After three years of litigation First Liberty clients are seeing relief after the Obama-era “contraceptive mandate” was rolled back by the Trump Administration. The new interim final rule should provide exemptions and protection from future administrations. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Well, looks like it’s finally over. After three years of litigation, First Liberty Institute clients, including Insight for Living Ministries and several ministries of the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination received final relief from the U.S. Department of Justice in their fight for an exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate. The mandate forced ministries and other nonprofit organizations into the position of adhering to their religious beliefs or obeying the law.
This settlement came about a month after the Trump administration announced a new interim final rule rolling back the Obama-era, so-called “contraceptive mandate” and provides exemptions that should prevent future administrations from targeting the religious conscience of these ministries.
We are pleased that our clients can now get back to serving others instead of defending themselves against the government’s attacks on their faith. This should be a decision between these ministries and the God they serve, rather than one imposed by the government.
Of course, the last three years of litigation could have been avoided entirely if the Obama administration had simply recognized that the First Amendment protects the rights of conscience of these religious ministries against an administration intent on coercing their obedience.
We are grateful that the Trump administration has agreed to end this unnecessary and harmful assault on religious liberty.
To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.
The comments from Joy Behar about Vice-President Mike Pence and his religious beliefs are a clear example of the religious bigotry the drafters of the U.S. Constitution rejected when they wrote Article VI. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
I probably don’t fit in the demographic of those watching “The View.” But, it is sometimes hard to miss the controversy surrounding that show.
Joy Behar, one of the hosts of “The View,” weighed in on the faith of Vice-President Mike Pence. Behar’s comments came after claims by Omarosa, the reality TV star turned White House advisor turned reality TV star again, expressed fear that, not only does Pence pray to Jesus, he claims that Jesus talks back.
On that, Behar said, “It’s one thing to talk to Jesus. It’s another thing when Jesus talks to you,” adding that for Christian’s like Pence to hear voices in your head may be a sign of “mental illness.” She then joked, “Can [Pence] talk to Mary Magdalene without his wife in the room?”
Behar’s comments are not merely silly; her comments are evidence of a hateful, religious bigotry that has no place in our society. Essentially, Behar has labeled Vice-President Pence as unfit for office not only because he may have a mental illness, but because his mental illness stems from his religious beliefs.
This is the exact type of religious bigotry that the drafters of the U.S. Constitution rejected when they rejected any religious tests for office in Article VI. No one should be disqualified for office on the basis of their religious beliefs.
To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.
The new U.S. Attorney Manual’s new section on religious liberty is going to help protect religious liberty for all Americans and will strengthen all of our core freedoms. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
The U.S. Department of Justice recently announced that it will update the U.S. Attorneys’ Manual, creating a new section giving special attention to religious liberty.
Updates to such a manual are sometimes viewed as routine, but they tend to reflect the values and priorities of the Department of Justice, and function as a sort of roadmap for the department’s coming years.
The updates announced in the new manual requires the nation’s U.S. Attorneys to not only identify a dedicated point of contact on litigation having to do with religious liberty, but also requires coordination of any such litigation directly with the central office in Washington, D.C. In other words, Attorney General Sessions is announcing that his office will be very hands-on in lawsuits involving our “First Freedom.”
When the Department of Justice announced the updated U.S. Attorneys’ Manual, then Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand explained, “Religious liberty is an inalienable right protected by the Constitution, and defending it is one of the most important things we do at the Department of Justice.”
Clearly, the days of abandoning protections in the law for religious liberty — including bipartisan laws like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act — may be a thing of the past. The critical leadership of the attorney general and his staff to protect religious liberty for all Americans will do much to strengthen all of our core freedoms.
To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.
A California judge recently ruled in favor of Cathy Miller, the owner of Tastries bakery when she was sued for declining to create a cake based on her religious convictions. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
At this point, it’s an all too familiar story: a same-sex couple asks a religious baker to custom create a wedding cake. Despite apologetically declining the business, the baker is sued and the bakery is forced to close.
But, this is not that story; not yet anyway. Cathy Miller is the religious baker and her bakery, called “Tastries” is located in Bakersfield, California. She was forced to decline some business when that client would’ve required her to use her creative expression to lend support to a union that violates her religious convictions. The couple filed a complaint and the State of California filed suit against Cathy.
But Judge David Lampe concluded that the state has an obligation to protect free speech for everyone, including Cathy. The court reasoned that, while everyone should be able to purchase ready-made goods regardless of what the customer plans to do with the goods, custom art is different.
Or, as the ACLU says, “Freedom of expression for ourselves requires freedom of expression for others.”
You see, the true test of whether we actually believe in the promise of the First Amendment is speech we find socially controversial. Popular ideas are not in great danger of being suppressed or silenced. The true test of our commitment to freedom is if we welcome that disagreement and live peaceably as neighbors anyway.
Billy Graham has a long-standing history of sharing the Gospel all over the world, including at publically owned venues. Today, those same venues are preventing two Christian football teams from praying over a city – owned microphone. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
America was saddened to learn of the loss of Billy Graham. Some have openly wondered whether history will ever witness another like him. The better question to ask at this point in our history may be, “Can there be another Billy Graham?”
Graham’s crusades were public expressions of faith, many times taking place on public property. In 1952, Graham’s crusade visited Washington, D.C. Graham held services on the very steps of the United States Capitol, enlisting supportive government officials to secure the permission needed for such an event.
He would go on to preach at dozens of the country’s most historic and publicly-owned venues, including what is today known as Camping World Stadium.
In 2015, the football teams from two Christian schools in Florida faced off in that same stadium where, in 1969 and again in 1983, Billy Graham stood to share his Gospel message with thousands in attendance. Incredibly, these two religious schools were denied use of the city-owned microphone to pray over the same loudspeaker once used to amplify the disarming, baritone voice of Billy Graham as he preached and prayed.
If the First Amendment does not protect the right of two Christian schools to pray for 30 seconds over a city-owned loudspeaker in 2015, can it protect the next Billy Graham who wants to use the same public address system in the same stadium?
As many know, the Amish people are not permitted to use electricity based on their religious beliefs. But what do they do when the city’s sewer system includes an electric pump? Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Lessons about religious liberty come in some of the most remarkable stories.
For instance, a Pennsylvania town recently required its Amish citizens to hook into its public sewer system. Frankly, I never thought this would pose much of a concern, let alone a question of religious liberty. But, I was wrong.
It turns out the sewer system utilizes an electric pump. The Amish, for religious reasons, are not permitted to enjoy the modern conveniences of electricity. So, even though their outhouse is of the traditional, non-electric kind, the electrical pump of the public sewer taints the Amish privy. In fact, according to the documents filed with the court, the Amish family could be excommunicated from their religious community if they were to totally connect.
Now, this is a fascinating question. Clearly, the state has a compelling interest in ensuring the proper containment and flow of sewage, but is such an interest compelling enough to overcome the substantial burden hooking into such a system would place upon the religious liberty of the Amish?
It’s a tough question, but I’m thankful we live in a country that pauses to consider the impact something like a sewer pump might have upon the religious liberty of its citizens.
Memorials are symbols meant to remind the living of the sacrifice of our fallen soldiers and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision to deny an en banc review of the Bladensburg Veterans Memorial could be setting a dangerous precedent. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Veterans’ memorials are symbols meant to remind the living of the service and sacrifice the fallen made for freedom.
That is why Gold Star mothers in 1919 started work on the Bladensburg World War I Veterans’ Memorial. They did not want the world to forget the sacrifice their sons made. So, they, along with The American Legion, erected a cross-shaped memorial. The design mirrored the universally accepted symbol erected over the thousands of graves of men who died in Europe defending freedom. No one complained for almost 100 years.
Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit refused to overturn an opinion of a panel of that court that would direct a federal district to consider whether the monument should have it’s horizontal arms removed or be razed to the ground completely.
Such a decision sets a dangerous precedent for veterans’ memorials across America. If this decision stands, other memorials will be targeted for destruction as well. We will appeal this case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
I encourage you to go to DontTearMeDown.com and join us in defending this memorial to the 49 men of Prince George’s County, Maryland killed in the line of duty during World War I.
We forget what we do not see. Unless the Supreme Court intervenes, the Bladensburg memorial and similar memorials in close by in Arlington National Cemetery may disappear as well.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recently denied review of the court that declared a cross-shaped veterans memorial unconstitutional. A number of judges on the court disagreed with the decision and made their stances known. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
When the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit declined to review a decision of that court that said the cross-shaped Bladensburg World War I Veterans’ Memorial is unconstitutional, not all the judges agreed.
Chief Judge Gregory noted his dissent. He said, “Nearly a century ago, Maryland citizens, out of deep respect and gratitude, took on the daunting task of erecting a monument to mirror the measure of individual devotion and sacrifice these heroes had so nobly advanced. The panel majority says their effort violates the Constitution the soldiers fought to defend. I, respectfully, think otherwise.”
Judge Niemeyer said with some exasperation, “Until this action was filed by persons who claim to be offended by the presence of the monument, no complaint had been made about its presence . . .”
But, Judge Wilkinson was poetic in his dissent. He wrote, “The dead cannot speak for themselves. But may the living hear their silence . . . This memorial and this cross have stood for almost one full century. Life and change flow by the small park in the form of impatient cars and trucks. That is disturbance enough.”
He concluded simply noting that the park in which the memorial stands, “may not be Arlington National Cemetery, but it is the next thing to it. I would let the cross remain and let those honored rest in peace.”
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.
In America, no one would stand aside while the government came in to bulldoze their house of worship, at least not without a fight. So why are Native Americans not given the same consideration when it comes to the land they view as sacred? Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Members of the Klickitat and Cascade tribes in Oregon have lost burial grounds and seen sacred artifacts bulldozed for a highway project.
For centuries, these Native Americans practiced their religion peacefully near Mt. Hood. There they buried their dead and performed a variety of religious rituals, many of which are tied closely to the earth itself.
When Highway 26 was set to be widened, the tribes alerted the Federal Highway Administration to the sacred site, including the presence of a stone altar, ancient burial ground, and trees and medicinal plans—all of which are used for the observance of their religion. But, their pleas fell on deaf ears.
The tribes filed a lawsuit asserting that the highway administration interfered with the free exercise of their religion, in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In early 2018, a federal magistrate judge recommended that the lawsuit be dismissed.
The magistrate noted that, though the sacred site was destroyed, there was no evidence that the tribes were “coerced to act contrary to their religious beliefs.”
Undoubtedly, these tribes will appeal the decision, and they should. These Native Americans view this land as their church. None of us would stand for the bulldozing of our house of worship to make way for a highway. Why should Native Americans be denied the same consideration?
Hope Rising Community Church was facing a problem when their congregation outgrew its facilities. It was a good problem to have, until the city ordered them to cease and desist all of their worship services. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Hope Rising Community Church faced a problem they really liked having: they were outgrowing their facilities.
For a while, the room at the Penn Hebron Garden Club in Penn Hills, Pennsylvania worked all right, but it soon became clear that the growing attendance required a move. So, they signed a three-year lease on a local warehouse building, spent thousands of dollars in renovations, and made preparations to move in for their weekly worship service.
But, soon after moving in, the church received orders from the city to cease and desist all their worship services and large group assemblies. Evidently, the use of the warehouse violated the city’s zoning laws, even though parks, playgrounds, and educational institutions were welcomed.
When Hope Rising sued the City of Penn Hills under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, RLUIPA for short, a federal magistrate judge concluded the city violated federal law. Penn Hills was not treating Hope Rising on equal terms as parks, playgrounds, and educational institutions and certainly failed to show “how a religious institution would cause greater harm” in that zone than a park, playground, or educational institution.
City zoning laws are often applied in ways that are unfair to houses of worship. Federal laws like RLUIPA ensure zoning laws don’t discriminate.
Two school boards in Arkansas were told to stop opening their meetings with prayer. Of course, the advice came, not from their attorneys or the community the boards represent, but from a secularist group that just doesn’t like prayer in public. Learn what the Supreme Court and lower courts have to say about public and legislative prayers at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Two school boards in Arkansas were told to stop opening their meetings with prayer. Of course, the advice came, not from their attorneys or the community the boards represent, but from a secularist group that just doesn’t like prayer in public.
We have covered the issue of legislative prayer often on the First Liberty Briefing. By now you know that public and legislative prayer has not only been a long-standing part of our country’s history and tradition; it has at least twice been upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States. And, earlier in 2017 the United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit gave its approval to school boards opening meetings with prayer.
Perhaps these school boards in Arkansas should consider the words of Chief Justice Burger writing for the majority in the 1983 case of Marsh v. Chambers: “It can hardly be thought that in the same week Members of the First Congress voted to appoint and to pay a chaplain for each House and also voted to approve the draft of the First Amendment for submission to the states, they intended the Establishment Clause of the Amendment to forbid what they had just declared acceptable.”
County commissions, city councils, and school boards across America: don’t be afraid to pray like the Members of the First Congress.
News out of Alaska reports that officials on the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly are thinking of ending their practice of prayer prior to their meetings. Learn more about legislative prayers at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
News out of Alaska reports that officials on the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly are thinking of ending their practice of prayer prior to their meetings.
Assembly member Shaun Tacke said the move to end pre-meeting prayer is to be inclusive. Since some in the community believe in prayer before meetings and others don’t, he says, “having a strict policy of separation of church and state . . . excludes no one and includes everyone.”
I’m not sure that’s the right logic. By excluding legislative prayer, the assembly is excluding those who believe in such prayers, while favoring those who insist upon strict secularity in the public square. To quote Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in Greece v. Galloway, “Government may not mandate a civic religion that stifles any but the most generic reference to the sacred any more than it may prescribe a religious orthodoxy.”
The Supreme Court of the United States has twice explained, legislative prayers have a long history and tradition in our country, a tradition meant to lend gravity to the proceedings, while acknowledging the role religion plays in the life of our nation.
Legislative bodies like this assembly may choose to end their practice of legislative prayer, but they should understand that nothing in the history of our country or the doctrine of our Constitution compels them to do so.
A recent survey shows that universities are increasingly providing space for students of all faiths. Despite push back from groups who want all religion erased from the public square, these schools should be commended for providing meeting space for all students. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
A recent survey of Big 10 colleges reveals that universities are increasingly providing space for religious students on campus.
According to the report, these new spaces on campus serve students from a variety of faith backgrounds. Some use the rooms for prayer and others for religious gatherings.
But, not everyone thinks the rooms should be used for just religious purposes, however. The Ohio State University student government passed a resolution urging campus leaders to reconsider the interfaith space as religious-use only.
Activists off-campus questioned the University of Iowa, suggesting that setting aside rooms for use by religious students “unconstitutionally entangled itself with religion.”
That, of course, is simply the political posturing of ideologues that dislike any religion appearing in public. The efforts by these universities are to be commended. Providing space for religious students to meet is an important means of recognizing the diverse, religious background of its student body.
At the same time, it should be unnecessary. Religious students should be able to use campus space on the same terms as secular students. To the extent certain religious backgrounds require specific space, the efforts by these Big 10 universities are to be commended. Yet, it is important to remind our coeds that, as in all of life, religious liberty means religious students are to be welcomed and tolerated in the university setting.
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.
Amish Families in the state of Maine are asking for the government to accommodate them to wear blaze red instead of orange. Learn why this accommodation could help achieve hunter safety at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Mainers want their state lawmakers to see red—at least while they’re hunting.
Amish families throughout the State of Maine hunt for their food. As you may know, the Amish religiously shun many modern conveniences, in accordance with their religious customs requiring a simple life. That includes while they are hunting.
You see, most states require hunters to wear blaze orange while hunting. This increases visibility to other hunters and increases hunter safety. But, it’s pretty flashy—too flashy, in fact, for the simple ways of the Amish. So, they are asking for a religious accommodation in the law. If approved, Amish Mainers will be permitted to wear red instead of blaze orange.
It would seem to be in the best interests of Maine to follow the lead of several states in providing this accommodation. Several Amish have pledged to disobey the blaze orange law and, if cited, refuse to pay the fine. This simple accommodation would prevent the needless punishment by the state of its religious citizens and any lawsuits challenging such a burden on the free exercise of their religion.
But, it should not have to go to court. By a simple spin of the color wheel, and a few votes in the legislature, it would seem that the state could achieve its interest in hunter safety, while honoring the religious conscience of the Amish.
The Lansing Housing Commission in Michigan allowed residents to use a community room for birthday parties, tutoring, and events. However, the commission refused to grant access to the community rooms for “religious worship, services, or programs.” Learn why religious discrimination is not cured by discriminating against all religions equally at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
The Lansing Housing Commission provides subsidized housing in central Michigan. In many of the facilities, the housing commission provides a community room. The commission often grants access to those community rooms for birthday parties, Boy Scout meetings, tutoring sessions, and other community events. However, the commission refused to grant access to the community rooms for “religious worship, services, or programs.”
His Healing Hands Medical Clinic provides a range of services to the community inside the housing commission’s facilities. When its leaders asked to use the community room for religious services on Sundays, the church was excluded. The commission explained that it was welcome to use the community room to meet the physical needs of the community, but could not “say anything about Jesus” or “bring any Bibles” with them.
In court, the commission argued that their policy was permissible because it denied use of the community to all religions equally. But, the court rejected that reasoning. Excluding all religions is the very definition of religious discrimination, which is not cured by discriminating against all religions equally.
Government commissions are not permitted to pick and choose which viewpoint it will permit in public places and which it will refuse. The First Amendment requires our government to be neutral in dealing with the various religious viewpoints that make up our public square.
A Baptist Minister in Massachusetts hauled a 1,235 pound cheese wheel the same day Jefferson wrote an infamous letter that was meant to assure the Danbury Baptists. Learn what the letter said and how a pastor and president impacted religious liberty at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Pastor John Leland, a Baptist minister in Massachusetts, celebrated Thomas Jefferson’s election from his pulpit by announcing that the congregation would make a giant wheel of cheese to honor the incoming president. So, on the morning of July 21, 1801, the congregation hauled pails of curds drawn from 900 local cows. As they pressed the cheese, they sang hymns and gave thanks for the incoming president. In the end, the cheese wheel measured four feet in diameter, thirteen feet in circumference, seventeen inches in height, and weighed 1,235 pounds.
It took months for the cheese to be hauled to Jefferson, with the accompanying Leland preaching along the way. After Jefferson received the ripening cheese, he left to attend a weekly church service held in the United States Capitol building.
That same day, Jefferson wrote what would become an infamous letter. Like Leland’s Republican, cheese-mongering congregation, the Danbury Baptists felt in the minority in Congregationalist-Federalist New England. They feared the loss of religious liberty under the new president.
His letter was meant to assure them, explaining that the First Amendment erected “a wall of separation between Church and State” meant to protect the church from the overreach of the very government Jefferson was elected to lead.
It may be a cheesy story, but that’s how a pastor and a president impacted religious liberty.
A new Supreme Court decision respects the American tradition of allowing religious ministries and organizations to pursue their missions without interference from the IRS. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
In 1977, the Internal Revenue Service tried to declare that Catholic nuns operating a hospital was not a “religious function.” Congress responded by amending the Employment Retirement Income Securities Act or ERISA to prevent the IRS from deciding what is or is not a church.
Nonetheless, class-action lawyers recently tried to argue that because some religious hospitals established pension plans, ERISA’s exemptions did not apply because those plans were not established by a church.
Well, a unanimous Supreme Court recently rejected that reasoning. The Court recognized that Congress’s amendment of ERISA continues to protect religious organizations from the burdens of ERISA, foreclosing the possibility that the IRS could bankrupt a religious organization simply because it does not believe the organization is religious enough.
First Liberty Institute filed a friend-of-the-court brief in this case on behalf of several religious organizations. As my colleague, Justin Butterfield, said of the decision in Advocate Health Care Network v. Stapleton: “The History of the United States of America is one requiring the government to respect the religious freedom and autonomy of its houses of worship and religious organizations. The Supreme Court’s decision respects that great history and tradition, allowing churches, synagogues, mosques, and religious ministries to pursue their religious mission without the weight of government bureaucracy and regulation hindering their efforts and intruding upon their mission.”
Judges on the Sixth Circuit have a lot to say about who may provide the invocation prior to a county commission meeting. Learn more: FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
We recently noted the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit approving the invocations presented by the commissioners of Jackson County, Michigan before their meetings. Today, I wanted you to hear the judges in their own words.
Judge Griffin, writing the opinion for the Sixth Circuit explained, “There is no support for [plaintiff's] granular view of legislative prayer.” He said, “That the prayers reflect the individual Commissioners’ religious beliefs does not mean the Jackson County Board of Commissioners is ‘endorsing’ a particular religion, Christianity or otherwise.”
Judge Sutton, concurring, wrote, “Good manners might have something to say about all of this and how it is done. So too might the Golden Rule. But 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.”
Dissenting, Judge Moore wrote that the Supreme Court has approved only the “right to open its meetings with solemn and respectful prayers, which was targeted at legislators and offered by clergy or volunteers from a variety of faith traditions,” but not the practice of “government officials themselves asking the public to participate in exclusively Christian prayer.”
That’s what they think about. Now the question is: what does the Supreme Court think?
The practice of opening government meetings with prayer has been a longstanding tradition going back centuries. However, the federal courts of appeal are split over this very practice. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Can county commissioners open their own meetings with prayer?
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recently prohibited Rowan County’s commissioners from opening their meetings with prayer. But, the federal courts of appeal are split over whether prayers offered by legislators at local government meetings are unconstitutional. In another one of our cases, Bormuth v. County of Jackson, the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit approved of the same practice.
Opening government meetings with prayer is a centuries-old tradition that goes back to before the founding of our nation and continues to this day before Congress, statehouses, and thousands of local governments across the country. It shouldn’t be very controversial.
The Supreme Court previously approved of the long-standing tradition of “legislative prayer” and its role in solemnizing policymaking sessions, encouraging lawmakers to selflessly seek the greater good, and acknowledging the role that faith plays in the lives of millions of Americans. In 1983, in Marsh v. Chambers and then again in Town of Greece v. Galloway, the Supreme Court held that prayers offered by private citizens before government meetings are fully consistent with the Constitution and an important part of America’s history and heritage.
But, what if that citizen is an elected official? That’s the question we hope the Supreme Court will now answer.
President Trump is fulfilling his constitutional obligation by signing an executive order that prioritizes religious liberty within the Trump Administration. Learn how the president did so at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
On the 2017 National Day of Prayer, President Trump took a remarkable step in support of religious liberty.
President Trump assembled religious leaders from a variety of faith traditions in the Rose Garden of the White House. In addition to making remarks about the National Day of Prayer, the President signed an executive order strengthening religious liberty.
The executive action prioritizes religious liberty within the Trump administration, encouraging the HHS Secretary to consider rules alleviating the religious conscience of those impacted by Obamacare, while ordering the IRS to decline enforcement of the Johnson Amendment, and directing the Attorney General to issue guidance to all executive agencies on the law governing religious liberty.
This executive order is one of the ways in which the President is fulfilling his constitutional obligation to ensure that the laws passed by the legislature be faithfully executed. Moreover, the executive order reigns in those administrative agencies that have, in recent years, often ignored the laws governing religious liberty.
As my boss, Kelly Shackelford said after the President signed the order, “Our country was founded on the promise that its government would respect the religious liberty of its people. America’s commitment to freedom—and especially religious freedom—should be our national priority.”
Much work remains in defense of religious liberty, but, with this order, the President has set his administration on good footing.
The Framers inserted a couple of words in the Oaths Clause to protect the religious conscience of citizens taking oaths. Learn how they implemented this protection at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
On our last episode, we discussed the Religious Test Clause, found in Article VI of the United States Constitution. Today, I’d like to discuss the clause just before it: the “Oaths Clause.”
In practical terms, the Oaths Clause required federal officials to be bound to their office with an “oath or affirmation” that they would support the Constitution.
Most immediately, that language came in stark contrast to the oath the new Americans once swore to England’s King. No longer would Americans swear allegiance to a single human; rather, their duty in office would be in service and support of the Constitution and, by extension, to the “we the people” mentioned in its preamble.
You probably understand the part about oaths, but, why did the framers insert the “or affirmation” part? The answer reveals our country’s commitment to recognizing that its government should neither compel, nor compromise the religious conscience of its citizens.
Some religious beliefs prevent the taking of oaths of any kind, save an oath to God alone. It may seem insignificant upon first glance, but by inserting the word “or” in the Oaths Clause and giving the option to affirm support of the Constitution, the framers made the official policy of the United States that it would show deference to the religious conscience of its citizens.
Tucked away in the corner of the United States Constitution is an important phrase that demonstrates our country’s commitment to religious liberty. Learn why the Framers sought to protect religious liberty at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Tucked away in the corner of the United States Constitution is an important phrase that demonstrates our country’s commitment to religious liberty.
Toward the end of the main part of the Constitution we find Article VI, dealing mostly with debts and the supremacy of treaties. But, in the final paragraph, the framers prohibited any “religious test” for constitutional officers.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this Religious Test Clause is that it has been entirely self-executing, probably because no religious test has actually been presented to any federal office holder.
But, the framers had at least two concerns about religious tests. First, if permitted, could religious tests be used by religious groups to exclude individuals from other religions? And, equally important, the framers recognized that a religious test could keep good and wise, but secular, citizens from achieving office.
The framers of the constitution sought a government officially neutral toward religion, one neither hostile toward, nor sympathetic of, the religious beliefs of its federal officers. Inherently, this recognizes the outer limits of government: that government’s job is to govern, rather than demand its people practice religion in the manner prescribed by Congress.
In this way, somewhat unique in history, the United States became a government that permitted its people to pursue their relationship with the Divine without pressure—or punishment—by their government.
Harbor Missionary Church was required by the city of San Buenaventura, California to file for a conditional use permit in order to continue their homeless ministry. The city denied the permit without much of an explanation. Learn more about the case by visiting FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Ministry to the homeless is a difficult, often thankless task for many houses of worship. Some cities tend to make it even harder.
Harbor Missionary Church in the city of San Buenaventura, California had what appeared to be a thriving ministry to the homeless. But San Buenaventura required the church to file for a conditional use permit in order to continue the ministry. They did and were hopeful when the city staff recommended that the permit be issued. But, the city planning commission denied the permit outright and without much of an explanation.
The church filed a lawsuit alleging that the denial violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act or RLUIPA. On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the church argued that the city had substantially burdened their religious exercise. In fact, without help from the Ninth Circuit, the church would be forced to sell its property and raise $1.4 million in order to relocate their homeless ministry. Thankfully, the Ninth Circuit concluded that the city had violated RLUIPA by denying the special use permit.
Zoning laws are important to local government, but they can be used to prevent the free exercise of religion as well. When they do, RLUIPA provides a check on the government’s exercise of authority against a religious organization’s religious liberty.