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: October, 2017
Oct 30, 2017

 Ethicists are recommending that Canadian doctors should not be allowed to opt out of providing services to patients, even if it goes against their conscience. Learn more at

A recent article out of Canada reports that ethicists are recommending that conscience laws be modified for the medical profession.

The argument suggests that physicians should not have the right to opt out of providing such services as prescribing contraceptives when a patient requests those services. According to the authors, “Doctors must put patients’ interest ahead of their own integrity. If this leads to feelings of guilty remorse or them dropping out of the profession, so be it.”

That is truly shocking language that we should take note of, especially since, as the article in the National Post points out, every country in the civilized world recognizes at least some form of conscientious objection. Not only do the authors suggest that certain professions should be closed to those whose integrity would require the abandonment of the conscience to practice, it fails to understand what conscience is.

The reason we provide protections for the exercise of conscience is because people should not be made by the government to make their conscience optional. As Dr. Robert George of Princeton University has put it, “The right of conscience is a right to do what one judges oneself to be under an obligation to do.”

We will see whether Canada takes up the proposal by its professors, but south of the border, we must be vigilant that we never permit the government to make optional what our Creator has made obligatory.

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

Oct 27, 2017

The Supreme Court has indicated that it wants to consider whether people of faith who operate a business will be welcomed to the public square or driven from it. Learn more by visiting

The Supreme Court has announced that it will hear the appeal of Masterpiece Cakeshop. You are probably familiar with at least the broad outline of the facts. A baker is approached to create a product that communicates a message he has a moral objection to creating. It is, unfortunately an all too familiar refrain these days. It’s threat to religious freedom and the freedom of speech should be obvious.

Our constitution guarantees the rights of free exercise of religion and free speech for every American. By granting review of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Supreme Court of the United States has indicated that it wants to consider whether people of faith who operate a business will be welcomed to the public square or driven from it.

Americans want a diverse public square that tolerates a variety of beliefs and opinions. We hope the Supreme Court will use this opportunity to protect people like First Liberty clients, Aaron and Melissa Klein, who have been forced out of business, penalized $135,000 and even had a gag order issued against them—all because the State of Oregon would not tolerate them operating their business according to their religious conscience.

No one should lose their livelihood because the government disagrees with their religious beliefs. Let’s hope the Supreme Court makes that abundantly clear.

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


Oct 25, 2017

The Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial was erected to honor 49 veterans who gave their lives for their nation—but one group is suing to tear it down. Find out why:

In 1925, the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial was erected to honor the 49 men of Prince George’s County, Maryland, who gave their lives in WWI. It stands outside of Washington, D.C., in the median near the National Defense Highway. This memorial—one of the oldest memorials on U.S. soil to honor the fallen of World War I—has stood without complaint for nearly a century.

For the first time in over nine decades, the American Humanist Association voiced a complaint. They filed a federal lawsuit seeking to topple the memorial because those who erected it chose the shape of a cross to honor the fallen.

One of the mothers who supported the memorial early on noted to her senator that her son died and was buried in Europe. Though she could not visit his grave there, she said, she considered the Bladensburg World War I memorial to be her son’s grave marker close to home.

First Liberty Institute, along with our volunteer attorneys at the law firm of Jones Day, represents the American Legion who erected the memorial in 1925. This memorial was erected to honor heroes who gave their lives in defense of freedom. To tear this memorial down now would not only desecrate their memory, it would demonstrate a level of hostility to religion that our Founding Fathers warned against.

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

Oct 23, 2017

When Phelan Moonsong, a 56-year old pagan priest wanted to wear his goat horns in his driver’s license picture the DMV had to accommodate his religious practice. Not all religious liberty accommodations are a like, and if we protect the religious liberty of one, we must protect it for all. Learn more: 

Phelan Moonsong doesn’t leave the house without his horns on. You heard that right, Moonsong, a 56-year-old pagan priest wears a pair of goat horns wherever he goes.

Aside from the curious looks at the supermarket, Moonsong’s horns didn’t usually present a problem. That is, until he went to the DMV.

Evidently, the folks at the local DMV didn’t recognize Moonsong’s horns as a part of his religious practice. They wouldn’t let him wear them for his driver’s license picture.

“As a practicing Pagan minister and a priest of Pan,” Moonsong told the Washington Post, “I’ve come to feel very attached to the horns, and they’ve become a part of me and part of my spirituality.”

Soon after news of Moonsong’s goat horns reached a DMV supervisor, an exception was found and he was able to have his picture taken—goat horns and all. An exception for goat horns is the same religious exception most DMV’s use for other religious head coverings, whether they be Jewish yarmulkes, Sikh turbans, Mennonite Bonnets, or even pasta strainers sometimes worn by members of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

It may seem strange to accommodate a man’s religious practice of wearing goat horns in his driver’s license photo, but no one ever said religious liberty would be routine.

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

Oct 20, 2017

Father Joseph Lafleur served the Army Air Corps as a chaplain during World War II and helped bring wounded soldiers to safety. For his bravery and service, the Army Air Corp awarded Lafleur the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and Distinguished Service Cross. Learn how Chaplain Lafleur helped other soldiers even under attack at

Father Joseph Lafleur served the Army Air Corps as a chaplain during World War II.

In 1941, Lafleur dashed about Clark Field in the Philippines amidst bombs, and flying shrapnel, pulling wounded soldiers to safety. For such bravery, the Army Air Corp awarded Chaplain Lafleur the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and Distinguished Service Cross.

Later, while imprisoned by the Japanese for three years, he never stopped his ministry of care. He worked to meet the physical needs of his fellow prisoners, often bartering with the guards for food. Once he confronted a fellow prisoner about stealing rations from other prisoners, even landing two holy punches to pacify the unruly and unrepentant soldier.

In 1944, a US submarine torpedoed Lafleur’s prisoner transport ship. Rather than abandon ship or seek to escape Japanese gunfire and grenades lobbed his direction, the chaplain worked to calm his men and help them find an escape passage. Chaplain Lafleur died as he lived: in faithful service to his fellow man.

Motivated by faith to care for their fellow man, chaplains in our nation’s service routinely steady our servicemen and women before, during, and after battle. Military chaplains navigate the evils of war to bring good to our military.

We honor Chaplain Lafleur—and all chaplains—for their dedication to the souls of our armed forces.

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

Oct 18, 2017

A Satanist was imprisoned and fined after defacing a Jewish academy’s religious objects. But he didn’t understand one important truth about religious freedom. Learn more:

Welcome to the First Liberty Briefing. I’m Jeremy Dys.

The students and faculty of the Margolin Hebrew Academy were staying overnight at the Doubletree Hotel in Jackson, Mississippi en route to Gatlinburg, Tennesee. While there, they used a meeting room at the hotel to conduct their Sabbath worship service. A Torah, religious books, and musical instruments were left in the meeting room overnight with the intention of continuing with their worship the following morning.

Justin Baker, a self-professed anti-Christian, anti-Semitic Satanist, was a security guard at the hotel that night and he discovered the religious objects. He spat on the Torah and defaced the books with profanity and phrases including “Hail Satan.”

Baker was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison for his religious discrimination and required to pay $9,999.99 in restitution damages. And, I somehow doubt he’s employed today as a security guard.

Baker may have been tempted to use religious liberty in a perverse attempt to justify his wicked actions, suggesting his adherence to the religion of Satanism motivated his actions. He would be wrong. Religious liberty is not a free pass to do what one likes. It is itself restrained for the good of religion as a whole and the dignity of the person. But, the principals of religious liberty never sanction destroying the property of another.

Rather, religious liberty demands that we respect the religions with which we may disagree. When we break that societal, social compact and deny others the freedom to exercise their religion, it is proper for the authorities to enforce the penalties of the law.

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

Oct 16, 2017

In one of the jails in North Carolina, three Jewish inmates requested permission to meet in a private room to pray and study the Torah. However, they were denied because they had less than ten people to participate, even though inmates of other faiths were permitted to meet and study their religious texts. Learn more:

The North Carolina Department of Public Safety housed Danny Loren, aka, Israel Ben-Levi, in one of their jails.

In 2012, Ben-Levi requested permission to meet in a private room with two of his fellow inmates for about an hour each week to pray and study the Torah. That request was denied because the jail administration determined that his group was too small. Inmates meeting for worship without a rabbi or volunteer chaplain had to have a quorum of at least 10 prisoners.

Other religious groups of inmates met with fewer then 10 inmates or having a volunteer supervise them. Only the Orthodox Jewish inmates—all three of them—were denied a meeting opportunity without a rabbi.

He filed a federal lawsuit under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. Both the district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit concluded there was no substantial burden placed upon the free exercise of his religion. And the Supreme Court denied review his case.

Justice Alito, however, dissented from that denial. He said that there was no “indication that a Jewish study group is more likely than a Christian or Muslim group to impede order, compromise inmate relationships, or absorb personnel resources.”

Not every claim asserted under RLUIPA is an automatic winner. But, at least this important law protecting religious liberty gave him his day in court.

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

Oct 13, 2017

When a Elementary school started treating the Good News Club, a chapter of Child Evangelism Fellowship, differently from the other after school clubs and programs, the Child Evangelism Fellowship challenged the school’s decision. Learn more:

Have you ever been concerned when you heard someone praying? Sandra McDonald was.

She was the new site coordinator for Jenny Lind Elementary school and responsible for the after-school use of the school building by groups from the community.

Child Evangelism Fellowship had a chapter of its Good News Club meeting at the school. McDonald happened by one day and was “concerned about the religious content of the . . . clubs after overhearing a prayer and reference to Jesus Christ during a . . . meeting.” Ultimately, the club was told that it would be removed from the after-school lineup of club offerings. It would still be able to meet, but the school would no longer provide the same transportation and food services that it provided for the Boy and Girl Scouts, Big Brother/Big Sister, and other clubs meeting at the same time.

Child Evangelism Fellowship challenged that decision and, in Child Evangelism Fellowship of MN v. Minneapolis Special Sch. Dist. No. 1, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit concluded that the school had been unlawfully hostile to a religious club, but favorable to similarly situated secular clubs, when it should’ve been neutral toward all clubs.

School districts should not be concerned when religious clubs act like religious clubs. And, it violates the constitution to treat them differently from other clubs.

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

Oct 11, 2017

The Oklahoma Secondary School Athletic Association (OSSAA) regulates high school sports, allowing public schools membership free of charge while requiring private schools to apply. In 1998 and 1999 the Christian Heritage Academy applied for membership and was denied. The school filed a lawsuit alleging a violation of the First Amendment. Learn more:

It’s fair to say that the State of Oklahoma takes high schools sports pretty seriously. The Oklahoma Secondary School Athletic Association, or OSSAA, regulates high school sports. Public schools are admitted freely, but private schools must apply for membership.

In 1998, Christian Heritage Academy, known widely for its 8-man football team, applied to be a member of OSSAA, but were denied. They applied again in 1999, but the majority of members rejected them a second time. That was enough for them and the school filed a lawsuit in 2003 alleging that they had been denied the equal protection of the law and deprived of their First Amendment freedoms.

The court concluded that OSSAA’s rules were discriminatory. By stating that a majority of members could simply reject religious schools over secular schools for any reason or none at all, the court found there was no legitimate purpose served. OSSAA members could, the court noted, reject applications for membership “for any reason, including dislike or distrust.”

Of course, the court was willing to allow OSSAA to chart its own membership, but it had to be fair. Creating a system that allowed ample room for members to reject religious schools just because they did not like them was not enough.

The court’s point is clear: the First Amendment requires precision. When the state acts without precision, rights can be quickly abused.

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

Oct 9, 2017

When a lone Jewish Sailor aboard a U.S. Naval vessel reached out and asked for help in celebrating the Jewish High Holy Days in 1956, the Navy and Army made it happen. The celebrating of the Holy Days that year was made possible, high above the artic circle thanks to the United States military. Learn more:

It was September 1956 and Elihu Schimmel was cold and lonely. He was stationed aboard a U.S. Naval vessel above the arctic circle. His location would account for his being cold, but he didn’t think there was much to be done about his loneliness.

Rosh Hashanah was set to begin and, aside from another Jewish sailor, Schimmel was several friends short of a minyan, a quorum of 10 Jewish men necessary for services. But, Schimmel knew there were others scattered about the fleet in the coldest theater of the Cold War.

He decided to ask the powers that be if they would help. The Navy, and the Army hitching a ride, enthusiastically agreed. The order went out that those wishing to join Schimmel aboard ship would be transported—by seaplane, launch, or helicopter—for the observance of the Jewish High Holy Days.

When the time came, 10 Jewish service men showed up—exactly enough. The Navy went further, announcing at sunset that the services were about to begin and ordering all aboard to show reverence by putting out their cigarettes.

Schimmel served out his time as a naval medical officer, but he would never forget that celebration, high above the Arctic Circle, made possible courtesy of the United States military.

And, we now won’t forget how the United States military honored the religious liberty of its service members.

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

Oct 6, 2017

To most people, a pay raise suggests the recognition of hard work and appreciation from your company. However, after organizing his fellow law professors into a union, Sheldon Gelman lost committee appointments and soon his wife, Jean Lifter, was fired. Gelman received a raise, but the number caught everyone’s attention. Learn more:

You probably have a similar opinion about pay raises that Sheldon Gelman and Jean Lifter did: they’re symbolic. Do a good job, and an increase in pay suggests that the company is grateful for the effort.

Gelman and Lifter were law professors at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. Gelman organized his fellow law professors into a union with the support of Lifter, his wife, and over the objections of management. The next Spring, the faculty, Gelman included, received a pay raise, but Gelman lost some committee appointments and, soon after, Lifter was terminated altogether.

One wouldn’t think much of it, but the dollar amount on the pay increase caught everyone’s attention. It was too intriguing to be coincidental. The newly organized union faculty received a raise of $666. Taken alongside Gelman’s loss of committee influence and Lifter’s termination, the numerals seemed to send a message. Gelman and Lifter sued alleging retaliation against a protected First Amendment freedom.

But, the Unite States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit wasn’t buying it. There were simple explanations for the pay raise amounting to apocalyptic numbers. And, while Gelman’s union organizing was certainly protected by the First Amendment, there were no facts present to suggest the law school retaliated against him for doing so.

The lesson here is clear: if your paycheck shows the supposed “Mark of the Beast,” don’t assume your employer violated the First Amendment.

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

Oct 4, 2017

The ministerial exception is an important tool that protects the rights of religious employers to determine who is fit to perpetuate the mission and message of a religious organization. So when Maria Nolen claimed she had been wrongly fired, the court ruled otherwise, protecting the Catholic Diocese’s right to employ whom they saw fit. Learn More:

Maria Nolen and St. Ann Catholic School had a falling out.

Nolen thinks her religious employer fired her from her job as principal of the school for speaking out against what she viewed as racial discrimination. The Diocese of Birmingham, Alabama, that operates St. Ann’s, said that Nolen simply wasn’t the right person to advance their religious mission.

Nolen’s responsibilities were pretty clear. As principal, she was responsible for implementing an educational atmosphere charged with the Catholic beliefs of her employer. That included monitoring lesson plans to make sure the teaching of the church was reflected in the lessons of the classroom, leading school prayers, and organizing religious activities for the students and faculty.

The court quickly determined that there was “little doubt that Nolen’s role as principal . . . falls within the general ambit of the ministerial exception.” Although she lacked the formal title of “minister,” her role clearly conveyed the church’s message and carried out its mission. Therefore, the court could not interfere with what amounts to a decision by a religious body as to who best perpetuates its religious message and mission.

The ministerial exception is an important doctrine that protects the unique aspects of a religious employer, giving relief to religious organizations from the rigors of employment law that may hamper their unique religious mission.

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

Oct 2, 2017

The United States has always had a long-standing history of respecting the faith of its service members in the military. During the Spanish-American War and World War II, there are examples of the military respecting its service members’ need to honor their duty to the Creator. Learn More:

The United States military probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the Jewish High Holy Days. Yet, thanks to our country’s dedication to religious liberty, our military has often shown its respect for the faith of its service members.

Back in 1898, during the Spanish-American War, about 5,000 Jews served in our country’s military. 4,000 of them put in for furloughs in order to attend services for the Jewish High Holidays.

By 1944, the Nazis had exterminated almost ever Jew in the French village of Verdun. A year later, 500 Jewish-American GI’s would gather in Verdun’s town square to observe Rosh Hashanah.

That same September, on the other side of the globe, B-29 crews occupied the island of Guam. For many of them, it would be their last Rosh Hashanah.   The hangar was converted to a Jewish house of worship under the direction of the commanding general for that station, himself not Jewish. Still, men of all faiths built seats, a pulpit, the Holy Ark for Scriptures, erected lighting, and even a sound system. 1,500 men would pray for “Peace to him who is far off and to him that is near.”

These are just a handful of ways in which the United States military, even during times of war, acknowledged the essence of the First Amendment: that men have a great duty to the Creator that government must respect.

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