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