The United States national motto was declared by Congress as “In God We Trust”. This motto promotes patriotism and references the country’s religious heritage and is protected under the law. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
The State of Mississippi has a new license plate, but not everyone is happy about it. To understand why, you need a little background.
In 1956, the U.S Congress declared “In God We Trust” to be the national motto. Since then, the Supreme Court of the United States has routinely acknowledged the important, very constitutional, place phrases like, “In God We Trust” have played in the history and heritage of our country. In fact, the Supreme Court has consistently indicated that the national motto plainly does not advance religion, it serves a secular purpose of promoting patriotism, and is simply a reference to our religious heritage.
So, now back to Mississippi’s license plates which have been redesigned to feature in the background the national motto. Someone with an axe to grind about the appearance of the letters “G,” “O,” and “D” in succession and in public sent a letter to the state’s revenue commissioner claiming the new design violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
Well, First Liberty sent its own letter. Not only did we explain that the license plates featuring the national motto is perfectly acceptable under the law, we offered to represent the state—for free—should anyone be foolish enough to actually file a lawsuit over it.
Hopefully no lawsuit comes and our services won’t be needed, but Mississippi is safe to include the national motto on its license plates.
To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.
Activists insist that elected officials praying in public violates the Establishment Clause. However, the Supreme Court has ruled that all elected officials are allowed to pray if they please before public meetings. Learn more at Firstliberty.org/Briefing.
It’s easy to misunderstand the law when it’s confusing, but not when there are multiple decisions on the topic.
In 1983, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that a paid legislative chaplain is perfectly permissible under the constitution. Then, in 2014, in Town of Greece v. Galloway, the court said those prayers could even be sectarian without violating the Establishment Clause.
But, still activists question the practice. In Mt. Sterling, Ohio, village councilmembers want to start their meetings with prayer. But, activists insist that might be “chipping away at the Establishment Clause.”
That’s hard to imagine, given that not only has the U.S. Supreme Court twice said that legislative prayers do not violate the Establishment Clause, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit said in the 2017 decision Bormuth v. County of Jackson that those sectarian prayers can be offered by the lawmakers themselves!
As Judge Sutton wrote, concurring in the en banc decision of the Sixth Circuit, “the United States Constitution does not tell federal judges to hover over each town hall meeting in the country like a helicopter parent, scolding/revising/okaying the content of this legislative prayer or that one.”
First Liberty Institute represented the County of Jackson in that case because we believe that all Americans—even elected officials—should be free to pray (or not) before public meetings and according to their own conscience.
To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.
Taking offense does not render a lawsuit, and this is supported by the Supreme Court of the United States. Letters of offense due to religion can be ignored because the law does not exist to resolve offense. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Lawsuits exist to redress actual injury. But, it seems that some activists think lawsuits exist to resolve offense.
You hear it all the time. Recently, activists complained about the presence of a Bible at a VA Medical Clinic. A World War II veteran donated it. He was a prisoner of war and thought it appropriate that the VA display it as part of a POW/MIA remembrance table at the clinic. Right on cue, an angry activist sent a letter claiming offense, demanding that this historic Bible be removed.
First Liberty Institute sent a letter reassuring the VA that the display is perfectly legal. We reminded them that removing any Bible from such a display could not only dishonor the memory of the brave men remembered, it might actually be unlawful. Offense is not a cause of action. And the Supreme Court of the United States agrees.
In Town of Greece v. Galloway, Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, explained:
Offense, however, does not equate to coercion. Adults often encounter speech they find disagreeable; and an Establishment Clause violation is not made out any time a person experiences a sense of affront from the expression of contrary religious views.
So, if you ever get a threatening letter that is based entirely upon someone being offended by the presence of a religious item or symbol, just ignore it.
To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.
Just how far must an employer go to accommodate a person’s religious belief at work? Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Just how far must an employer go to accommodate someone’s religion at work? That’s a question being presented to the Supreme Court of the United States in Patterson v. Walgreens.
Darrell Patterson worked for the drugstore which promoted him to be a trainer of customer-care representatives. The company scheduled him to work on a Saturday, which interfered with his observance of the Sabbath as a Seventh Day Adventist. The company refused to let him swap shifts with a colleague working the same job, but offered to return him to his previous position, which Patterson argues would be a demotion. He refused and Walgreens fired Patterson.
The case explores whether a company must offer an accommodation to an employee if doing so will cause undue hardship. The current definition of “undue hardship” means something more than a “de minimis cost.” That’s a fancy way of saying that an undue hardship is trifling, minimal, or so insignificant that it can be ignored.
Patterson’s case has enormous potential to resolve a number of questions left unresolved by the lower courts. Employers and employees both benefit from such clarity. While employers should respect the religious conscience of its employees, the law does not require them to bend over backwards to do so. Still, employers should probably err on accommodating their employee’s religious beliefs more rather than less.
No one likes a test, especially one based on one’s character or religious belief, and no one should be forced to pass a religious test for office. But does Article VI apply to the states? Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
No one likes a test. At least not the kind that are unfair, meant as a pass/fail standard upon the character of a person.
That is why the Framers of the United States Constitution included a prohibition on a religious test for office in Article VI of the U.S. Constitution. But, did that federal prohibition apply to the states?
That is a question presented by Roy Torcaso to the Supreme Court of the United States. Torcaso, a professed atheist, wished to be a notary public in the State of Maryland, but could not declare his belief in God, as required by the Maryland Constitution.
Justice Hugo Black explained in Torcaso v. Watkins that the prohibition on religious tests for office in the U.S. Constitution was to be extended to state constitutions as well. He wrote, “neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person ‘to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.’"
That is similar to what James Madison wrote in Federalist 52, where he explains that “the door of this part of the Federal Government, is open to merit of every description, whether native or adoptive, whether young or old, and without regard to poverty or wealth, or to any particular profession of religious faith.”
In other words, you don’t have to pass a religious test to qualify for public office in America.
Coach Kennedy, a high school football coach in Washington, was fired for taking a knee and saying a silent prayer after football games. First Liberty fought this case all the way to the Supreme Court and despite the troubling decision, they declined to review his case. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
On January 22, 2019, the Supreme Court of the United States denied Coach Joe Kennedy’s petition to review his case. That’s a setback, but one with a silver lining.
Justice Samuel Alito, writing for Justices Thomas, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh, issued a statement accompanying the denial. In one part, Justice Alito explained that the court requires additional information that further litigation should supply. In another, he criticized the Ninth Circuit’s decision, characterizing it as “troubling.”
But then the Justices noted that the petition rested solely on a free speech claim, and not a claim under the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause. As he explained, that is likely “due to certain decisions of this Court,” namely the 1990 decision of Employment Division v. Smith. Justice Alito observed that the effect of that decision has been to “drastically cut back on the protection provided by the Free Exercise Clause.”
As Coach Kennedy’s attorneys, First Liberty Institute is eager to return to the District Court, answer the questions the justices raised in their statement, and give the Court another opportunity to protect the right of every American to engage in private religious expression, including praying in public, without fear of getting fired.
Thankfully, the Supreme Court seems to understand that banning all coaches from praying just because they can be seen is wrong and contradicts the Constitution.
New York Timesauthor, Linda Greenhouse reveals how much of the mainstream media really views the fight for the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
It is always interesting to read how the mainstream media views things like the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial. Linda Greenhouse of the New York Timesrecently authored a lengthy commentary. Her conclusion? That the folks trying to destroy the memorial are going to lose, but that’s about it for the good news.
According to Greenhouse, a growing faction of conservative Justices of the Supreme Court that are increasingly committed to interpreting the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause as permitting the display of religious symbols on public property and the Free Exercise Clause as providing, in her words, “robust protection for believers.”
To Greenhouse, this is not good because, she says, “the heart and soul of a diverse country . . . is going in one direction while the Supreme Court . . . is hurtling in the other, toward a destination fraught with uncertainty and danger.”
But, that is factually untrue. For one thing, according to recent polling 80% of Americans agree that memorials using religious imagery to remember our war dead is perfectly reasonable. Those are the real“heart and soul” of this country.
Removing religious imagery from public display does not make us more diverse. It sends a message contrary to the constitution’s promise that religion in American is to be respected in personal and public life.
Teachers are supposed to teach freedom of speech and religion, not censor it. But both teachers and school officials continue to demonstrate their fear of anything resembling an endorsement of religion. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
On Ash Wednesday, it is common to see individuals bearing the mark of the cross on their foreheads, part of a religious tradition reminding the faithful of their own sinfulness and the atoning work of Christ on the cross.
Evidently not everyone understands that. William McLeod, a fourth grader at Valley View Elementary School in Utah, is Catholic. He showed up to school on Wednesday morning with the traditional mark of the cross on his forehead.
His teacher took him aside, handed him a wet cloth, and instructed him to wash his forehead clean. He attempted to explain the reason for the mark, but to no avail. William spent the rest of the school day embarrassed and upset. Later, school administrators responded to complaints by his family and the teacher apologized.
Students are free to exercise their faith—even at school—so long as doing so does not interfere with the educational mission of the school. A harmless, silent mark of ash on one’s forehead does nothing to prevent such instruction. Situations like this show how afraid school officials have become of any display of religion in school.
As one court wisely put it, in situations like these, “The school’s proper response is to educate the audience rather than squelch the speaker.”
In other words, they should teach, not censor.
Jack Phillips’ case may be over but the Supreme Court has the opportunity to make a lasting impact through the case of ‘Sweetcakes by Melissa.” Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Jack Phillips’ long ordeal appears to be over. But, as Justice Kennedy wrote for the majority in Jack’s case, “The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts.”
That includes First Liberty’s clients, Aaron and Melissa Klein.
The State of Oregon shut down Aaron and Melissa Klein’s “Sweetcakes by Melissa,” penalizing them $135,000 for the simple act of declining to create a custom wedding cake for a same-sex wedding ceremony. Oregon rests all of its actions on a law that theoretically applies generally to everyone and, on its face, treats religious exercise neutrally.
That position is grounded in the 1990 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court called Employment Division v. Smith. The product of the late-Justice Antonin Scalia, the majority opinion in Employment Division has been roundly criticized through the years.
The danger of Employment Divisionis that it allows laws that doburden one of the key provisions of the First Amendment—namely, the free exercise of religion—to escape meaningful judicial review. Aaron and Melissa’s case provides the Court an opportunity to correct that.
Jack Phillips’ case left American business owners wondering whether the government can prescribe what they believe and force them to confess accordingly. The Constitution prohibits government officials, high or petty, from compelling small business owners to create a message contrary to their religious beliefs.
Based on an executive order signed by President Trump in 2017 that promotes free speech and religious liberty, Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education recently announced it would no longer enforce a statute preventing religious organizations from providing education services to students. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
This episode really begins back in May of 2017. That’s when President Donald Trump, just three months into his presidency, walked to the Rose Garden of the White House and signed the Executive Order Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty.
That Executive Order commissioned a memo offering guidance to the executive branch by the Attorney General of the United States, then Jeff Sessions. Several months later, the Department of Justice issued that guidance and, about a year later, held a summit on religious liberty at DOJ headquarters, announcing the formation of a religious liberty task force.
That task force provided on-the-ground guidance to executive agencies like the Department of Education, which brings us to the point of this episode.
Secretary Betsy DeVos recently sent a letter to Congress explaining that the Department of Education would no longer enforce a federal statute prohibiting religious organizations from providing educational services to students. DeVos noted that the decision by the Supreme Court of the United States in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, as explained by the DOJ in former Attorney General Sessions’ memo, requires federal law to permit religious organizations to participate at the same level as secular organizations.
I agree with Secretary DeVos who said, “Those seeking to provide high-quality educational services to students and teachers should not be discriminated against simply based on the religious character of their organization.”
In March 2019, the Supreme Court denied cert of a case that if left at its current status, would bar religious organizations from a general historical preservation fund program. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
The white-washed churches of New England, often contrasted against the reds and yellows of fall foliage, have captured the imagination of painters and photographers everywhere. But, not the Supreme Court of the United States.
In March of 2019, the Justices declined to review an appeal from New Jersey Supreme Court case finding the funding of grants for the historic preservation of these churches unconstitutional. Such grants allowed local organizations to apply for a grant to repair things like shingles, paint, or mechanical work, but not hymn books, altar pieces, or Sunday school lessons.
At least a few Justices viewed the denial of these funds to churches as religious discrimination. A perplexed, and unequivocal, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, writing for Justices Alito and Gorsuch, said in a statement, “Barring religious organizations because they are religious from a general historic preservation grants program is pure discrimination against religion.”
Indeed, it is difficult to conceive of more unvarnished religious discrimination. The government deciding that religious organizations are ineligible to participate equally in the public square merely because they are religious is precisely the type of religious discrimination the Founders were trying to prevent. Justice Kavanaugh is absolutely right in declaring this to be “pure discrimination against religion.”
No state official should discriminate against people of faith, or the religious organizations they operate, based merely on their religious status.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had the last word in our case of Chabad of Irvine, a small Orthodox Jewish congregation in California that has been fighting for their free exercise rights for years. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
We’ve covered practice of Kaporos on this program before. If you’ve forgotten, Kaporos is a sacred religious ceremony performed by Orthodox Jewish congregations for several millennia. In the ceremony, which takes place during the holiest days of the Jewish calendar, the atonement of sins is contemplated through prayer and the kosher and humane killing of a chicken.
But, as we’ve discussed previously, animal rights activists in California sued to force government officials to prohibit the ceremony. First Liberty network attorneys argued that it is not the role of the government to tell religious communities how to peacefully exercise their religious beliefs.
In fact, over the last few years, First Liberty and network attorneys successfully defended the Chabad of Irvine, a small synagogue in Orange County, California, against two lawsuits brought by activists opposed to kaporos. But, of course, the animal rights activists appealed the dismissal of one lawsuit to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9thCircuit.
Well, about a week after oral argument, the Ninth Circuit came out with its decision. It’s conclusion? That the animal rights groups didn’t even have the legal ability to bring the lawsuit in the first place.
While it was decided on procedural grounds, the court’s decision brings a resounding conclusion to several years of harassment by lawsuit of a peaceful religious practice.
Whether it is in word or deed, senior members of President Trump’s administration are proving to be strong advocates of the importance of religious liberty. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Two public appearances by senior members of the Trump Administration show the Administration’s fundamental commitment to religious liberty. And it’s more than just words.
In answer to a question from a reporter, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pointed out the administration’s foreign policy when it comes to religious freedom. He said, “Because it’s at the heart of all the freedoms that every individual should have, right?”
Former Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker spoke at length about the importance of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act at the Heritage Foundation on Religious Freedom Day. He explained, “RFRA promotes authentic tolerance—because RFRA makes a solemn promise to the people of this nation that we can find a place for them, regardless of who they are, and regardless of their beliefs.”
Both of these agencies have backed those words up with action. The Trump State Department hosted a “Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom” in 2018 and plans are underway for another in 2019. The DOJ has issued guidance on religious liberty to all executive agencies, launched its “place to worship” initiative that protects houses of worship, and been active in litigating violations of religious liberty.
Whether it involves matters of foreign policy or domestic relations, it is good to see an executive branch committed to defending religious liberty in both word and deed.
The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment was intended to prevent the government from establishing a religion, not keep religion out of the public sphere. First Liberty argued before the Supreme Court and asked the Court to change its perspective. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Many of you have followed First Liberty’s case before the Supreme Court of the United States over the Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial. We hope the case will provide much needed clarity to the interpretation of the First Amendment.
The Framers intended for the Establishment Clause to guard against the government establishing a national church. Read more broadly, it prevents state officials from coercing the religious beliefs and actions of its citizens. Unfortunately, as Justice Clarence Thomas has said, this area of the law is “in hopeless disarray.”
We can lay the blame at the feet of a case from 1971 called,Lemon v. Kurtzman. That decision has led to variety of confusing, court-created tests. Local officials, not knowing what to do, often ban religion. That kind of hostility to religion is something the Founders never intended.
We propose an alternative: that the U.S. Supreme Court replace those tests with an alternative more in keeping with what the Founders had in mind.
Unless the state coerces someone into a religious belief or exercise or enacts laws or policies that purport to actually establish an official religion, there is no violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
Passive displays do nothing to coerce anyone into belief or religious exercise. They just stand there, reminding us of the service and sacrifice of something we would forget if we did not see a visible reminder.
First Liberty has petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case of Aaron and Melissa Klein, an Oregon family who was forced to shut down their business and fined $135,000 for not baking a same-sex wedding cake. The question now is, will the Court side with Gobitis or Barnette? Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
The right to differ with popular beliefs and opinions has long been an American principle.
Back in the late 1930’s, the Gobitis children had a religious objection to saluting the flag. The Supreme Court upheld their expulsion in Minersville School District v. Gobitis and that’s when the harassment of America’s Jehovah’s Witnesses took off.
Just a few short years later, the Supreme Court revisited its decision in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. Justice Jackson’s majority opinion explained that if the Bill of Rights allows the state to compel one to salute the flag, it also permits “public authorities to compel him to utter what is not in his mind.”
So it is with First Liberty clients, Aaron and Melissa Klein. Can the state compel small business owners to speak a message contrary to their religious beliefs? That’s a question we hope the Supreme Court might soon answer.
And, we hope that answer is consistent with Justice Jackson’s in Barnette when he wrote, “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”
Let’s hope the Supreme Court protects America’s small business owners and their First Amendment right to differ.
The Bladensburg WWI veterans memorial is a symbol of honor and sacrifice of the 49 men from Prince George’s County, Maryland who fought and died in service to their county during WWI. First Liberty is fighting to defend the veterans memorial from destruction. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
They came from many walks of life. Several were simple laborers. One was a well-known surgeon. Another, a legend and past recipient of the Medal of Honor whose heroism in World War I earned him the Distinguished Service Cross. But, they all came from Prince George’s County, Maryland.
Educated or not, white or black, rich or poor, their bodies were interred under small grave makers in cemeteries far too distant for their families to ever visit.
In 1925, a local post of The American Legion erected the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial to honor 49 men from the county who gave their lives serving in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War I.
The Fourth Circuit determined the cross-shaped memorial is unconstitutional. First Liberty Institute, and our network attorneys at the international law firm Jones Day, appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. By June, we should have a decision.
I think the Gold Star mothers who designed the Bladensburg memorial in 1919 would be pleased. They chose the shape of the memorial to recall the crosses marking the countless American graves on the Western Front of that war.
Surely the Constitution permits Gold Star Mothers to erect a simple memorial that mirrors those that marked the graves of their sons buried on the battlefields of Europe.
Despite the presence of Article VI to the Constitution, confirmation hearings for judicial nominees have continued to include questions pertaining to the nominee’s religious viewpoints. This is not fair, nor permitted by the Constitution. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Confirmation hearings have been interesting of late. Some senators are asking questions of nominees that are more than tough. They are unfair.
My favorite example of this came when Sen. Cory Booker asked judicial nominee Neomi Rao whether she believed homosexuality is a sin. That’s a question that seems out of line because it invites the nominee to assert a theological pronouncement.
Senator Mike Lee thought so too. He said, “I can’t fathom a circumstance in which it’s ever appropriate for us to ask a nominee about his or her religious beliefs about whether x, y or z is a sin.” Senator Lee then had to remind Sen. Mazie Hirono of Sen. Booker’s actual question about sin when Hirono shot back, “It is not that we all ask ‘do you think such and such is a sin, etc., etc.'”
These questions may in fact violate Article VI of the Constitution, which guarantees that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
Forcing citizens to adhere to a specific religious ideology—or none at all—violates the rights common to our humanity, rights endowed to us by our Creator. Article VI exists to keep the halls of government open to an ideological variety of Americans.
That’s something our senators would do well to remember.
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.
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.
In April of 2017, the Indiana General Assembly passed, and its governor quickly signed, a measure providing students with the chance to take an elective surveying the worlds religions, Learn more about this law at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
The Hoosier state has taken steps to codify important religious liberty protections for Indiana’s students.
In April of 2017, the Indiana General Assembly passed, and its governor quickly signed, a measure providing students with the chance to take an elective surveying the worlds religions, while outlining the civil liberties afforded to its students in Indiana’s public schools.
The new law provides each local school district the freedom to offer an elective course that will study the historical, cultural, and literary contributions of the world’s major religions.
At the same time, some of the critical civil liberties protected by the law include protecting a student’s right to express their religious beliefs in class and class assignments, the right to pray before, during, and after the school day, and the right to access a school’s facilities in the same manner that secular groups do.
Of course, many of these protections are found in policies issued by the United States Department of Education. Nonetheless, it is encouraging to see a state dedicate significant legislative effort to religious liberty. Students should not be required to hide their faith at school, nor should they be punished for daring to discuss their religious beliefs while at school.
Religious liberty should be our national priority. It’s good to see that, at least for one state, it’s a clear priority for their students.
Protecting the rights of minority American religions like Sikhism, Native American religions and Islam help protect mainstream or majority religions. Learn more about the cases that help further all religions at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Sometimes our listeners ask why we spend so much time discussing cases involving minority American religions, like Sikhs, Native Americans, or Muslims.
The short is answer is that our mission at First Liberty is very simple: we protect religious liberty for all Americans.
But, it’s also historical. If you look at the body of caselaw governing religious liberty, some of the most consequential cases have arisen from minority faiths.
Wisconsin v. Yoder, for instance, debated whether the State of Wisconsin could compel Amish families to send their children to public school against their religious practices.
In the 1980’s, the Supreme Court decided Goldman v. Weinberger examining whether an Air Force regulation violated the First Amendment by prohibiting an airman from wearing his yarmulke.
More recently, in Holt v. Hobbs, the Supreme Court examined whether a corrections system could present a compelling justification for allowing quarter-inch beards, but prohibiting half-inch beards.
And, then there’s the case with the funny name: Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. Hialeah. That case examined whether a city ordinance discriminated against the religion of Santeria by prohibiting ritual animal slaughter.
The bottom line is this: whether it is a mainstream denomination or a minority religion, religious liberty for one is religious liberty for all. And, the loss of religious liberty for one religion is a loss in liberty for everyone.
While the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) often provide protection for a citizen’s religious freedom, it is not always a guarantee. Learn more at 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.
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.
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.
Public schools are allowed to release schoolchildren for religious education at the request of their parents in an effort to accommodate the faith and wishes of parents. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
In 1975, residents of Harrisonburg, Virginia sued their school board. The lawsuit questioned the school’s practice of releasing students from school to receive religious instruction.
The Virginia Council of Churches had been providing religious instruction for Harrisonburg schoolchildren since 1923. In 1963, the classes moved from the public school classroom to off-campus trailers. For about an hour a week, 27 classes of elementary school children, with the consent of their parents, walked out of class and into the awaiting trailers. Those who did not opt-into the program, simply stayed behind.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit approved of the release time program for religious instruction. The court explained that the school was merely accommodating the wishes, and religious beliefs, of parents. Any effect of the city aiding religious instruction was merely incidental to their administration of public education. Parents, the court recognized, had the responsibility for the education of their children, including religious education. It’s the state’s responsibility to respect and accommodate the parents.
If parents want religious instruction to be a part of that education, the Constitution provides the space for the state to so accommodate. By releasing children for religious instruction at the request of their parents, public schools show respect for the religious beliefs of their community.