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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: March, 2018
Mar 30, 2018

Memorials are symbols meant to remind the living of the sacrifice of our fallen soldiers and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision to deny an en banc review of the Bladensburg Veterans Memorial could be setting a dangerous precedent. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Veterans’ memorials are symbols meant to remind the living of the service and sacrifice the fallen made for freedom.

That is why Gold Star mothers in 1919 started work on the Bladensburg World War I Veterans’ Memorial. They did not want the world to forget the sacrifice their sons made. So, they, along with The American Legion, erected a cross-shaped memorial. The design mirrored the universally accepted symbol erected over the thousands of graves of men who died in Europe defending freedom. No one complained for almost 100 years.

Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit refused to overturn an opinion of a panel of that court that would direct a federal district to consider whether the monument should have it’s horizontal arms removed or be razed to the ground completely.

Such a decision sets a dangerous precedent for veterans’ memorials across America. If this decision stands, other memorials will be targeted for destruction as well. We will appeal this case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

I encourage you to go to DontTearMeDown.com and join us in defending this memorial to the 49 men of Prince George’s County, Maryland killed in the line of duty during World War I.

We forget what we do not see. Unless the Supreme Court intervenes, the Bladensburg memorial and similar memorials in close by in Arlington National Cemetery may disappear as well.

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

Mar 28, 2018

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recently denied review of the court that declared a cross-shaped veterans memorial unconstitutional. A number of judges on the court disagreed with the decision and made their stances known. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


When the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit declined to review a decision of that court that said the cross-shaped Bladensburg World War I Veterans’ Memorial is unconstitutional, not all the judges agreed.

Chief Judge Gregory noted his dissent. He said, “Nearly a century ago, Maryland citizens, out of deep respect and gratitude, took on the daunting task of erecting a monument to mirror the measure of individual devotion and sacrifice these heroes had so nobly advanced. The panel majority says their effort violates the Constitution the soldiers fought to defend. I, respectfully, think otherwise.”

Judge Niemeyer said with some exasperation, “Until this action was filed by persons who claim to be offended by the presence of the monument, no complaint had been made about its presence . . .”

But, Judge Wilkinson was poetic in his dissent. He wrote, “The dead cannot speak for themselves. But may the living hear their silence . . . This memorial and this cross have stood for almost one full century. Life and change flow by the small park in the form of impatient cars and trucks. That is disturbance enough.”

He concluded simply noting that the park in which the memorial stands, “may not be Arlington National Cemetery, but it is the next thing to it. I would let the cross remain and let those honored rest in peace.”

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

Mar 26, 2018

Many know about Aaron and Melissa Klein, the bakers in Oregon who lost their bakery and were fined $135,000 because they politely refused to bake a cake that conflicted with their religious convictions. But the media doesn’t show the attacks the Kleins have faced from those in their community. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


You probably know the story of Aaron and Melissa Klein, the bakers in Oregon forced out of business and fined $135,000 by the state when they politely declined business that would have forced them to violate their religious convictions.

What you may not know is that, after the State of Oregon pronounced them guilty of discrimination, private citizens were eager to show their contempt for the Kleins.

Many of the comments they received are so vulgar that I cannot repeat them here. But, here is a tame sampling.

One person, writing on Facebook said to the Kleins, “I hope your shop burns.” Another chimed in, noting that she hoped Aaron and Melissa would “burn in Hell.”

One man sent a message that said, “I hope you lose your house and have to live on the streets.” One woman even said, “We hope your children get cancer and die.”

When the government declares that citizens like Aaron and Melissa are not entitled to the Constitution’s promises of religious liberty and free speech, its people push aside any goodwill that allows people to coexist peacefully with beliefs with which they may disagree.

Aaron and Melissa have asked the Oregon Supreme Court to review their case. We hope the court will accept the appeal, if only to remind everyone that it is possible to live peacefully as neighbors even when we disagree.

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

Mar 23, 2018

 In America, no one would stand aside while the government came in to bulldoze their house of worship, at least not without a fight. So why are Native Americans not given the same consideration when it comes to the land they view as sacred? Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Members of the Klickitat and Cascade tribes in Oregon have lost burial grounds and seen sacred artifacts bulldozed for a highway project.

For centuries, these Native Americans practiced their religion peacefully near Mt. Hood. There they buried their dead and performed a variety of religious rituals, many of which are tied closely to the earth itself.

When Highway 26 was set to be widened, the tribes alerted the Federal Highway Administration to the sacred site, including the presence of a stone altar, ancient burial ground, and trees and medicinal plans—all of which are used for the observance of their religion. But, their pleas fell on deaf ears.

The tribes filed a lawsuit asserting that the highway administration interfered with the free exercise of their religion, in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In early 2018, a federal magistrate judge recommended that the lawsuit be dismissed.

The magistrate noted that, though the sacred site was destroyed, there was no evidence that the tribes were “coerced to act contrary to their religious beliefs.”

Undoubtedly, these tribes will appeal the decision, and they should. These Native Americans view this land as their church. None of us would stand for the bulldozing of our house of worship to make way for a highway. Why should Native Americans be denied the same consideration?

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

Mar 21, 2018

Hope Rising Community Church was facing a problem when their congregation outgrew its facilities. It was a good problem to have, until the city ordered them to cease and desist all of their worship services. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Hope Rising Community Church faced a problem they really liked having: they were outgrowing their facilities.  

For a while, the room at the Penn Hebron Garden Club in Penn Hills, Pennsylvania worked all right, but it soon became clear that the growing attendance required a move. So, they signed a three-year lease on a local warehouse building, spent thousands of dollars in renovations, and made preparations to move in for their weekly worship service.

But, soon after moving in, the church received orders from the city to cease and desist all their worship services and large group assemblies. Evidently, the use of the warehouse violated the city’s zoning laws, even though parks, playgrounds, and educational institutions were welcomed.

When Hope Rising sued the City of Penn Hills under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, RLUIPA for short, a federal magistrate judge concluded the city violated federal law. Penn Hills was not treating Hope Rising on equal terms as parks, playgrounds, and educational institutions and certainly failed to show “how a religious institution would cause greater harm” in that zone than a park, playground, or educational institution.

City zoning laws are often applied in ways that are unfair to houses of worship. Federal laws like RLUIPA ensure zoning laws don’t discriminate.

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

Mar 19, 2018

Two school boards in Arkansas were told to stop opening their meetings with prayer. Of course, the advice came, not from their attorneys or the community the boards represent, but from a secularist group that just doesn’t like prayer in public. Learn what the Supreme Court and lower courts have to say about public and legislative prayers at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Two school boards in Arkansas were told to stop opening their meetings with prayer. Of course, the advice came, not from their attorneys or the community the boards represent, but from a secularist group that just doesn’t like prayer in public.

We have covered the issue of legislative prayer often on the First Liberty Briefing. By now you know that public and legislative prayer has not only been a long-standing part of our country’s history and tradition; it has at least twice been upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States. And, earlier in 2017 the United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit gave its approval to school boards opening meetings with prayer.

Perhaps these school boards in Arkansas should consider the words of Chief Justice Burger writing for the majority in the 1983 case of Marsh v. Chambers: “It can hardly be thought that in the same week Members of the First Congress voted to appoint and to pay a chaplain for each House and also voted to approve the draft of the First Amendment for submission to the states, they intended the Establishment Clause of the Amendment to forbid what they had just declared acceptable.”

County commissions, city councils, and school boards across America: don’t be afraid to pray like the Members of the First Congress.

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

Mar 16, 2018

News out of Alaska reports that officials on the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly are thinking of ending their practice of prayer prior to their meetings. Learn more about legislative prayers at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


News out of Alaska reports that officials on the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly are thinking of ending their practice of prayer prior to their meetings.

Assembly member Shaun Tacke said the move to end pre-meeting prayer is to be inclusive. Since some in the community believe in prayer before meetings and others don’t, he says, “having a strict policy of separation of church and state . . . excludes no one and includes everyone.”

I’m not sure that’s the right logic. By excluding legislative prayer, the assembly is excluding those who believe in such prayers, while favoring those who insist upon strict secularity in the public square. To quote Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in Greece v. Galloway, “Government may not mandate a civic religion that stifles any but the most generic reference to the sacred any more than it may prescribe a religious orthodoxy.”

The Supreme Court of the United States has twice explained, legislative prayers have a long history and tradition in our country, a tradition meant to lend gravity to the proceedings, while acknowledging the role religion plays in the life of our nation.

Legislative bodies like this assembly may choose to end their practice of legislative prayer, but they should understand that nothing in the history of our country or the doctrine of our Constitution compels them to do so.

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

Mar 14, 2018

A recent survey shows that universities are increasingly providing space for students of all faiths. Despite push back from groups who want all religion erased from the public square, these schools should be commended for providing meeting space for all students. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


A recent survey of Big 10 colleges reveals that universities are increasingly providing space for religious students on campus.

According to the report, these new spaces on campus serve students from a variety of faith backgrounds. Some use the rooms for prayer and others for religious gatherings.

But, not everyone thinks the rooms should be used for just religious purposes, however. The Ohio State University student government passed a resolution urging campus leaders to reconsider the interfaith space as religious-use only.

Activists off-campus questioned the University of Iowa, suggesting that setting aside rooms for use by religious students “unconstitutionally entangled itself with religion.”

That, of course, is simply the political posturing of ideologues that dislike any religion appearing in public. The efforts by these universities are to be commended. Providing space for religious students to meet is an important means of recognizing the diverse, religious background of its student body.

At the same time, it should be unnecessary. Religious students should be able to use campus space on the same terms as secular students. To the extent certain religious backgrounds require specific space, the efforts by these Big 10 universities are to be commended. Yet, it is important to remind our coeds that, as in all of life, religious liberty means religious students are to be welcomed and tolerated in the university setting.

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

Mar 12, 2018

Donna Dunbar and her husband have served their community faithfully for many years. In doing so, Donna hosts a Bible study in the social room of her condominium, that is until the condo association board adopted a new resolution, without warning, forbidding all religious activities in the room. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Donna Dunbar and her husband Clarence love to serve their community in Port Charlotte, Florida. They founded a soup kitchen, at which they donated over 4,000 volunteer service hours—an act that won them the President’s Volunteer Service Award.

But, things aren’t has rosy at their condominium. Donna is a lay minister in the Seventh Day Adventist tradition. She welcomes a few of her friends to the social room at her condo each week for a Bible study. The room is used by lots of people. Some play games there, there’s a weekly poker game, and even a regular movie night for all to attend.

Until recently, Donna’s Bible study was no big deal. But, without any announcement or warning, the condo association board adopted a resolution putting an end to the use of the common areas of the condo for religious purposes, including Donna’s Bible study. Someone even put a sign on the organ in the room that said, “Any and all Christian music is banned!”

First Liberty Institute filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development alleging that Donna’s condo broke the law with such a discriminatory policy and asking Secretary Ben Carson to undertake an investigation into this matter.

After all, such unequal treatment of citizens shows hostility to religion and violates federal law and the First Amendment.

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

Mar 9, 2018

Amish Families in the state of Maine are asking for the government to accommodate them to wear blaze red instead of orange. Learn why this accommodation could help achieve hunter safety at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Mainers want their state lawmakers to see red—at least while they’re hunting.

Amish families throughout the State of Maine hunt for their food. As you may know, the Amish religiously shun many modern conveniences, in accordance with their religious customs requiring a simple life. That includes while they are hunting.

You see, most states require hunters to wear blaze orange while hunting. This increases visibility to other hunters and increases hunter safety. But, it’s pretty flashy—too flashy, in fact, for the simple ways of the Amish. So, they are asking for a religious accommodation in the law. If approved, Amish Mainers will be permitted to wear red instead of blaze orange.

It would seem to be in the best interests of Maine to follow the lead of several states in providing this accommodation. Several Amish have pledged to disobey the blaze orange law and, if cited, refuse to pay the fine. This simple accommodation would prevent the needless punishment by the state of its religious citizens and any lawsuits challenging such a burden on the free exercise of their religion.

But, it should not have to go to court. By a simple spin of the color wheel, and a few votes in the legislature, it would seem that the state could achieve its interest in hunter safety, while honoring the religious conscience of the Amish.

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

Mar 7, 2018

The Lansing Housing Commission in Michigan allowed residents to use a community room for birthday parties, tutoring, and events. However, the commission refused to grant access to the community rooms for “religious worship, services, or programs.” Learn why religious discrimination is not cured by discriminating against all religions equally at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


The Lansing Housing Commission provides subsidized housing in central Michigan. In many of the facilities, the housing commission provides a community room. The commission often grants access to those community rooms for birthday parties, Boy Scout meetings, tutoring sessions, and other community events. However, the commission refused to grant access to the community rooms for “religious worship, services, or programs.”

His Healing Hands Medical Clinic provides a range of services to the community inside the housing commission’s facilities. When its leaders asked to use the community room for religious services on Sundays, the church was excluded. The commission explained that it was welcome to use the community room to meet the physical needs of the community, but could not “say anything about Jesus” or “bring any Bibles” with them.

In court, the commission argued that their policy was permissible because it denied use of the community to all religions equally. But, the court rejected that reasoning. Excluding all religions is the very definition of religious discrimination, which is not cured by discriminating against all religions equally.

Government commissions are not permitted to pick and choose which viewpoint it will permit in public places and which it will refuse. The First Amendment requires our government to be neutral in dealing with the various religious viewpoints that make up our public square.

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

Mar 5, 2018

A Baptist Minister in Massachusetts hauled a 1,235 pound cheese wheel the same day Jefferson wrote an infamous letter that was meant to assure the Danbury Baptists. Learn what the letter said and how a pastor and president impacted religious liberty at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Pastor John Leland, a Baptist minister in Massachusetts, celebrated Thomas Jefferson’s election from his pulpit by announcing that the congregation would make a giant wheel of cheese to honor the incoming president. So, on the morning of July 21, 1801, the congregation hauled pails of curds drawn from 900 local cows. As they pressed the cheese, they sang hymns and gave thanks for the incoming president. In the end, the cheese wheel measured four feet in diameter, thirteen feet in circumference, seventeen inches in height, and weighed 1,235 pounds.

It took months for the cheese to be hauled to Jefferson, with the accompanying Leland preaching along the way. After Jefferson received the ripening cheese, he left to attend a weekly church service held in the United States Capitol building.

That same day, Jefferson wrote what would become an infamous letter. Like Leland’s Republican, cheese-mongering congregation, the Danbury Baptists felt in the minority in Congregationalist-Federalist New England. They feared the loss of religious liberty under the new president.

His letter was meant to assure them, explaining that the First Amendment erected “a wall of separation between Church and State” meant to protect the church from the overreach of the very government Jefferson was elected to lead.

It may be a cheesy story, but that’s how a pastor and a president impacted religious liberty.

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

Mar 2, 2018

A new Supreme Court decision respects the American tradition of allowing religious ministries and organizations to pursue their missions without interference from the IRS. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


In 1977, the Internal Revenue Service tried to declare that Catholic nuns operating a hospital was not a “religious function.” Congress responded by amending the Employment Retirement Income Securities Act or ERISA to prevent the IRS from deciding what is or is not a church.

Nonetheless, class-action lawyers recently tried to argue that because some religious hospitals established pension plans, ERISA’s exemptions did not apply because those plans were not established by a church.

Well, a unanimous Supreme Court recently rejected that reasoning. The Court recognized that Congress’s amendment of ERISA continues to protect religious organizations from the burdens of ERISA, foreclosing the possibility that the IRS could bankrupt a religious organization simply because it does not believe the organization is religious enough.

First Liberty Institute filed a friend-of-the-court brief in this case on behalf of several religious organizations. As my colleague, Justin Butterfield, said of the decision in Advocate Health Care Network v. Stapleton: “The History of the United States of America is one requiring the government to respect the religious freedom and autonomy of its houses of worship and religious organizations. The Supreme Court’s decision respects that great history and tradition, allowing churches, synagogues, mosques, and religious ministries to pursue their religious mission without the weight of government bureaucracy and regulation hindering their efforts and intruding upon their mission.”

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

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