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First Liberty Briefing

First Liberty Briefing is an exclusive podcast hosted by First Liberty Institute’s Senior Counsel Jeremy Dys. In about 90-seconds, three times a week, Jeremy recalls the stories that have shaped America’s religious liberty, from the founding era to current legal battles and more. It’s an insider’s look at the stories, cases, people, and laws that have made America the world’s leader in protecting religious liberty.
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Now displaying: August, 2017
Aug 30, 2017

An atheist group attacked Sergeant Larry Gallo and his family after they were featured in an Air Force publication highlighting their medical missions trip to Central America. The group went as far as equating their missions trip to the Crusades and demanding that the publication be removed. To learn more: FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


They were sick of a commercialized Christmas. The presents and general distraction from what they believed to be a season meant to remind us of something deeper led Larry Gallo and his family to look for something different.

So, they left behind the packages and bows to serve the less fortunate in Central America. Larry’s girls are physician’s assistants so it was natural for them to take on a medical missions role. Larry, a maintenance engineer, discovered that the kids in line needed some company. So, as his daughters provide the medicine, Larry kept the kids happy. So, what’s the problem?

Well, Larry Gallo is better known as Sergeant Larry Gallo. When the U.S. Air Force featured Gallo’s story in one of their publications, an atheist group said the article violated the First Amendment. They even alleged that Gallo’s story, “emboldens our Islamic enemies because we look like Crusaders and it enrages our Islamic allies.” They wanted the article taken down.

After a quick Internet search recently, I discovered that the article in question is still active on an Air Force website—and it should be. The Air Force should never cave to demands of censoring religion from public view. It should never punish those service members who put service over self, even outside the line of duty.

To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.

Aug 28, 2017

Two new West Point cadets have a religious objection to wearing the traditional “tar bucket” hats when on parade. They are Sikh, and wearing their turbans is an important religious observance for these men. Will the United States Army extend their religious accommodations to the parade grounds? Learn more: FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


Two new cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point do not want to wear the tar bucket.

If you’re not familiar with the uniform of West Point cadets, when on parade, cadets wear a plumed shako hat or, as they are commonly called, a “tar bucket.” The cadets object to wearing the hat because it would force them to remove their turban. That is a problem chiefly because the cadets are Sikh and the turban is a religious observance for the men. 

So, while the United States Army has provided accommodation for Sikh soldiers in the past, this new lawsuit questions whether that accommodation need extend to the parade grounds. And, it is an interesting question. Clearly, forcing the cadets to remove their turban would be, in the words of the cadets, “blasphemous.” Yet, there is something to the tradition and uniformity found in the military dress of our nation’s military academies. 

Congress, thankfully, has helped provide guidance in the settling of such matters. In the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Congress insists that the government identify its compelling interest and restrict the free exercise of religion in the least restrictive manner possible whenever a citizen alleges a substantial burden to his free exercise of religion. RFRA does not guarantee an outcome in any case. But, it does make the government justify its behavior.

To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.

Aug 25, 2017

Every year, First Liberty presents The Phillip B. Onderdonk, Jr. Religious Liberty Award to a hero of religious liberty. This year on the stage of the 99th National Convention of The American Legion, First Liberty presented the Onderdonk Award to Senator Ted Cruz. Learn more about this prestigious award by visiting FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Every year, First Liberty presents The Phillip B. Onderdonk, Jr. Religious Liberty Award to a hero of religious liberty.

This year, on the stage of the 99th National Convention of The American Legion, First Liberty presented the Onderdonk Award to Senator Ted Cruz.

Before he was a presidential candidate or United States Senator, Ted Cruz volunteered his time as lead counsel on First Liberty cases. He was lead counsel in defense of the Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial Cross. Cruz even took the time to travel to the Mojave Desert and visit with the memorial’s caretaker as we, on behalf of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and The American Legion, worked together successfully to keep the memorial from being torn down.

Later, Cruz would work with us to defend against the Veteran Administration’s unlawful requirement that a minister could not pray in Jesus name at the funeral of veterans.

Ted Cruz has a lengthy history of defending religious liberty—the very religious liberty that the men, honored with veteran’s memorials across the country, fought to defend.

I would encourage you to go to FirstLiberty.org/Award today to learn more about this award and see the Military Service Tribute Edition Henry Repeating Rifle that serves as the award.

Congratulations, Senator Cruz, on receiving The Phillip B. Onderdonk, Jr. Religious Liberty Award.

To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.

Aug 23, 2017

Orthodox Jewish residents asked their city for permission to attach small black strips or “lechis”, to set boundaries for their religious practice of the Sabbath but the city denied their request. Learn how this case affects the free exercise of religion in America by visiting FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Jewish members of the Orthodox faith cannot push or carry objects outside their home during the Sabbath. However, for two millennia throughout the entire world, their religious tradition has expanded their home area with the creation of an eruv. But, not in New Jersey.

In the Borough of Tenafly, Orthodox residents asked the city for permission to attach small black strips, called lechis, to the telephone poles in order to set the eruv boundaries. These strips are nearly identical to ordinary ground wires and certainly less noticeable from the holiday displays, signs pointing out directions to local churches, or even house numbers the city permitted on the poles on a case-by-case basis.

But, the city would not allow the eruvs. As a result, the Orthodox community was homebound. Mothers couldn’t push their babies in strollers to the synagogue. They couldn’t even carry their prayer books to the synagogue. Without court intervention, the city’s action would effectively prevent the Orthodox community from practicing their faith entirely.

Thankfully, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit realized this grave First Amendment violation. It concluded that the “government cannot discriminate between religiously motivated conduct and comparable secularly motivated conduct in a manner that devalues religious reasons for acting.”

Singling out the religious conduct of one group not only prevents the free exercise of that faith group; it damages everyone’s religious liberty.

To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.


Aug 21, 2017

In 1983, a Bethel High School student proudly nominated his friend for a student government position and used vulgar language while doing so. Learn what the Supreme Court said about regulating student speech and expression by visiting FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Matthew Fraser was a dedicated friend. In April of 1983, the Bethel High School student took to the stage of a school assembly to proudly nominate his friend for a student government position.

As about 600 high school students listened, he . . . well, perhaps the best way to describe his speech is to quote Justice Burger’s description of it. He wrote, “Fraser referred to his candidate in terms of an elaborate, graphic, and explicit sexual metaphor.”

Well, you can probably spot the problem. Bethel, like a lot of high schools had a policy against the use of lewd, obscene, and profane language. So, the next morning, the school informed Fraser that he had broken the rules and would be appropriately disciplined.

Fraser didn’t like that. He claimed, in a federal lawsuit, that the policy violated his First Amendment rights. But, the Supreme Court disagreed. The court explained that, while students retain First Amendment freedoms at school, school officials may still prevent vulgar and lewd speech—like Fraser’s—that undermines the educational mission of the school.

Bethel School District v. Fraser reminds us that school officials can permit student religious speech and expression without losing the ability to regulate vulgar student speech that undermines the educational mission of the school. School officials who try to censor student religious speech face an uphill battle. 

To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.

Aug 18, 2017

In 1963, the Supreme Court of the United States ended the public reading of the Bible in public schools. So, can the Bible be taught in public schools? Learn the answer by listening at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


In 1963, the Supreme Court of the United States ended the public reading of the Bible in public schools.

For years, students in the School District of Abington Township listened to a student read a passage from the Bible, recite the Lord’s prayer, provide announcements, and end with everyone reciting the pledge to the American flag together. That was too much involvement by the school for the court. The court determined that neutrality had been breached and a violation of the Establishment clause had occurred. 

But, the question remains: can you teach the Bible in the public schools? The answer is yes.

At the end of the court’s opinion in Abington v. Schempp, the court noted:

“[I]t might well be said that one’s education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization. It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment.”

So, the Bible can be taught in the schools. Exactly how is a more difficult conversation.

To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.

 

Aug 16, 2017

After three years of litigation, Cornerstone Church by the Bay wins their case and can use their own property to minister to the community. Learn more about how First Liberty defended this church against the south Texas city’s zoning laws by visiting FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


After three years of litigation, Cornerstone Church by the Bay wins their case and can use their own property to minister to the community.

The south Texas church, and the private school that it runs, purchased property that they hoped would allow them to leave their rented space and continue their ministry on their own property. But, the city’s zoning laws were confusing. It allowed non-religious institutions to occupy that part of town, but the zoning rules did not allow churches there. When the church asked for a special use permit, the town’s Board of Aldermen denied the request, keeping churches from operating in that area.

Left with no other option, Cornerstone turned to First Liberty. We filed a lawsuit on their behalf alleging that the town’s zoning actions violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act along with the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Not long after, the court granted our request for a preliminary injunction while the litigation continued.

But, the town has decided to quit that litigation. In settling with Cornerstone, the Town of Bayview agreed to issue the special use permit the church requested over three years ago. 

Houses of worship have legal rights that must be respected by local government officials. This church is now free to serve their community, on their own property, as every church should be.

To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.

Aug 14, 2017

The State of Florida has provided a religious exemption for parents who, for religious reasons, object to their children receiving immunizations. One parent invoked his exemption but did so at a private religious school. Learn what a state appellate court had to say about the case by listening to FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


The topic of immunizations can be controversial to many.  Some even have a religious objection to having their children immunized as a requirement to attend public schools.

Those objections often fall on deaf ears, but some states have provided for a religious exemption for parents who, for religious reasons, object to their children receiving the needle.  Florida falls into that category. 

So, naturally, when Patrick Flynn informed his Florida school that he was invoking that exemption, he was surprised to hear the school refuse to follow the law.  So, he filed a lawsuit.

Now, there’s an important fact that I haven’t told you yet: the school is a private, Catholic school.  It’s not a public school.  As such, it is itself protected by the First Amendment to make its own policies in keeping with their faith. 

A unanimous state appellate court sided with the Catholic Diocese, citing the doctrine of church autonomy.  Siding with Flynn would “further his own religious views at the expense of the Diocese's on the topic of immunizations,” wrote the court. “We are convinced that a secular court should not be making the judgment as to which side's religious view of immunization is to be respected.”

In other words, while Flynn has a right to the protection of his religious beliefs, he may not use the state’s judicial arm to compel a private, religious institution to depart from its religious beliefs. 

To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.

Aug 11, 2017

The State of Florida has a new law on religious liberty. The “Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act” codifies much of the case law protecting religious expression in public school. Learn more about what this means for students and school employees by listening to FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


The State of Florida has a new law on religious liberty. The “Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act” codifies much of the case law protecting religious expression in public school.

Under the new law, schools are instructed to treat voluntary student religious expression in the same way as other viewpoints being expressed. Students are given the backing of the state in their manner of religious dress. Groups of students are given the space to form student religious clubs and gather to pray, just like any other club.

School employees benefit under the law as well. The new law expressly states, “Employees may not be prevented from participating in religious activities on school grounds that are initiated by students at reasonable times prior to or after the school day.”

Finally, the law requires the Florida Department of Education to develop a model policy establishing a limited public forum at certain times for the voluntary expression of religious viewpoints by students and personnel. This provision, which is required to be adopted by each school district throughout the state, will undoubtedly provide direction for how to handle things like graduation speeches, school board meetings, and maybe even ahead of athletic contests.

There’s nothing earth-shattering in this new law, but whenever a state takes the time to codify what the courts have determined the First Amendment requires, it’s a good thing for religious liberty.

To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.

Aug 9, 2017

Harbor Missionary Church was required by the city of San Buenaventura, California to file for a conditional use permit in order to continue their homeless ministry. The city denied the permit without much of an explanation. Learn more about the case by visiting FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Ministry to the homeless is a difficult, often thankless task for many houses of worship. Some cities tend to make it even harder.

 Harbor Missionary Church in the city of San Buenaventura, California had what appeared to be a thriving ministry to the homeless. But San Buenaventura required the church to file for a conditional use permit in order to continue the ministry. They did and were hopeful when the city staff recommended that the permit be issued. But, the city planning commission denied the permit outright and without much of an explanation.

The church filed a lawsuit alleging that the denial violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act or RLUIPA. On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the church argued that the city had substantially burdened their religious exercise. In fact, without help from the Ninth Circuit, the church would be forced to sell its property and raise $1.4 million in order to relocate their homeless ministry. Thankfully, the Ninth Circuit concluded that the city had violated RLUIPA by denying the special use permit.

Zoning laws are important to local government, but they can be used to prevent the free exercise of religion as well. When they do, RLUIPA provides a check on the government’s exercise of authority against a religious organization’s religious liberty.

To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.

Aug 7, 2017

A case out of New York City involved activists attempting to stop Orthodox congregations from performing an ancient Jewish ritual called “kaporos”. Learn what the court affirmed during the appeal process by listening to FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


If you are a regular listener to this program, you’ve heard the term “kaporos” before. You know that First Liberty represents the Chabad of Irvine against efforts by animal rights activists trying to end their millennia-old religious tradition. 

We previously discussed a case out of New York City in which activists attempted to stop Orthodox congregations from performing this ancient Jewish ritual. Kaporos requires the participant to wave a chicken over his head while reciting a prayer that contemplates his own mortality and the redemption of his sins. The chicken is then slaughtered in Kosher fashion. 

Well, in New York City, activists complained that this posed a public health hazard. According to the complaint, feathers, blood, and chicken parts flowed in the streets, gagging passersby. But, the court rejected the complaint and refused to compel city officials to put an end to the practice.

Now, on appeal, the court has affirmed that decision, explaining: “Rituals involving animal sacrifice are present in some religions and although they may be upsetting to nonadherents of such practice, the United States Supreme Court has recognized animal sacrifice as a religious sacrament and decided that it is protected under the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution.”

That’s the point of the First Amendment: to protect your right to freely exercise your religion, even if someone else finds it upsetting.

To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.

Aug 4, 2017

A court found that it could only make decisions based on practical and secular issues after a former Catholic school employee chose to file a discrimination lawsuit against the institution. Learn why the court affirmed the school’s right to make employment decisions by visiting FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


Joanne Fratello was hired as the high school principal at St. Anthony’s School in New York.

She was efficient in carrying out the religious mission of the school. She intimately managed how the education the students received was infused with the religion of the Catholic church. She personally led prayers for the students over the loudspeaker. She even approved hymn selections and the selection of participants of annual Masses at the school.

Fratello’s supervisors found her efforts praiseworthy. They even extended her contract. We don’t quite know what happened, but Fratello was suddenly fired. Hurt and angry, Fratello filed a lawsuit, alleging discrimination.

A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit concluded that the school was able to claim Fratello as a minister, one who carries out the religious function of the school’s religious mission. Therefore, the ministerial exception barred her claims of employment-discrimination. 

As the court concluded, “Judges are not well positioned to determine whether ministerial employment decisions rest on practical and secular considerations [that] though perhaps difficult for a person not intimately familiar with the religion to understand, are perfectly sensible—and perhaps even necessary—in the eyes of the faithful.”

In other words, sometimes religious freedom means allowing religious organizations to be religious, even if you don’t understand their religious reasons why.

To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.

Aug 2, 2017

Seth Clark, a salutatorian from Akin, Illinois decided to quote the Bible in his graduation speech. A community member complained that religious content would be shared on school grounds. But there’s a neat and surprising story. Listen to how the situation turned out by listening to FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Akin, Illinois is a small town in the heartland of our country. There you will find salt-of-the-earth folks growing the crops that feed the rest of us. Everyone knows everyone, so it was no surprise when the Clark’s boy, Seth, was announced the salutatorian of his graduating grade school class.

But, when word got around that Seth was going to quote from the Bible in his speech, someone complained. That complaint reached the school board and, soon enough, Seth was told that the Constitution would not let his speech with religious content be delivered on school grounds, to a captive graduation ceremony audience. 

Well, that was that…or so it seemed.

The story has a bit of a surprise ending. A neighbor who lived across from the school offered up his front porch. So, when it came time for Seth’s speech, the audience turned around. There, on the front porch of this iconic Midwestern town was Seth Clark holding forth, giving the speech that he always wanted to give.

Perhaps you live in one of those towns where folks still stop to chat on the front stoop on a cool summer’s evening. If not, you need to know that the Constitution never requires a student’s private remarks be given on private property.

“It was the proudest moment of my life,” said Seth’s Mom. Well, I suppose it was.

To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.

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