. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
Listeners to this podcast will recall that First Liberty represents the Chabad of Irvine, defending against a lawsuit initiated by animal rights activists against this small Orthodox Jewish congregation in California.
Kaporos is a historic religious rite that usually takes place on the eve of Yom Kippur, where the atonement of sins is contemplated through prayer and the kosher and humane killing of a chicken.
Just ahead of the 2017 observance, activists filed a new lawsuit, this time against the Cities of Los Angeles and Irvine, California, along with their police departments. The activists want the court to compel the enforcement of animal cruelty laws in a way that would prevent this religious exercise.
More shockingly, they claim that, if the police will not, these activists are prepared to place Orthodox Jews practicing kaporos under “private persons arrest.” Can you believe that? Animal activists think they can make a citizen’s arrest of fellow Americans, just because they disagree with their religious practices.
We prepared to intervene in this lawsuit to protect the Jewish community in and around Los Angeles, but thankfully we were able to secure assurances that these activists would restrain themselves.
Certainly, we can disagree with one another over matters of religion, but no one should fear being placed under arrest—by the police or fellow citizens—for peacefully exercising their religion.
After five years, a group of high school cheerleaders won their case in court after being told they could not put Bible versus on break through football banners. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
It was Friday night and the lights in Texas shone down on the field. The Kountze High School football team was about to smash through a banner and onto the field.
Holding the banner were the Kountze High School cheerleaders. Negative slogans like “Beat the bulldogs” were a thing of the past. These cheerleaders wanted to be positive. So, they looked to the Bible for a positive message they could communicate instead.
But, the school said the new banner message had to go. They had received a complaint and could not afford to take any chances. But, the cheerleaders were not about to give up.
First Liberty Institute stepped in and, for the next 5 years, represented the young women. The school argued that since the banner was on school property, the message—chosen entirely by the students and displayed on paper the student purchased and painted—was government speech and that couldn’t be religious without violating the constitution.
The court disagreed. No reasonable person would conclude that the message—scrawled in student script and held aloft by students—could be an official message of the state. Instead, the student’s message was private speech, entitled to the protections of the First Amendment.
Matthews v. Kountze Independent School District stands for the important principal that schools cannot censor, ban, or claim ownership to the private religious speech of its students.
Despite most residents being unable to identify their county seal, a federal district court ruled that the county seal of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania is unconstitutional. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
Most residents of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, probably have no idea what their county seal looks like.
It has a cow, factories, a silo, an oil lamp set on two books, a courthouse, flags and bunting, and more. Recently, a federal district court reluctantly declared the seal unconstitutional because, centered in the background of it all, is a cross.
According to the court’s opinion:
“The County has not . . . legally compelled its citizens to practice and conform to Christianity, infringed on freedom of conscience, or created political conflict between the Christian Church and other religious sects. Simply put, the County of Lehigh did not intend to ‘establish’ religion or institute a County religion.”
And, so, the court concluded:
“Lehigh County’s Seal is a passive symbol that does not coerce any citizen to practice or adhere to Christianity, and does not establish a county religion. Thus, the Seal does not violate the plain text of the Establishment Clause. Nor does it establish religion in the way the drafters of the First Amendment imagined. Higher courts, however, have delineated a different mechanism by which the court must determine whether the Seal survives constitutional scrutiny. While the court may not fully agree with the test provided, the court must apply that test.”
Well, we can only hope an appeal will change that test.
A long standing ban in the Tennessee Constitution prevented ministers from seeking elected office until 1977 despite an entire Civil War being fought to protect the rights of citizenship. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
In 1796, the State of Tennessee banned an entire class of Americans from running for elected office. The state’s founders even enshrined this prohibition in the very constitution of their own state.
Perhaps by 1977, modern society would have come to its senses. After all, an entire civil war had been fought over a state’s denial of the rights of citizenship to human beings. But, evidently the state didn’t pay attention. Some rationalized that, if the state lifted the ban, these people would exercise their powers to promote one group of people over another, violating the rigorous neutrality expected of any lawmaker.
So, given the opportunity, Selma Cash Paty filed a lawsuit to prevent Paul McDaniel from running. Maybe Paty was just trailing in the polls and this was an easy way to win. Or, maybe, it was just the entrenched discrimination made infamous by the Deep South.
Either way, McDaniel, was an ordained minister of the Gospel and his position as pastor of a Baptist church in Chattanooga was enough to disqualify him from office, according to the Tennessee constitution.
But, the justices of the Supreme Court ended the almost two-centuries of discrimination when, in McDaniel v. Paty, the justices held that state constitution’s exclusion of ministers seeking elected office violated McDaniel’s free exercise rights under the First Amendment.
Well, I think we can all say “Amen” to that.
The practice of opening government meetings with prayer has been a longstanding tradition going back centuries. However, the federal courts of appeal are split over this very practice. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
Can county commissioners open their own meetings with prayer?
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recently prohibited Rowan County’s commissioners from opening their meetings with prayer. But, the federal courts of appeal are split over whether prayers offered by legislators at local government meetings are unconstitutional. In another one of our cases, Bormuth v. County of Jackson, the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit approved of the same practice.
Opening government meetings with prayer is a centuries-old tradition that goes back to before the founding of our nation and continues to this day before Congress, statehouses, and thousands of local governments across the country. It shouldn’t be very controversial.
The Supreme Court previously approved of the long-standing tradition of “legislative prayer” and its role in solemnizing policymaking sessions, encouraging lawmakers to selflessly seek the greater good, and acknowledging the role that faith plays in the lives of millions of Americans. In 1983, in Marsh v. Chambers and then again in Town of Greece v. Galloway, the Supreme Court held that prayers offered by private citizens before government meetings are fully consistent with the Constitution and an important part of America’s history and heritage.
But, what if that citizen is an elected official? That’s the question we hope the Supreme Court will now answer.
When the United Church of Cabot in Vermont asked voters to approve repairs to its historic church building with public funds, they agreed. However, someone raised an objection, but historic church buildings deserve repairs just as much as historic secular buildings. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
In Vermont, the United Church of Cabot needed repairs. Specifically, this historic church asked the voters to consider repairing the steeple, stairwell, along with other minor repairs.
The community uses the building for a variety of meetings and events. The taxpayers were even asked whether public funds—about $10,000—should be used to pay for these repairs. When the voters agreed to the project, someone raised an objection.
A Vermont district court enjoined the repairs, concluding that the state’s constitution categorically prohibits the public funding of houses of worship. But, the Vermont Supreme Court disagreed. In sending the case back to the lower court, it said that the “plaintiffs will have to demonstrate that painting the church building and assessing its sills is more like funding devotional training for future clergy.”
Well, that’s a difficult task. If we have learned anything from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Trinity Lutheran it is that our country’s dedication to separating church and state means neutrality toward religion, rather than hostility. If Vermont expends taxpayer dollars on other historic buildings, it is anything but neutral to refuse funding for an historic church building.
The logic that claims that anything religious must be purged from public participation simply because it is religious is simply wrong, it goes against decades of precedent, and destroys our country’s rich heritage of diversity.
One cook at a Walt Disney resort was fired because he wouldn’t cut off his dreadlocks — a key component of his religious expression as a Rastafarian. Listen at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
America is home to a great diversity of cultural and religious backgrounds. Our commitment to religious liberty protects them all.
The federal government recently filed a lawsuit on behalf of a cook employed at a Walt Disney resort. The cook was fired because he would not conform to Disney’s appearance standards because doing so would require him to violate his religious beliefs.
The cook is a Rastafarian, a religious movement that began in the 1920’s and brought to prominence by singer Bob Marley. Rastafarians wear their hair in the style of dreadlocks; however, Disney doesn’t allow dreadlocks to be worn by cooks—even if those cooks keep their locks under cover while at work.
The same law that protects a Rastafarian from unfair treatment by his employer protects the rights of Jewish men to wear their beards long and Mennonite women to wear their head covering at work. As Justice Scalia explained in the case of EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch: “Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964] does not demand mere neutrality with regard to religious practices…. Rather, it gives [religious employees] favored treatment…Title VII requires otherwise-neutral policies to give way to the need for an accommodation.”
In other words, Religious liberty seeks to respect legitimate business concerns and functions, so long as those goals accommodate a mutual respect for the free exercise of religion.
Do employers have to accommodate their employees’ religious exercise? The answer at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Lois Davis worked as an IT specialist near Houston, Texas. In 2011, her county employer was working to install all new personal computers, network components, and a/v equipment. In order to complete the project, the IT staff would be required to work through the weekend of the Fourth of July.
Davis however, had a short conflict. That Sunday, July 3rd, her church was having a very special service requiring her attendance and participation. She informed her supervisor of the conflict, offered to return to the office as soon as her religious commitment was complete, and even explained that there was a ready and willing volunteer to cover the time that she would be unavailable.
Typically, employers are required to accommodate the exercise of an employee’s religion. However, employers are not required to so accommodate if doing so would cause an “undue hardship” to their business.
And that is exactly what Davis’ employer argued, but the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. The court explained that it may not be an undue hardship for an employer to allow its employee 3 hours to attend a religious service—especially when that employee had arranged for a volunteer substitute to cover her responsibilities while away.
Accommodating the religion of an employee can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. Davis’ case is a good reminder that the goals of an employer need not conflict with the ability of an employee to freely exercise her religion.
When a high school graduating class was told they could not sing a rendition of the Lord’s Prayer, they stood up for their religious freedom and recited it instead. Listen now to hear about this incredible stand for religious freedom at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Every high school graduation has its own traditions. For one East Liverpool, Ohio, high school, the tradition had been for the graduates to sing a rendition of The Lord’s Prayer as part of the ceremony.
But, in 2016, a secular activist group got wind of the decades-old tradition and, for the first time in decades, complained, putting an end to the practice.
The song of the graduates was silenced, by order of the school board, but that’s not the end of the story. Toward the end of the ceremony, the graduates recited the Lord’s Prayer. It started with just a few, then more, until the entire class was on their feet quoting the Lord’s Prayer from memory.
The students were not only technically right (they had only be instructed not to sing the Lord’s Prayer), they were right on the law as well. You might call it an act of civil disobedience, but you cannot argue with the fact that it was, in fact, private speech. That is, it was the speech of the students and not, as the original complaint alleged, the official speech of the government endorsing religion.
Students should be reminded that their speech is the most protected at school and they ought never to be intimidated when speaking about their faith, whether in class or at graduation.
High school student John Raney was told that religious schools were illegal in New York. But the Equal Access Act of 1984 says something different. Find out what at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
John Raney was a student at Ward Melville High School on Long Island, New York. He wanted to start a student club that would do acts of service to the community and encourage fellow students in their faith.
So, he did what the leaders of the chess club the fishing club the Frisbee club had done: he applied to form an extracurricular club at the school. But, the administrators of his high school denied the application, saying that, despite the school having 41 different student clubs, religious clubs were illegal in New York.
First Liberty, along with our volunteer attorneys at McDermott, Will & Emory, sent a demand letter to the school, explaining that the Equal Access Act of 1984 required the school to permit John’s religious club. The school quickly agreed to support John’s club.
You would think that would be the end of it, but a year later, when John went to renew his club’s application for his senior year, he was denied again. Another demand letter did the trick and John’s club was able to continue doing good for their school and for his community.
The Equal Access Act of 1984 says that a school must allow religious clubs at public schools if it offers support to secular extracurricular clubs on campus. Student religious clubs may not be treated differently by public school administrators simply because they are religious in nature.
The Florida Department of Corrections stopped accommodating inmates who kept a kosher diet because it was “too expensive.” Find out what happens at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
Since the 1990’s, the Florida Department of Corrections has offered its inmates various menus, ranging from its regular fare to meatless meals and even vegan offerings. In 2004, inmates began having the option of kosher meals as well, but that stopped three years later.
That is when the Federal government decided to step in to investigate why religious inmates requesting kosher meals were being denied. Following a lengthy investigation, the United States government filed a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Corrections. Incredibly, the Secretary for the Florida prisons argued that the reason Florida denied kosher meals to religious inmates was that such meals were just too expensive.
In July of 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit rejected Florida’s denial of kosher meals to inmates. The Eleventh Circuit grounded its decision in the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, sometimes called “RLUIPA,” and reminded the Florida legislature that it has a duty to ensure that its prison system was adequately funded in order to meet the religious needs of its inmates.
But why so much fuss about the religious liberty of criminals? The reason we bother protecting the religious liberty of inmates is very simple: religious liberty is a right endowed to us by our Creator; it is a right common and connected to our humanity. Though felons forfeit much liberty in the penal system, they do not forfeit their humanity.
Does a sign pointing out directions to a church violate the First Amendment? This court said no. Find out why at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Along the side of the road in the Pennsylvania town of Shickshinny Borough is a small sign. On the sign, appear the words, “Bible Baptist Church Welcomes You…one block” and it features a Bible, a cross, and an arrow pointing in the direction of the church.
The sign has been on the side of the road since 2008 when the city council approved its placement, at the cost of the church, replacing a sign there sign that had been standing nearby since the 1980’s.
The individual complaining about the sign was the lone vote on the city council against its placement when that council approved its placement. She also happens to be able to see the sign from her home. She filed this lawsuit four years after the sign was erected alleging that the sign was a religious sign and, since the city council approved of its placement and permitted it to reside on the side of the road, the town was violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
The court agreed that the sign was a religious sign, but it dismissed the lawsuit anyway. The court said that no reasonable observer could conclude that a sign pointing out the direction to a church building could be the government’s way of establishing a religion in violation of the First Amendment.
Rather, to quote the court, “A reasonable observer would think it is a sign to a church and nothing more.”
Justice Alito is a proven defender of religious liberty. You may recall he authored the court’s opinion in Hobby Lobby, protecting the religious consciences of family-owned businesses. Learn how he’s challenging Americans to protect religious liberty at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito recently gave remarks to a group in New Jersey. His 45-minute presentation proved to be quite sobering.
Justice Alito is a proven defender of religious liberty. You may recall he authored the court’s opinion in Hobby Lobby, protecting the religious consciences of family-owned businesses. In other opinions, he has warned of the impact the sexual revolution may inflict upon the religious liberty of Americans.
In his latest remarks, however, Justice Alito told the audience, “You don’t need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. A wind is picking up that is hostile to those with traditional moral beliefs.”
But, the good justice ended with a word of caution and challenge. He said, “We are likely to see pitched battles in courts and Congress, state legislatures and town halls. But the most important fight is for the hearts and minds of our fellow Americans. It is up to all of us to evangelize our fellow Americans about the issue of religious freedom.”
That’s where you and I come in. Freedom—and especially religious freedom—is not a given in human history. It is something each generation must renew for itself. Telling the story of religious liberty, and its blessings, to one another is part of our responsibility as Americans. It’s also how we preserve liberty.