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First Liberty Briefing

First Liberty Briefing is an exclusive podcast hosted by First Liberty Institute’s Deputy General Counsel Jeremy Dys. In about 90-seconds, once 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: December, 2019
Dec 30, 2019

An atheist group has criticized Wayne Ivey, Sheriff of Brevard County, Florida, for lettering “In God We Trust” on the exterior of his police department’s vehicles. This accusation is nothing short of ridiculous—even the United States and the State of Florida claim this phrase as their official mottos! Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


The Sheriff of Brevard County, Florida, Wayne Ivey, made a decision that one group hates, but you will probably love. 

He decided to put new lettering on all of his cruisers and department vehicles.  That lettering is the National Motto, “In God We Trust.”  That merited Sheriff Ivey a nasty letter from a group of atheists.  Usually this group cites a few cases to make their point, but this time, they didn’t cite a single case in support of their demands that he remove the motto from the vehicles. 

That’s probably because it is nearly impossible for them to cite any binding case invalidating the National Motto.  As we have observed before on this program, every federal appellate court to have considered the motto has deemed it perfectly constitutional.  This past summer, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a request to review the constitutionality of the motto appearing on our coinage. 

More ironically, not only is “In God We Trust” the official motto of the United States, the State of Florida adopted the phrase as its official state motto as well.  So, it’s a little hard to figure how it would be inappropriate—much less, illegal—for a sheriff in the State of Florida, within the United States, to publish the state’s official motto on his cruisers. 

We sent a letter to Sheriff Ivey letting him know he’s on solid ground with his decision.  And, with that support, I’m happy to report that he’s not changing his mind anytime soon.

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


Dec 23, 2019

In a recent speech, Attorney General Bill Barr emphasized religious liberty’s importance in our federal republic. Echoing the Founders, he maintained that religious liberty promotes individual self government and morality—needed virtues in American citizenry. Additionally, Barr explained why governmental neutrality depends upon religious liberty’s protection. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


Another Trump Administration official has come out in favor of religious liberty, this time with one of the best speeches on the topic in modern memory.

Bill Barr serves the nation at Attorney General. In October of 2019, Barr delivered a speech to his law school alma mater, Notre Dame. 

The entire speech is worth reading, but his primary point was to explain that the framers of our Constitution believed self-government was only as effective as the people were moral.  Without a common moral commitment to restrain them, people will turn to tyranny to have moral restraints forcefully applied or licentiousness brought about by the complete absence of morality.  The Constitution succeeded because its framers relied upon the ethics of Judeo-Christianity in drafting it.

But, as Barr notes, the problem now is that “militant secularists” are engaged in “an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values.”  He says, “The problem is not that religion is being forced on others.  The problem is that irreligion and secular values are being forced on people of faith.”

That’s what his critics fail to grasp.  To them, neutrality means government-enforced secularity.  But, the genius of the U.S. Constitution is that it guards against hostility masquerading as secularized neutrality.

America’s founding era is replete with efforts by the founding generation to preserve space for people of faith to exercise religion independent of the government’s preferences.  Such historic toleration is what is rightly called, “neutrality.”

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

Dec 16, 2019

Opeleika, Alabama officials prohibit a tradition of student-led prayer over the loudspeaker before football games. This ban directly violates a standing state law. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Prayer under the Friday night lights is once again in the crosshairs of activists. 

In Opeleika, Alabama, school officials ended the practice of students praying over the loudspeaker prior to kickoff.  Sadly, the decision ignores the law the Alabama legislature passed in 1993.  According to the law, the legislature meant “to properly accommodate the free exercise of religious rights of its student citizens in the public schools.”  But, not merely their rights within the school building, but also (and this is quoting from the law) “at public school events,” including football games.

In fact, the law explicitly says that “non-sectarian, non-proselytizing student-initiated prayer, invocations and/or benedictions, shall be permitted [at] school-related sporting events.” 

One court, upholding the law, explained: “So long as the prayer is genuinely student-initiated, and not the product of any school policy which actively or surreptitiously encourages it, the speech is private and it is protected.”

And what about those who don’t like the prayers?  Well, the same court explained that they are simply “free not to listen, and to express their disagreement by not participating in any way.” 

In other words, genuinely student-initiated prayer is nothing to be feared and everything to be protected.  Alabama law makes it abundantly clear: students may pray over the loudspeaker at public school football games.  Driving religious expression by students off of public property is never the right option. 

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

Dec 9, 2019

The City Council of Cleveland, Ohio desires to reinstitute the practice of legislative prayer before its meetings. As legislative prayer is a long-standing and constitutional practice upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court—and even the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Cleveland Councilmembers should not fear legal retribution for reincorporating it into their meetings. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Legislative prayer is as old as the United States. In fact, offering a prayer before a public meeting should be one of the least questionable topics of our day. 

That is why some on Ohio’s Cleveland City Council would like to bring the practice back to its meetings.  Thankfully, the law supports them if they do.

Not only has the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the practice of legislative prayer—twice—the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has even said that the lawmakers themselves can lead such invocations. 

That’s partly why we litigated The American Legion v. AHA where Justice Samuel Alito agreed with our understanding of the First Amendment and noted that “religiously expressive” practices, such as legislative prayer, that have long been a part of our nation’s history and heritage, bear “a strong presumption of constitutionality.”  Just a few weeks later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Fields v. Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives noted that presumption of constitutionality extends to legislative prayers.

As we recently explained in a letter sent to the Councilmembers, the Cleveland City Council is on solid legal ground to restart its practice of legislative prayers. Extending that level of freedom to all Americans, whether they are private citizens or elected officials, reflects the very best of the American brand of freedom.

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

Dec 2, 2019

When Drew Brees, the New Orleans Saints’ quarterback, endorsed “Bring Your Bible to School Day,” he received a lot of criticism from the “woke” culture. Nonetheless, the Constitution protects Brees’ freedom of speech as well as the right of students to read their Bibles at school. Building on these principles, First Liberty has successfully defended individuals maligned for expressing their faith in the academic and professional spheres. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Drew Brees is not only a Super Bowl winning quarterback, he’s been an outspoken advocate for several issues dear to his heart.  That includes his faith.

But when he cut a public service announcement for a project by Focus on the Family called, “Bring Your Bible to School Day,” the woke, cancel culture whipped itself into the usual frenzy. The whole situation made me think of a few of our past clients.

For instance, officials in Georgia removed Dr. Eric Walsh from being a public health official over something he said in a sermon as a lay minister.  Giovanni Rubeo, just 12 years old at the time, was told he could not read his Bible during free reading time at school. 

Drew Brees probably won’t lose his job like Dr. Walsh did, but I worry about kids who actually do bring their Bible to school, like Giovanni did.  While the law is crystal clear that students have every right to carry, read, and reference their Bible at school, we all brace for the next student who runs up against the teacher who doesn’t think the student should have the freedom to do so.

All of us ought to appreciate Drew Brees for what makes him different from us, even if that is his religion. That’s what our commitment to religious liberty and the guarantee to exercise that religion in public demands.

By the way, in case you’re wondering, we won Dr. Walsh’s case and, after several exchanges with Giovanni’s school, they admitted their teacher made a mistake.  So, don’t be afraid of living out your faith in public either.  We’re here to help.

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

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