The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reviewed a case involving the Birdville Independent School District after it a humanist group sued them. The humanist group argued students should not be permitted to have an invocation at the school board meeting. Learn how the court ruled at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
In 1997, the Birdville Independent School District welcomed two students to their meetings. One student led the Pledge of Allegiance, while the other student delivered a statement of his own choosing, according to the school’s policy of allowing student remarks. That continued for years, most often in the form of an invocation, during which the board members stood respectfully quiet with bowed head while the student prayed.
That was all well and good, until a humanist group sued, alleging that school boards aren’t legislative bodies and should not be permitted to have an invocation in the same way a state legislature, city council, or county commission does.
Eventually, the case arrived before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, where a three-judge panel upheld the practice, stating, “Legislative prayers are recited for the benefit of legislative officers. It would be nonsensical to permit legislative prayers but bar the legislative officers for whom they are being primarily recited from participating in the prayers in any way.”
The fact that students undertook to lead those invocations was of minimal concern. “Although it is possible to imagine a school-board student-expression practice that offends the Establishment Clause,” the court explained, “this one, under its specific facts, does not.”
This is a routine area of challenge by secularists, but one with limited success, since the long tradition of our country is one of support for prayer at public meetings.
To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.
What does the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals say about distributing religious materials in public schools? Find out at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Ed McDaniels was a local pastor in Upshur County, West Virginia. One day, he asked the local school superintendent if he could place Bibles on a table in the local public school. He didn’t want to hand students anything; he just wanted to set out the material as a resource the students could take if they wanted to.
The school had a policy of allowing the local Little League, Boy and Girl Scouts, 4-H Club, and other community organizations to set their materials on a table. Students passing by could take the material or simply ignore it. In a separate policy, the school prevented the distribution of religious and political materials. Local residents sued the school system, claiming that the policy preventing distribution of religious materials also denied McDaniels access to the community information table.
Eventually, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit determined that distributing meant physically handing out materials. In fact, the court explained that, if the school kept the Bibles off of the community information table, it would breach its duty of religious neutrality and, in the words of the court, “evince the hostility toward religious speech that the Establishment Clause does not require and that the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses forbid.”
So, look around at your school. Perhaps there’s a community information table waiting to be stocked with Bibles.
To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.
On the First Liberty Briefing this morning: This decorated Air Force Veteran was forcibly removed from a military retirement ceremony because he was going to mention ‘God!’ Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Oscar Rodriguez is a decorated Air Force Veteran who retired in 2013 after 33 years of service. Oscar was invited by Air Force Master Sergeant Chuck Roberson to give flag-folding speech at a Roberson’s military retirement ceremony—something he has done over 100 times.
Oscar agreed to give his stirring and patriotic speech, but the Air Force Unit Commander at Chuck’s base presented a problem—Oscar’s flag-folding speech included the word “God.”
First, the unit commander tried to prevent Oscar from attending the ceremony. When he was informed that he could not legally prevent his attendance, he told Chuck that Oscar could not give the speech. But like any good Airman, Oscar was not going to abandon his wingman, and he decided to give the speech anyway. And as a private citizen, Oscar is no longer subject to the commander’s authority.
But when Oscar stood to deliver the speech during the retirement ceremony, four senior airmen approached him, assaulted him, and physically dragged him out of the retirement ceremony—before he had a chance to say the word, “God!”
The Air Force broke the law and abused its power, discriminating against Oscar—and servicemembers everywhere—who want to mention God in their private retirement ceremony.
First Liberty Institute represents Oscar because no one should be assaulted for mentioning the name of God.
For more, and to learn how First Liberty is defending religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.
A writer for the Tampa Bay Times is calling for First Liberty client, Cambridge Christian School to form a league of their own after the FHSAA refused to allow Christian students to pray over the loud speaker. Learn more about the case and how we’re protecting students’ religious rights at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
An editorial penned in the Tampa Bay Times has called for one of our clients to form a league of their own.
The author writes about Cambridge Christian School who earned the chance to play for a state football championship against another Christian school. Both teams asked the Florida High School Athletic Association to pray over the public address system prior to kick off. That request was denied by the FHSAA specifically because the requested speech was religious in nature.
The author supports the FHSAA. He writes: “If Cambridge and similar schools want public community prayer before their state championship games, they should leave the FHSAA and form their own private statewide Christian association and stage their own playoffs.”
Now, we were once told that if you wanted to pray in school, you should go to a private, Christian school. These students did, but now that they are there, this author would have them leave the league entirely.
Well, where does it end? Must religious picnickers form their own, private parks lest they be accused of violating the constitution for saying grace over their meal at a public park?
It was the FHSAA that engaged in religious discrimination against Cambridge Christian School. It would be an even greater offense to the Constitution’s protection of religious liberty to force these students further from public participation.
To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.
J.B. Hunt Transport conducts random drug tests for its employees by using a hair sample. However, Sikh applicants were unable to fulfill that request because of their religious beliefs. Learn how the Sikh applicants responded at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Drug testing of employees is always a source of frustration. Nonetheless, it is essential to safety in the workplace. But, does drug testing ever threaten an employee’s religious liberty?
J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc. recently found itself facing that question along with lawyers at the EEOC and The Sikh Coalition. Hunt Transport randomly tests its employees for drug use by using a hair sample. That works in most cases, but not for Sikh employees.
Sikhism requires its followers to neither shave, nor cut their hair. The simple act of plucking a hair from their head would cause Sikhs to violate their religious beliefs.
Sikh applicants to the trucking company explained their predicament, but the company denied their request for an alternative drug testing option. Ultimately, they were not hired and the employees sued alleging religious discrimination. Wisely, the company agreed to settle the matter.
Employers cannot make employment decisions based upon an employee’s religion. Further, companies have a duty to accommodate an employee’s religion so long as that can be done without undue hardship to the organization. In this case, refusing to hire someone because they would not cut their hair for a drug test is unreasonable when multiple alternative tests are at the company’s disposal.
Freedom—and especially religious freedom—demands that we do the hard work of balancing corporate safety against individual liberty.
An Amish group in Western Kentucky is claiming that the City of Auburn is targeting them with a horse manure ordinance. The question is, how should we balance religious liberty and health safety concerns in America. For more, listen at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
In Western Kentucky, Amish residents have filed a lawsuit against the City of Auburn alleging one of its ordinances imposes a burden upon the free exercise of their religion.
The ordinance has been on the books for several years and dozens of Amish have been cited for violating the law. Some have paid the fine that comes with the violation; others have refused in protest.
As you may know, the Amish live simply, refusing most modern conveniences, including motor vehicles, as their religion teaches. Instead, the Amish are known for driving their horse and buggy through town. And, where there are horses, there soon follows horse manure. So, the City of Auburn passed an ordinance requiring that horses travelling through Auburn be fitted with a…well…let’s call it a manure collection system.
The Amish believe that the ordinance is specifically targeting them and is, therefore, religious discrimination.
This will be an interesting case to watch. On the one hand, the ordinance in question has exceptions, so it is probably not a law generally applicable to everyone, which makes it more likely to be found in violation of the Constitution. On the other hand, the city has a compelling justification for the ordinance: not only does manure stink, it takes a long time to degrade and transmits disease.
Either way, it’s an interesting lesson in how we balance religious liberty in America.
Government neutrality is supposed to prevent the government from favoring one form of speech over another. It does not give government officials the right to censor or scrub out all religious content from the public square. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
You may often hear me say that the First Amendment requires government agencies to be neutral toward private, religious speech. But, what does that mean?
Some take the position that when the speech of a private person or organization enters a public forum, the government must ensure that all speech within such a forum be neutral, censored and scrubbed of any religious content. But, that is not neutrality and, when a government does that, it violates the First Amendment.
Neutrality actually means that the government will neither favor, nor disfavor particular viewpoints expressed in speech. It means that the government will not promote a particular point of view, nor censor it. It means that government respects the speech of its citizens, allowing the exchange of ideas through divergent viewpoints, even those viewpoints with which those sitting in government may disagree.
So, if a school district has a flyer distribution program that allows local organizations to distribute information to the parents of its students, it is not required to make sure those flyers present a neutral message. The school board wouldn’t be neutral if it did. As the Supreme Court has repeatedly held, “speech discussing otherwise permissible subjects cannot be excluded from a limited public forum on the ground that the subject is discussed from a religious viewpoint.”
After over ninety years of peaceful silence, the Bladensburg World War I Memorial is in jeopardy of being torn down because of it’s cross-like shape. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
In 1919, American mothers who lost their sons in World War I set about developing a war memorial in Bladensburg, Maryland. And, there it has stood in peaceful silence for over ninety years, a visible reminder of the cost of freedom.
But, in October of 2017, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reasoned that, because these mothers chose to memorialize their sons with a cross-shaped monument reminiscent of the grave markers of the thousands of American soldiers buried across Europe, the monument violates the Constitution.
Not all the judges agreed. Chief Judge Gregory issued a strong dissent reminding the court that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment does not require the government to purge any reference to religion from the public square. He concluded:
“This Memorial stands in witness to the VALOR, ENDURANCE, COURAGE, and DEVOTION of the forty-nine residents of Prince George’s County, Maryland ‘who lost their lives in the Great War for the liberty of the world.’ I cannot agree that a monument so conceived and dedicated and that bears such witness violates the letter or spirit of the very Constitution these heroes died to defend.”
We agree with Judge Gregory. This is a Veterans Memorial. We will not break faith with the Gold Star mothers and The American Legion veterans who chose to remember their sons and brothers with this cross-shaped memorial.
One litigant argues that the tax code creates the new religion of “taxism” in violation of the First Amendment. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Ben Franklin reportedly said, “There is nothing certain in life except for death and taxes.” Well, in a 548-page complaint, one man has targeted at least one of those certainties, and it’s not death.
Terry Lee Hinds contends that the United States Tax Code has violated the Constitution by establishing “taxism,” an institutionalized faith and religion. Because the tax code has the effect of favoring and even promoting organized religions through tax breaks and other benefits, Mr. Hinds believes the tax code is in violation of the First Amendment.
Well, I suppose this is the sort of case that law students are forced to grapple with, but actually have little effect in the real world. Some may dream such a lawsuit is the silver bullet to bring down our ghoulish tax system. Alas, Mr. Hinds’ lawsuit will not free us from the taxman’s visit every April 15.
For one reason, taxpayers have a lot of hurdles to overcome just to bring the lawsuit. Mere allegations—even ones dressed up in the garb of a First Amendment challenge—that they do not like to pay taxes will not be sufficient.
For now, Mr. Hinds and the rest of us will have to continue to pay our taxes and, most importantly, the religious charities and houses of worship that are exempt from them will continue to be exempt.
After a picture of high school football players praying over their coach landed on the front page of a local newspaper, activists sent the school district an angry letter threatening to sue. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Whether it’s Tim Tebow, Coach Joe Kennedy, or the thousands of players taking a knee together in prayer after a game, prayer seems to be a popular theme around football.
At Reitz High School in Evansville, Indiana, the players value prayer rather highly, it would seem. That became controversial only when a picture of the players gathered in prayer landed on the front page of the local newspaper.
Activists sent the school district an angry letter, threatening a lawsuit should school officials refuse to take action. According to them, the coach was violating the law because the picture showed him surrounded by his football players and everyone appeared to be praying.
But, let’s break down that picture a little closer. Yes, the coach was in the center, surrounded by his players, but it clearly shows the players, with bowed heads and hands laid on the coach, led by one player who’s lips are forming the prayers. The players were praying for their coach.
Activists would have this coach stop up his ears and run screaming from the scene of this religious activity. But, common sense—and the Constitution—would call this hostility to the free exercise of religion by the players. Students have a first amendment right to pray for their coach and the school cannot legally stop their religious expression.
Thankfully, that’s precisely what school officials told the activists.
Before he was the CEO of the Family Research Council, Jerry Boykin was a Major in the U.S. Army. A photo recently surfaced of Boykin leading his group of 100 men in a prayer prior to their efforts to save 100 Americans who were being held hostage in 1980. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Jerry Boykin has never shied away from a fight. As the CEO of the Family Research Council today, Boykin regularly shares his opinions on a variety of issues from his religious perspective.
But, Boykin hasn’t always been at FRC. A photo recently surfaced of Boykin from 1980. The black and white photo features a youthful Boykin, a Major in the U.S. Army then, with dark hair and matching beard. He’s addressing a group of about 100 Army Delta Force operators. The room is nondescript, cement walls covered with exposed wiring with but one decoration: a poster.
That’s not just any poster. It’s a collage of the pictures of the 100 Americans held hostage in Iran. Boykin’s Delta Force was about to go rescue them. But, Boykin and his men first paused to pray.
Many might second-guess this decision. Some might suggest that it was even illegal for Boykin to use his authority to coerce his men into praying. Others might conclude that the act was little more than civil religion; a meaningless act with no more efficacy than if the operators had gathered together and yelled, “Go team!”
But for the men about to dive into the face of death and danger, prayer is what they wanted and needed. Thankfully, though our servicemembers sacrifice much in the cause of freedom, they do not give up their religious freedom.
In 1991 the ACLU sent the Milwaukee police department a letter threatening to sue at Christmas because the police had an informal practice of not serving evictions on Christmas day. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
One of my family’s Christmas traditions is to read the classic Dickens tale, A Christmas Carol. It’s a beloved classic, telling of the once miserly and miserable Ebenezer Scrooge whose disdain for all things Christmas softened when the spirits of Christmas past, present, and future force him to reconsider his ways.
One poignant scene in the story is of a young couple in great debt to Scrooge, standing on the edge of financial ruin and, perhaps, facing eviction from their home. It’s Christmas and, while the Ghost of Christmases Yet to Come forces Scrooge to look on, the couple’s worry vanishes as they learn of Scrooge’s death, knowing that anyone other than Scrooge will be more understanding of their plight, especially at Christmas.
Well, maybe the ACLU should read the book. In 1991, it sent the Milwaukee police a letter threatening a lawsuit at Christmas. You see, the local government had an informal practice of not serving evictions on Christmas day. The ACLU claimed that this violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
I’m confident that not a single founding father was enough of a Scrooge so as to contemplate that a religion would be established if the police declined to evict tenants on Christmas Day.
Perhaps the local landlord that complained—and his friends at the ACLU—need a visit from Jacob Marley.
An atheist group has attacked the state senator of Connecticut for using his personal time during the Christmas season to ring the bell outside of a local Walmart for the Salvation Army. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Maybe it’s the relentless ringing, the high-pitched clinging, or just the reminder that there’s something to this season beyond ourselves, but some find the bell ringing a little annoying. At the end of the day, though, the Salvation Army bell ringers do good work.
That’s probably why Connecticut state senator George Logan rings the bell outside of a Walmart in Naugatuck, Connecticut each year. This would be an otherwise forgettable act of kindness, except that one atheist group took their annoyance to a whole new level. They sent him an angry Christmas letter.
But, the letter was less concerned about the bell ringing and more upset that he would dare support an ostensibly religious charity. Rather than support what the group considers a “church denomination,” it strongly argued that Logan should focus his attention exclusively on secular charities. This, the group suggests, would solve any appearance of promoting religion and “prevent citizens from feeling ostracized by their elected representatives.”
Well, if it’s not clear to you, let me explain that the law does not require any elected official, during his personal time, to serve only secular charities. Indeed, the Constitution protects the right of every citizen, elected or not, to serve the charity or house of worship of his choice. The galling bigotry that this organization has evidenced toward the free exercise of this citizen is appalling—especially at Christmas.
First Liberty Institute is stepping in after the Metro system in Washington D.C. rejected an advertisement submitted by the Archdiocese of Washington D.C. for being too religious. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
The Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority, Metro for short, ferries commuters by rail and bus throughout the nation’s capitol. In addition to commuters, they also carry advertisements.
And, at Christmas time, those advertisements look very Christmasy: there are Christmas gifts pictured, lots of red and green, and not too few holiday puns designed to persuade you to buy stuff.
The Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. also submitted an advertisement. It pictured a few shepherds and sheep under a starry sky, with the message, “Find the perfect gift” scrolled artfully across the sky. At the website displayed in the ad, one finds out that the perfect gift is Jesus, “the perfect gift of God’s love this Christmas.”
But, Metro rejected the ad. Macy’s and other stores plying the Christmas theme were all right, but according to Metro, there are two halves at Christmas: the secular and the religious. Secular ads are ok, but all religious ads are forbidden.
Yep, Metro will take Santa, but not Jesus, three French hens, but not the three wise men. Even the President’s own remarks at the recent national tree lighting could not appear on the side of a MetroBus.
But, that’s not the law. First Liberty is submitting arguments to courts in Washington, D.C. explaining that what Metro is actually doing is called, “viewpoint discrimination” and it’s a type of hostility towards religion the First Amendment forbids.
With the holiday season upon us, it is important that students and teachers are aware of their religious freedom when celebrating the holidays both in and out of the classroom. To learn more: FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
As the school semester winds down to Christmas break, it’s important to take a look at all the ways students might exercise their religious freedom in celebration of the holidays.
First, schools can celebrate “Christmas” just as easily as they can celebrate “winter.” Doing so provides an educational perspective of world history and the effect of religion upon culture.
Schools can also deck the halls in Christmas decorations. Decorations can further the cultural and religious heritage educationally important to the holiday.
Third, schools can include Christmas-themed artistic expressions in school plays. As long as its presented in an objective manner reflecting the traditions of Christmas, it’s just fine.
It is fine for students to wish one another “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah” and even hand out gifts significant to their religious tradition.
As they can throughout the year, students can also reference their faith in school assignments, class discussions, and private speeches during the holidays. The First Amendment is not suspended during the Christmas season.
And, finally, school employees can discuss their religious, holiday traditions outside of their official roles as educators. This means teachers can attend Christmas parties and religious gatherings outside of work without fearing the loss of their job.
With that, perhaps the best way to conclude is merely to say: Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and best wishes for a happy new year to all our students.
When two private Christian schools were forbade by the Florida High School Athletic Association to pray prior to a championship game, First Liberty Institute filed an appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
In 2015, the Florida High School Athletic Association forbade Cambridge Christian School from praying over the loudspeaker of the Citrus Bowl ahead of the state championship football game, even though both participating teams were Christian schools and each had a tradition of prayer before games.
Praying over the loudspeaker allows students on the field, and their parents and fans in the stands, to unite prior to kickoff. But, the FHSAA believes it violates the constitution.
First Liberty Institute filed an appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit on behalf of Cambridge Christian School. We argue that by banning two private Christian schools from praying over the loudspeaker before a football game while allowing other, non-religious messages to come across the same speaker, the FHSAA is telling high school kids that prayer in public is wrong.
We hope the Eleventh Circuit will recognize this for what it is: the censorship of religious speech—because it is religious—of two private, Christian schools.
First they told religious students that if you want to pray in school, then you have to attend a private, religious school. They did, but even then they have been told they cannot pray in public. Where else do these religious students have to go? Must they now form their own league in order to exercise the rights guaranteed to them under the Constitution?
Zoning and districting laws are not only used to gerrymander. In the case of a small town in Texas, Leon Valley, a city ordinance told a church that it was not allowed to apply for a special land permit so they could host services on their property. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
Years ago, Congress realized that cities and counties could use their zoning powers to preclude houses of worship from landing in their backyard. On the face, these laws appear neutral. But, the application of these laws can often be less than equal.
That’s why Congress included the “equal terms” provision of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. That provision makes it unlawful for the government to implement a land use regulation that treats a house of worship “on less than equal terms with a nonreligious assembly or institution.”
That’s what happened in the City of Leon Valley, Texas. The Elijah Group, a church, bought property within an area of town zoned for business. The church tried to apply for a special use permit so they could have services on their property, but were told that churches weren’t allowed to even apply for one. When they tried to hold services anyway, the city obtained a temporary restraining order from the court.
Ultimately, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit concluded that the city ordinance was invalid. By preventing the church from even applying for a special use permit, the church was not being treated on the same terms as a similar nonreligious institution.
In other words, federal law requires zoning laws apply equally to every organization, religious or not. After all, that’s only fair.
The use of cross-shaped memorials has been a long standing tradition in honoring the dead. In 1915 Major John McCrae wrote the famous poem, “In Flanders Fields” and the cross reference is no mistake. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
In May of 1915, Major John McCrae buried his friend. It is believed that after the burial he penned the now famous poem, “In Flanders Fields.” This is what he wrote:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
The reference to crosses was no accident. These were the markers used for temporary gravestones across Europe. When the graves were made permanent, the world community rejected efforts to convert the temporary, cross-shaped gravestones into rounded tombstones.
That is why today, across America, many veterans memorials are cross-shaped. And, that is why we defend them. Today, “the foe” of McCrae’s poem are those wishing to purge the religious from public view, including veterans memorials bearing religious imagery. But, we will not break faith, with those who died.
Following the tragic shooting at Columbine High School, school officials invited students to decorate tiles for the interior of the building. However, when students wanted to include such phrases, as “Jesus Christ is Lord “and” 4/20/99 Jesus Wept the school district said no. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
We all know the story of Columbine High School. When the school reopened, students were nervous to walk back into the hallways in which they had been held hostage and had their very lives threatened.
School officials decided upon a project that would provide a memorial to their fellow students as well as gently reintroduce the students to the physical building.
Students were invited to decorate ceramic tiles to be installed on the interior walls of the school. Of course, there were some guidelines for the artwork: the shooters could not be named, no references to the date of the attack, nothing obscene, and no religious symbols.
Some students wished to write “Jesus Christ is Lord” and “4/20/99 Jesus Wept” on their tiles, but that broke the rules. In Fleming v. Jefferson County School District, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit determined that the project was school-sponsored speech, bearing the imprimatur of the school and involving pedagogical interests. Therefore, the school could preclude particular religious viewpoints on the tiles without violating the First Amendment.
I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision to write and I’m not sure I agree with the court’s reasoning. Nonetheless, it reveals the difficulties present when a court is asked to balance the sometimes competing speech interests of a public school and its students.
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.
John Brooks is a firefighter in Utica, New York who has been consistently harassed for his long hair. In 2014 he vowed to live his life as a Nazirite, and promised to not cut his hair. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
Employees have a right to live according to their religious beliefs both on and off the job.
John Brooks, a firefighter and paramedic in Utica, New York, just wants to be treated like every other firefighter in his department. He feels called to serve the people of Utica while also staying true to his convictions.
In 2014, Brooks made a personal promise to God to live his life as a Nazirite based on instruction in the Biblical book of Numbers. This vow included a personal promise to God not to cut the hair of his scalp. He considers his vow one of the most important events of his life.
Since becoming a Nazirite, however, the Utica Fire Department where Brooks has served for eleven years has singled him out for religious discrimination. He keeps his hair neatly tied behind his head and several other firefighters have longer hair than him, yet Brooks’ superiors forced him to wear a special hat and even a hair net. He has experienced ongoing harassment because of his special headgear and his hairnet once interfered with his firefighting equipment during a building fire.
First Liberty is fighting for Brooks’ legal right to live according to his sincerely held religious beliefs. Utica should apologize to Brooks, grant him a religious accommodation, and treat him equally with other firefighters in his department.
Animal activists threatened the Chabad of Irvine, a small Orthodox Jewish congregation in California for its historic religious practice involving the humane killing of a chicken. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
Listeners to this podcast will recall that First Liberty represents the Chabad of Irvine, defending against a lawsuit initiated by animal rights activists against this small Orthodox Jewish congregation in California.
Kaporos is a historic religious rite that usually takes place on the eve of Yom Kippur, where the atonement of sins is contemplated through prayer and the kosher and humane killing of a chicken.
Just ahead of the 2017 observance, activists filed a new lawsuit, this time against the Cities of Los Angeles and Irvine, California, along with their police departments. The activists want the court to compel the enforcement of animal cruelty laws in a way that would prevent this religious exercise.
More shockingly, they claim that, if the police will not, these activists are prepared to place Orthodox Jews practicing kaporos under “private persons arrest.” Can you believe that? Animal activists think they can make a citizen’s arrest of fellow Americans, just because they disagree with their religious practices.
We prepared to intervene in this lawsuit to protect the Jewish community in and around Los Angeles, but thankfully we were able to secure assurances that these activists would restrain themselves.
Certainly, we can disagree with one another over matters of religion, but no one should fear being placed under arrest—by the police or fellow citizens—for peacefully exercising their religion.
After five years, a group of high school cheerleaders won their case in court after being told they could not put Bible versus on break through football banners. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
It was Friday night and the lights in Texas shone down on the field. The Kountze High School football team was about to smash through a banner and onto the field.
Holding the banner were the Kountze High School cheerleaders. Negative slogans like “Beat the bulldogs” were a thing of the past. These cheerleaders wanted to be positive. So, they looked to the Bible for a positive message they could communicate instead.
But, the school said the new banner message had to go. They had received a complaint and could not afford to take any chances. But, the cheerleaders were not about to give up.
First Liberty Institute stepped in and, for the next 5 years, represented the young women. The school argued that since the banner was on school property, the message—chosen entirely by the students and displayed on paper the student purchased and painted—was government speech and that couldn’t be religious without violating the constitution.
The court disagreed. No reasonable person would conclude that the message—scrawled in student script and held aloft by students—could be an official message of the state. Instead, the student’s message was private speech, entitled to the protections of the First Amendment.
Matthews v. Kountze Independent School District stands for the important principal that schools cannot censor, ban, or claim ownership to the private religious speech of its students.
Despite most residents being unable to identify their county seal, a federal district court ruled that the county seal of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania is unconstitutional. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
Most residents of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, probably have no idea what their county seal looks like.
It has a cow, factories, a silo, an oil lamp set on two books, a courthouse, flags and bunting, and more. Recently, a federal district court reluctantly declared the seal unconstitutional because, centered in the background of it all, is a cross.
According to the court’s opinion:
“The County has not . . . legally compelled its citizens to practice and conform to Christianity, infringed on freedom of conscience, or created political conflict between the Christian Church and other religious sects. Simply put, the County of Lehigh did not intend to ‘establish’ religion or institute a County religion.”
And, so, the court concluded:
“Lehigh County’s Seal is a passive symbol that does not coerce any citizen to practice or adhere to Christianity, and does not establish a county religion. Thus, the Seal does not violate the plain text of the Establishment Clause. Nor does it establish religion in the way the drafters of the First Amendment imagined. Higher courts, however, have delineated a different mechanism by which the court must determine whether the Seal survives constitutional scrutiny. While the court may not fully agree with the test provided, the court must apply that test.”
Well, we can only hope an appeal will change that test.
A long standing ban in the Tennessee Constitution prevented ministers from seeking elected office until 1977 despite an entire Civil War being fought to protect the rights of citizenship. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
In 1796, the State of Tennessee banned an entire class of Americans from running for elected office. The state’s founders even enshrined this prohibition in the very constitution of their own state.
Perhaps by 1977, modern society would have come to its senses. After all, an entire civil war had been fought over a state’s denial of the rights of citizenship to human beings. But, evidently the state didn’t pay attention. Some rationalized that, if the state lifted the ban, these people would exercise their powers to promote one group of people over another, violating the rigorous neutrality expected of any lawmaker.
So, given the opportunity, Selma Cash Paty filed a lawsuit to prevent Paul McDaniel from running. Maybe Paty was just trailing in the polls and this was an easy way to win. Or, maybe, it was just the entrenched discrimination made infamous by the Deep South.
Either way, McDaniel, was an ordained minister of the Gospel and his position as pastor of a Baptist church in Chattanooga was enough to disqualify him from office, according to the Tennessee constitution.
But, the justices of the Supreme Court ended the almost two-centuries of discrimination when, in McDaniel v. Paty, the justices held that state constitution’s exclusion of ministers seeking elected office violated McDaniel’s free exercise rights under the First Amendment.
Well, I think we can all say “Amen” to that.