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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: April, 2018
Apr 30, 2018

The Akebono Brake Corportaion hired Clintoria Burneett in 2014 to fulfill the job of Washer Inspector. But when her religious beliefs prohibit her from wearing pants, the company sought to withdraw their offer of employment. Learn more about Clintoria’s story at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


The Akebono Brake Corporation hired Clintoria Burnett in 2014 at one of its South Carolina automotive brake manufacturing locations as a temporary worker.  Burnett is an adherent to the Apostolic Faith Church of God and True Holiness.  Her faith requires that she cannot wear pants and, even since she was a small child, has only worn skirts and dresses.

When Burnett received the offer for the job of Washer Inspector, she was wearing an ankle-length skirt.  When she was told that she would have to wear pants to perform her job, the company withdrew their offer of employment.  According to the complaint filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the company, “failed to engage in anyform of interactive process regarding a religious accommodation for Burnett, and failed to consider any potential accommodation of Burnett’s religious beliefs.”

Once an employer knows of an employee’s religion, it is required by law to at least make an effort to accommodate ordemonstrate why such an accommodation would work an “undue hardship” upon the business.

Companies often have difficulty staffing positions and safety regulations can make that task even more difficult.  Yet, it is vital that companies maintain our national commitment to religious liberty and human dignity by at least trying to find a way to accommodate an employee’s religious liberty at the job site. 

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

Apr 27, 2018

Two active duty chaplains prayed at an event held to honor outgoing congressman Randy Forbes. An activist group insisted that the Department of Defense investigate the matter thoroughly, review the content of the prayers offered by these chaplains, and discipline the chaplains for participating in what it called a, “fundamentalist Christian supremacy event.” Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


The group known as the Chaplain’s Alliance for Religious Liberty recently gathered to honor outgoing congressman Randy Forbes. At least two, active duty chaplains prayed at the event attended by multiple members of congress. 

Now, you need to understand that the Chaplain’s Alliance is a coalition of chaplain endorsers, meaning it is a group of those religious leaders who represent religious organizations that credential our military’s chaplains. 

Evidently, the prayers of the active-duty chaplains at the event didn’t sit well with one activist group who insisted that the Department of Defense investigate the matter thoroughly, review the content of the prayers offered by these chaplains, and discipline the chaplains for participating in what it called a, “fundamentalist Christian supremacy event.”

The Air Force didinvestigate and found that the prayers offered by the Chaplains did not violate any military regulation.  Chaplains have long been a part of our military.  In addition to caring for our servicemembers, part of their official duties include offering prayer at public events and, importantly, interacting with chaplain endorsers.

Chaplains are protected by military regulation and the Constitution.  A chaplain’s religious liberty includes the freedom to pray according to the specific religious tradition of their endorsing religious organization.  No one—not even our military—has the authority to unlawfully suppress the religious beliefs of an American citizen.

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

Apr 25, 2018

Saint Vincent Health Center in Erie, Pennsylvania had a policy for all employees to receive mandatory flu shots unless an employee can provide a medical or religious reason. But, some employees didn’t get an exception, even though they requested one for religious reasons. Learn what happened to the health center and the employees at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


No one really likes getting a flu shot. But, like it or not, for those in healthcare, it’s often  required.

That was the policy of Saint Vincent Health Center in Erie, Pennsylvania: mandatory flu shots for all employees—unlessan employee can provide a medical or religious reason. The policy worked pretty well.  If an employee had an exception, they were given a facemask, which they wore while interacting with patients.  For those religious objectors, this was a great religious accommodation.

But, some employees didn’t get an exception, even though they requested one for religious reasons.  Six of the employees who were denied an exception for religiousreasons were fired.  But, the fourteen employees citing medicalreasons were not.

That’s a problem.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stepped in on behalf of the fired employees and now the hospital has to pay $300,000 to compensate the employees for their lost jobs. 

It’s really too bad it had to come to this.  The hospital had a great policy and a reasonable accommodation for employees with a religious objection to the vaccine.  But, they didn’t follow their own policy and ended up treating religious employees unfairly.

So, employers, let this be a good reminder: have a policy that accommodates the religious beliefs of your employees…and then make sure you follow it.

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

Apr 23, 2018

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 FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.  


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 FirstLiberty.org.

Apr 20, 2018

A Nebraska law banning teachers from wearing religious garb in public schools is forcing people like Sister Madeline Miller to violate their religious beliefs. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Sister Madeline Miller is a 37-year old teacher. She’s also a nun who dons a habit wherever she goes, and that includes work.

But, when she applied for a job in a Nebraska public school, she was told she would have to lose the habit.  Evidently there is a Nebraska law that prevents teachers from wearing any sort of religious garb at work.  That means that, despite her credentials, Sister Madeline could not work in the Nebraska public schools.  You see, the church teaches that she is to wear her habit at all times, except when cleaning with harsh chemicals that could damage the blessed garments or when ministering in a communist country.

Does that mean Nebraska is worse than harsh chemicals or communist countries?  Probably not, but one Nebraska lawmaker is working to repeal the antiquated and vague law. If it is not repealed, nuns could be defrocked of their habits, Jewish teachers may have to remove their yarmulkes, Catholic teachers would need to leave their rosary at home, and Mennonite teachers could not wear their plan cap.

I suspect the Nebraska legislature will have little trouble removing this law from the books.  But, we should learn a lesson from Sister Miller’s experience: in a free society, we ought to welcome the appearance of religious garb, rather than ban them from our sight.

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

Apr 18, 2018

Today, Donald Trump will recite the oath of office, likely ending with the traditional declaration, “So help me God.” Some question whether George Washington actually said “So help me God,” starting a tradition maintained by most of our presidents. But, we do know Washington’s other words.  Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Every four years, Americans experience a national transition as a new executive is inaugurated.  Today, Donald Trump will recite the oath of office, likely ending with the traditional declaration, “So help me God.”

Some question whether George Washington actually said “So help me God,” starting a tradition maintained by most of our presidents. But, we do know Washington’s other words. 

Moments after taking the oath, Washington retreated inside Federal Hall and offered his inaugural address.  As he remarked, “it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official Act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the Universe, who presides in the Councils of Nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that his benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the People of the United States . . .”

He continued, expressing his “homage to the Great Author of every public and private good” by reminding his audience that, “No People can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States.”

These are the words the same man who would remind our nation at the end of his presidency that both “religion and morality are indispensible supports” of political happiness.

So, today, our nation joins President Trumpas he implores God’s help while in office.

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

Apr 16, 2018

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.

Apr 13, 2018

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.

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

Apr 11, 2018

The comments from Joy Behar about Vice-President Mike Pence and his religious beliefs are a clear example of the religious bigotry the drafters of the U.S. Constitution rejected when they wrote Article VI. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


I probably don’t fit in the demographic of those watching “The View.” But, it is sometimes hard to miss the controversy surrounding that show.

Joy Behar, one of the hosts of “The View,” weighed in on the faith of Vice-President Mike Pence. Behar’s comments came after claims by Omarosa, the reality TV star turned White House advisor turned reality TV star again, expressed fear that, not only does Pence pray to Jesus, he claims that Jesus talks back.

On that, Behar said, “It’s one thing to talk to Jesus. It’s another thing when Jesus talks to you,” adding that for Christian’s like Pence to hear voices in your head may be a sign of “mental illness.” She then joked, “Can [Pence] talk to Mary Magdalene without his wife in the room?”

Behar’s comments are not merely silly; her comments are evidence of a hateful, religious bigotry that has no place in our society. Essentially, Behar has labeled Vice-President Pence as unfit for office not only because he may have a mental illness, but because his mental illness stems from his religious beliefs.

This is the exact type of religious bigotry that the drafters of the U.S. Constitution rejected when they rejected any religious tests for office in Article VI. No one should be disqualified for office on the basis of their religious beliefs.

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

Apr 9, 2018

The new U.S. Attorney Manual’s new section on religious liberty is going to help protect religious liberty for all Americans and will strengthen all of our core freedoms. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


The U.S. Department of Justice recently announced that it will update the U.S. Attorneys’ Manual, creating a new section giving special attention to religious liberty.

Updates to such a manual are sometimes viewed as routine, but they tend to reflect the values and priorities of the Department of Justice, and function as a sort of roadmap for the department’s coming years.

The updates announced in the new manual requires the nation’s U.S. Attorneys to not only identify a dedicated point of contact on litigation having to do with religious liberty, but also requires coordination of any such litigation directly with the central office in Washington, D.C. In other words, Attorney General Sessions is announcing that his office will be very hands-on in lawsuits involving our “First Freedom.”

When the Department of Justice announced the updated U.S. Attorneys’ Manual, then Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand explained, “Religious liberty is an inalienable right protected by the Constitution, and defending it is one of the most important things we do at the Department of Justice.”

Clearly, the days of abandoning protections in the law for religious liberty — including bipartisan laws like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act — may be a thing of the past. The critical leadership of the attorney general and his staff to protect religious liberty for all Americans will do much to strengthen all of our core freedoms.

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

Apr 6, 2018

A California judge recently ruled in favor of Cathy Miller, the owner of Tastries bakery when she was sued for declining to create a cake based on her religious convictions. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


At this point, it’s an all too familiar story: a same-sex couple asks a religious baker to custom create a wedding cake. Despite apologetically declining the business, the baker is sued and the bakery is forced to close.

But, this is not that story; not yet anyway. Cathy Miller is the religious baker and her bakery, called “Tastries” is located in Bakersfield, California. She was forced to decline some business when that client would’ve required her to use her creative expression to lend support to a union that violates her religious convictions. The couple filed a complaint and the State of California filed suit against Cathy.

But Judge David Lampe concluded that the state has an obligation to protect free speech for everyone, including Cathy. The court reasoned that, while everyone should be able to purchase ready-made goods regardless of what the customer plans to do with the goods, custom art is different.

Or, as the ACLU says, “Freedom of expression for ourselves requires freedom of expression for others.”

You see, the true test of whether we actually believe in the promise of the First Amendment is speech we find socially controversial. Popular ideas are not in great danger of being suppressed or silenced. The true test of our commitment to freedom is if we welcome that disagreement and live peaceably as neighbors anyway.

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

Apr 4, 2018

Billy Graham has a long-standing history of sharing the Gospel all over the world, including at publically owned venues. Today, those same venues are preventing two Christian football teams from praying over a city – owned microphone. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


America was saddened to learn of the loss of Billy Graham. Some have openly wondered whether history will ever witness another like him. The better question to ask at this point in our history may be, “Can there be another Billy Graham?”

Graham’s crusades were public expressions of faith, many times taking place on public property. In 1952, Graham’s crusade visited Washington, D.C. Graham held services on the very steps of the United States Capitol, enlisting supportive government officials to secure the permission needed for such an event.

He would go on to preach at dozens of the country’s most historic and publicly-owned venues, including what is today known as Camping World Stadium.

In 2015, the football teams from two Christian schools in Florida faced off in that same stadium where, in 1969 and again in 1983, Billy Graham stood to share his Gospel message with thousands in attendance. Incredibly, these two religious schools were denied use of the city-owned microphone to pray over the same loudspeaker once used to amplify the disarming, baritone voice of Billy Graham as he preached and prayed.

If the First Amendment does not protect the right of two Christian schools to pray for 30 seconds over a city-owned loudspeaker in 2015, can it protect the next Billy Graham who wants to use the same public address system in the same stadium?

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

Apr 2, 2018

As many know, the Amish people are not permitted to use electricity based on their religious beliefs. But what do they do when the city’s sewer system includes an electric pump? Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Lessons about religious liberty come in some of the most remarkable stories.

For instance, a Pennsylvania town recently required its Amish citizens to hook into its public sewer system. Frankly, I never thought this would pose much of a concern, let alone a question of religious liberty. But, I was wrong.

It turns out the sewer system utilizes an electric pump. The Amish, for religious reasons, are not permitted to enjoy the modern conveniences of electricity. So, even though their outhouse is of the traditional, non-electric kind, the electrical pump of the public sewer taints the Amish privy. In fact, according to the documents filed with the court, the Amish family could be excommunicated from their religious community if they were to totally connect.

Now, this is a fascinating question. Clearly, the state has a compelling interest in ensuring the proper containment and flow of sewage, but is such an interest compelling enough to overcome the substantial burden hooking into such a system would place upon the religious liberty of the Amish?

It’s a tough question, but I’m thankful we live in a country that pauses to consider the impact something like a sewer pump might have upon the religious liberty of its citizens.

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

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