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First Liberty Briefing

First Liberty Briefing is an exclusive podcast hosted by First Liberty Institute’s Deputy General Counsel Jeremy Dys. In about 90-seconds, once a week, Jeremy recalls the stories that have shaped America’s religious liberty, from the founding era to current legal battles and more. It’s an insider’s look at the stories, cases, people, and laws that have made America the world’s leader in protecting religious liberty.
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Now displaying: 2017
Dec 29, 2017

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.

Dec 27, 2017

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.

Dec 25, 2017

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.

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

Dec 22, 2017

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.

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

Dec 20, 2017

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.

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

Dec 18, 2017

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.

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

Dec 15, 2017

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?

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

 

Dec 13, 2017

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.

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

Dec 11, 2017

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.

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

 

Dec 8, 2017

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.

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

Dec 6, 2017

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.

Dec 4, 2017

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.

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

Dec 1, 2017

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.

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

Nov 29, 2017

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.

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

Nov 27, 2017

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.

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

Nov 24, 2017

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.

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

Nov 22, 2017

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.

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

Nov 20, 2017

When the United Church of Cabot in Vermont asked voters to approve repairs to its historic church building with public funds, they agreed. However, someone raised an objection, but historic church buildings deserve repairs just as much as historic secular buildings. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


In Vermont, the United Church of Cabot needed repairs. Specifically, this historic church asked the voters to consider repairing the steeple, stairwell, along with other minor repairs.

The community uses the building for a variety of meetings and events. The taxpayers were even asked whether public funds—about $10,000—should be used to pay for these repairs. When the voters agreed to the project, someone raised an objection.

A Vermont district court enjoined the repairs, concluding that the state’s constitution categorically prohibits the public funding of houses of worship. But, the Vermont Supreme Court disagreed. In sending the case back to the lower court, it said that the “plaintiffs will have to demonstrate that painting the church building and assessing its sills is more like funding devotional training for future clergy.”

Well, that’s a difficult task. If we have learned anything from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Trinity Lutheran it is that our country’s dedication to separating church and state means neutrality toward religion, rather than hostility. If Vermont expends taxpayer dollars on other historic buildings, it is anything but neutral to refuse funding for an historic church building.

The logic that claims that anything religious must be purged from public participation simply because it is religious is simply wrong, it goes against decades of precedent, and destroys our country’s rich heritage of diversity.

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

Nov 17, 2017

One cook at a Walt Disney resort was fired because he wouldn’t cut off his dreadlocks — a key component of his religious expression as a Rastafarian. Listen at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


America is home to a great diversity of cultural and religious backgrounds. Our commitment to religious liberty protects them all.

The federal government recently filed a lawsuit on behalf of a cook employed at a Walt Disney resort. The cook was fired because he would not conform to Disney’s appearance standards because doing so would require him to violate his religious beliefs.

The cook is a Rastafarian, a religious movement that began in the 1920’s and brought to prominence by singer Bob Marley. Rastafarians wear their hair in the style of dreadlocks; however, Disney doesn’t allow dreadlocks to be worn by cooks—even if those cooks keep their locks under cover while at work.

The same law that protects a Rastafarian from unfair treatment by his employer protects the rights of Jewish men to wear their beards long and Mennonite women to wear their head covering at work. As Justice Scalia explained in the case of EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch: “Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964] does not demand mere neutrality with regard to religious practices…. Rather, it gives [religious employees] favored treatment…Title VII requires otherwise-neutral policies to give way to the need for an accommodation.”

In other words, Religious liberty seeks to respect legitimate business concerns and functions, so long as those goals accommodate a mutual respect for the free exercise of religion.

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

Nov 15, 2017

Do employers have to accommodate their employees’ religious exercise? The answer at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Lois Davis worked as an IT specialist near Houston, Texas. In 2011, her county employer was working to install all new personal computers, network components, and a/v equipment. In order to complete the project, the IT staff would be required to work through the weekend of the Fourth of July.

Davis however, had a short conflict. That Sunday, July 3rd, her church was having a very special service requiring her attendance and participation. She informed her supervisor of the conflict, offered to return to the office as soon as her religious commitment was complete, and even explained that there was a ready and willing volunteer to cover the time that she would be unavailable.

Typically, employers are required to accommodate the exercise of an employee’s religion. However, employers are not required to so accommodate if doing so would cause an “undue hardship” to their business.

And that is exactly what Davis’ employer argued, but the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. The court explained that it may not be an undue hardship for an employer to allow its employee 3 hours to attend a religious service—especially when that employee had arranged for a volunteer substitute to cover her responsibilities while away.

Accommodating the religion of an employee can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. Davis’ case is a good reminder that the goals of an employer need not conflict with the ability of an employee to freely exercise her religion.

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

Nov 13, 2017

When a high school graduating class was told they could not sing a rendition of the Lord’s Prayer, they stood up for their religious freedom and recited it instead. Listen now to hear about this incredible stand for religious freedom at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


Every high school graduation has its own traditions. For one East Liverpool, Ohio, high school, the tradition had been for the graduates to sing a rendition of The Lord’s Prayer as part of the ceremony.

But, in 2016, a secular activist group got wind of the decades-old tradition and, for the first time in decades, complained, putting an end to the practice.

The song of the graduates was silenced, by order of the school board, but that’s not the end of the story. Toward the end of the ceremony, the graduates recited the Lord’s Prayer. It started with just a few, then more, until the entire class was on their feet quoting the Lord’s Prayer from memory.

The students were not only technically right (they had only be instructed not to sing the Lord’s Prayer), they were right on the law as well. You might call it an act of civil disobedience, but you cannot argue with the fact that it was, in fact, private speech. That is, it was the speech of the students and not, as the original complaint alleged, the official speech of the government endorsing religion.

Students should be reminded that their speech is the most protected at school and they ought never to be intimidated when speaking about their faith, whether in class or at graduation.

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

Nov 10, 2017

High school student John Raney was told that religious schools were illegal in New York. But the Equal Access Act of 1984 says something different. Find out what at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


John Raney was a student at Ward Melville High School on Long Island, New York. He wanted to start a student club that would do acts of service to the community and encourage fellow students in their faith.

So, he did what the leaders of the chess club the fishing club the Frisbee club had done: he applied to form an extracurricular club at the school. But, the administrators of his high school denied the application, saying that, despite the school having 41 different student clubs, religious clubs were illegal in New York.

First Liberty, along with our volunteer attorneys at McDermott, Will & Emory, sent a demand letter to the school, explaining that the Equal Access Act of 1984 required the school to permit John’s religious club. The school quickly agreed to support John’s club.

You would think that would be the end of it, but a year later, when John went to renew his club’s application for his senior year, he was denied again. Another demand letter did the trick and John’s club was able to continue doing good for their school and for his community.

The Equal Access Act of 1984 says that a school must allow religious clubs at public schools if it offers support to secular extracurricular clubs on campus. Student religious clubs may not be treated differently by public school administrators simply because they are religious in nature.

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

Nov 8, 2017

The Florida Department of Corrections stopped accommodating inmates who kept a kosher diet because it was “too expensive.” Find out what happens at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


Since the 1990’s, the Florida Department of Corrections has offered its inmates various menus, ranging from its regular fare to meatless meals and even vegan offerings. In 2004, inmates began having the option of kosher meals as well, but that stopped three years later.

That is when the Federal government decided to step in to investigate why religious inmates requesting kosher meals were being denied. Following a lengthy investigation, the United States government filed a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Corrections. Incredibly, the Secretary for the Florida prisons argued that the reason Florida denied kosher meals to religious inmates was that such meals were just too expensive.

In July of 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit rejected Florida’s denial of kosher meals to inmates. The Eleventh Circuit grounded its decision in the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, sometimes called “RLUIPA,” and reminded the Florida legislature that it has a duty to ensure that its prison system was adequately funded in order to meet the religious needs of its inmates.

But why so much fuss about the religious liberty of criminals? The reason we bother protecting the religious liberty of inmates is very simple: religious liberty is a right endowed to us by our Creator; it is a right common and connected to our humanity. Though felons forfeit much liberty in the penal system, they do not forfeit their humanity.

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

Nov 6, 2017

Does a sign pointing out directions to a church violate the First Amendment? This court said no. Find out why at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Along the side of the road in the Pennsylvania town of Shickshinny Borough is a small sign. On the sign, appear the words, “Bible Baptist Church Welcomes You…one block” and it features a Bible, a cross, and an arrow pointing in the direction of the church.

The sign has been on the side of the road since 2008 when the city council approved its placement, at the cost of the church, replacing a sign there sign that had been standing nearby since the 1980’s.

The individual complaining about the sign was the lone vote on the city council against its placement when that council approved its placement. She also happens to be able to see the sign from her home. She filed this lawsuit four years after the sign was erected alleging that the sign was a religious sign and, since the city council approved of its placement and permitted it to reside on the side of the road, the town was violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The court agreed that the sign was a religious sign, but it dismissed the lawsuit anyway. The court said that no reasonable observer could conclude that a sign pointing out the direction to a church building could be the government’s way of establishing a religion in violation of the First Amendment.

Rather, to quote the court, “A reasonable observer would think it is a sign to a church and nothing more.”

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

Nov 3, 2017

Justice Alito is a proven defender of religious liberty. You may recall he authored the court’s opinion in Hobby Lobby, protecting the religious consciences of family-owned businesses. Learn how he’s challenging Americans to protect religious liberty at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito recently gave remarks to a group in New Jersey. His 45-minute presentation proved to be quite sobering.

Justice Alito is a proven defender of religious liberty. You may recall he authored the court’s opinion in Hobby Lobby, protecting the religious consciences of family-owned businesses. In other opinions, he has warned of the impact the sexual revolution may inflict upon the religious liberty of Americans.

In his latest remarks, however, Justice Alito told the audience, “You don’t need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. A wind is picking up that is hostile to those with traditional moral beliefs.”

But, the good justice ended with a word of caution and challenge. He said, “We are likely to see pitched battles in courts and Congress, state legislatures and town halls. But the most important fight is for the hearts and minds of our fellow Americans. It is up to all of us to evangelize our fellow Americans about the issue of religious freedom.”

That’s where you and I come in. Freedom—and especially religious freedom—is not a given in human history. It is something each generation must renew for itself. Telling the story of religious liberty, and its blessings, to one another is part of our responsibility as Americans. It’s also how we preserve liberty.

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

Nov 1, 2017

A Tennessee Governor has recently signed into law a measure protecting the religious liberty of Tennessee’s student-athletes. Find more about this law at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee has signed into law a measure protecting the religious liberty of Tennessee’s student athletes.

The new law allows parents to opt their students out of participation in an athletic contest “if the event is on an official school holiday, observed day of worship, or religious holiday.” Moreover, it sets the authority aright by explaining that school officials “may not require a student to attend an athletic event” over the parent’s objection.

Some wonder how necessary such a measure is. They argue that schools already respect the religious choices of student-athletes and do not punish those students who, for religious reasons, sit out of scheduled contests.

That, I suppose, is a debate for the ages. Whether athletes should participate on holy days is not a new issue, just watch the classic movie Chariots of Fire as but one example. Nonetheless, it is good to see the State of Tennessee explicitly stating that its school districts should be mindful that there are things to be respected of higher importance than sports.

Athletics can teach students much about life, diligence, and teamwork. But, life-balance is a critical element taught by sports in school as well. Today’s student-athletes are tomorrow’s business leaders who may be required to accommodate the religious practices of employees. Let us hope they learn the delicate balance of freedom well.

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

 

Oct 30, 2017

 Ethicists are recommending that Canadian doctors should not be allowed to opt out of providing services to patients, even if it goes against their conscience. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


A recent article out of Canada reports that ethicists are recommending that conscience laws be modified for the medical profession.

The argument suggests that physicians should not have the right to opt out of providing such services as prescribing contraceptives when a patient requests those services. According to the authors, “Doctors must put patients’ interest ahead of their own integrity. If this leads to feelings of guilty remorse or them dropping out of the profession, so be it.”

That is truly shocking language that we should take note of, especially since, as the article in the National Post points out, every country in the civilized world recognizes at least some form of conscientious objection. Not only do the authors suggest that certain professions should be closed to those whose integrity would require the abandonment of the conscience to practice, it fails to understand what conscience is.

The reason we provide protections for the exercise of conscience is because people should not be made by the government to make their conscience optional. As Dr. Robert George of Princeton University has put it, “The right of conscience is a right to do what one judges oneself to be under an obligation to do.”

We will see whether Canada takes up the proposal by its professors, but south of the border, we must be vigilant that we never permit the government to make optional what our Creator has made obligatory.

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

Oct 27, 2017

The Supreme Court has indicated that it wants to consider whether people of faith who operate a business will be welcomed to the public square or driven from it. Learn more by visiting FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


The Supreme Court has announced that it will hear the appeal of Masterpiece Cakeshop. You are probably familiar with at least the broad outline of the facts. A baker is approached to create a product that communicates a message he has a moral objection to creating. It is, unfortunately an all too familiar refrain these days. It’s threat to religious freedom and the freedom of speech should be obvious.

Our constitution guarantees the rights of free exercise of religion and free speech for every American. By granting review of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Supreme Court of the United States has indicated that it wants to consider whether people of faith who operate a business will be welcomed to the public square or driven from it.

Americans want a diverse public square that tolerates a variety of beliefs and opinions. We hope the Supreme Court will use this opportunity to protect people like First Liberty clients, Aaron and Melissa Klein, who have been forced out of business, penalized $135,000 and even had a gag order issued against them—all because the State of Oregon would not tolerate them operating their business according to their religious conscience.

No one should lose their livelihood because the government disagrees with their religious beliefs. Let’s hope the Supreme Court makes that abundantly clear.

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

 

Oct 25, 2017

The Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial was erected to honor 49 veterans who gave their lives for their nation—but one group is suing to tear it down. Find out why: FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


In 1925, the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial was erected to honor the 49 men of Prince George’s County, Maryland, who gave their lives in WWI. It stands outside of Washington, D.C., in the median near the National Defense Highway. This memorial—one of the oldest memorials on U.S. soil to honor the fallen of World War I—has stood without complaint for nearly a century.

For the first time in over nine decades, the American Humanist Association voiced a complaint. They filed a federal lawsuit seeking to topple the memorial because those who erected it chose the shape of a cross to honor the fallen.

One of the mothers who supported the memorial early on noted to her senator that her son died and was buried in Europe. Though she could not visit his grave there, she said, she considered the Bladensburg World War I memorial to be her son’s grave marker close to home.

First Liberty Institute, along with our volunteer attorneys at the law firm of Jones Day, represents the American Legion who erected the memorial in 1925. This memorial was erected to honor heroes who gave their lives in defense of freedom. To tear this memorial down now would not only desecrate their memory, it would demonstrate a level of hostility to religion that our Founding Fathers warned against.

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

Oct 23, 2017

When Phelan Moonsong, a 56-year old pagan priest wanted to wear his goat horns in his driver’s license picture the DMV had to accommodate his religious practice. Not all religious liberty accommodations are a like, and if we protect the religious liberty of one, we must protect it for all. Learn more: FirstLiberty.org/Briefing 


Phelan Moonsong doesn’t leave the house without his horns on. You heard that right, Moonsong, a 56-year-old pagan priest wears a pair of goat horns wherever he goes.

Aside from the curious looks at the supermarket, Moonsong’s horns didn’t usually present a problem. That is, until he went to the DMV.

Evidently, the folks at the local DMV didn’t recognize Moonsong’s horns as a part of his religious practice. They wouldn’t let him wear them for his driver’s license picture.

“As a practicing Pagan minister and a priest of Pan,” Moonsong told the Washington Post, “I’ve come to feel very attached to the horns, and they’ve become a part of me and part of my spirituality.”

Soon after news of Moonsong’s goat horns reached a DMV supervisor, an exception was found and he was able to have his picture taken—goat horns and all. An exception for goat horns is the same religious exception most DMV’s use for other religious head coverings, whether they be Jewish yarmulkes, Sikh turbans, Mennonite Bonnets, or even pasta strainers sometimes worn by members of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

It may seem strange to accommodate a man’s religious practice of wearing goat horns in his driver’s license photo, but no one ever said religious liberty would be routine.

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

Oct 20, 2017

Father Joseph Lafleur served the Army Air Corps as a chaplain during World War II and helped bring wounded soldiers to safety. For his bravery and service, the Army Air Corp awarded Lafleur the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and Distinguished Service Cross. Learn how Chaplain Lafleur helped other soldiers even under attack at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Father Joseph Lafleur served the Army Air Corps as a chaplain during World War II.

In 1941, Lafleur dashed about Clark Field in the Philippines amidst bombs, and flying shrapnel, pulling wounded soldiers to safety. For such bravery, the Army Air Corp awarded Chaplain Lafleur the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and Distinguished Service Cross.

Later, while imprisoned by the Japanese for three years, he never stopped his ministry of care. He worked to meet the physical needs of his fellow prisoners, often bartering with the guards for food. Once he confronted a fellow prisoner about stealing rations from other prisoners, even landing two holy punches to pacify the unruly and unrepentant soldier.

In 1944, a US submarine torpedoed Lafleur’s prisoner transport ship. Rather than abandon ship or seek to escape Japanese gunfire and grenades lobbed his direction, the chaplain worked to calm his men and help them find an escape passage. Chaplain Lafleur died as he lived: in faithful service to his fellow man.

Motivated by faith to care for their fellow man, chaplains in our nation’s service routinely steady our servicemen and women before, during, and after battle. Military chaplains navigate the evils of war to bring good to our military.

We honor Chaplain Lafleur—and all chaplains—for their dedication to the souls of our armed forces.

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

Oct 18, 2017

A Satanist was imprisoned and fined after defacing a Jewish academy’s religious objects. But he didn’t understand one important truth about religious freedom. Learn more: FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


Welcome to the First Liberty Briefing. I’m Jeremy Dys.

The students and faculty of the Margolin Hebrew Academy were staying overnight at the Doubletree Hotel in Jackson, Mississippi en route to Gatlinburg, Tennesee. While there, they used a meeting room at the hotel to conduct their Sabbath worship service. A Torah, religious books, and musical instruments were left in the meeting room overnight with the intention of continuing with their worship the following morning.

Justin Baker, a self-professed anti-Christian, anti-Semitic Satanist, was a security guard at the hotel that night and he discovered the religious objects. He spat on the Torah and defaced the books with profanity and phrases including “Hail Satan.”

Baker was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison for his religious discrimination and required to pay $9,999.99 in restitution damages. And, I somehow doubt he’s employed today as a security guard.

Baker may have been tempted to use religious liberty in a perverse attempt to justify his wicked actions, suggesting his adherence to the religion of Satanism motivated his actions. He would be wrong. Religious liberty is not a free pass to do what one likes. It is itself restrained for the good of religion as a whole and the dignity of the person. But, the principals of religious liberty never sanction destroying the property of another.

Rather, religious liberty demands that we respect the religions with which we may disagree. When we break that societal, social compact and deny others the freedom to exercise their religion, it is proper for the authorities to enforce the penalties of the law.

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

Oct 16, 2017

In one of the jails in North Carolina, three Jewish inmates requested permission to meet in a private room to pray and study the Torah. However, they were denied because they had less than ten people to participate, even though inmates of other faiths were permitted to meet and study their religious texts. Learn more: FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


The North Carolina Department of Public Safety housed Danny Loren, aka, Israel Ben-Levi, in one of their jails.

In 2012, Ben-Levi requested permission to meet in a private room with two of his fellow inmates for about an hour each week to pray and study the Torah. That request was denied because the jail administration determined that his group was too small. Inmates meeting for worship without a rabbi or volunteer chaplain had to have a quorum of at least 10 prisoners.

Other religious groups of inmates met with fewer then 10 inmates or having a volunteer supervise them. Only the Orthodox Jewish inmates—all three of them—were denied a meeting opportunity without a rabbi.

He filed a federal lawsuit under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. Both the district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit concluded there was no substantial burden placed upon the free exercise of his religion. And the Supreme Court denied review his case.

Justice Alito, however, dissented from that denial. He said that there was no “indication that a Jewish study group is more likely than a Christian or Muslim group to impede order, compromise inmate relationships, or absorb personnel resources.”

Not every claim asserted under RLUIPA is an automatic winner. But, at least this important law protecting religious liberty gave him his day in court.

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

Oct 13, 2017

When a Elementary school started treating the Good News Club, a chapter of Child Evangelism Fellowship, differently from the other after school clubs and programs, the Child Evangelism Fellowship challenged the school’s decision. Learn more: FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


Have you ever been concerned when you heard someone praying? Sandra McDonald was.

She was the new site coordinator for Jenny Lind Elementary school and responsible for the after-school use of the school building by groups from the community.

Child Evangelism Fellowship had a chapter of its Good News Club meeting at the school. McDonald happened by one day and was “concerned about the religious content of the . . . clubs after overhearing a prayer and reference to Jesus Christ during a . . . meeting.” Ultimately, the club was told that it would be removed from the after-school lineup of club offerings. It would still be able to meet, but the school would no longer provide the same transportation and food services that it provided for the Boy and Girl Scouts, Big Brother/Big Sister, and other clubs meeting at the same time.

Child Evangelism Fellowship challenged that decision and, in Child Evangelism Fellowship of MN v. Minneapolis Special Sch. Dist. No. 1, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit concluded that the school had been unlawfully hostile to a religious club, but favorable to similarly situated secular clubs, when it should’ve been neutral toward all clubs.

School districts should not be concerned when religious clubs act like religious clubs. And, it violates the constitution to treat them differently from other clubs.

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

Oct 11, 2017

The Oklahoma Secondary School Athletic Association (OSSAA) regulates high school sports, allowing public schools membership free of charge while requiring private schools to apply. In 1998 and 1999 the Christian Heritage Academy applied for membership and was denied. The school filed a lawsuit alleging a violation of the First Amendment. Learn more: FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


It’s fair to say that the State of Oklahoma takes high schools sports pretty seriously. The Oklahoma Secondary School Athletic Association, or OSSAA, regulates high school sports. Public schools are admitted freely, but private schools must apply for membership.

In 1998, Christian Heritage Academy, known widely for its 8-man football team, applied to be a member of OSSAA, but were denied. They applied again in 1999, but the majority of members rejected them a second time. That was enough for them and the school filed a lawsuit in 2003 alleging that they had been denied the equal protection of the law and deprived of their First Amendment freedoms.

The court concluded that OSSAA’s rules were discriminatory. By stating that a majority of members could simply reject religious schools over secular schools for any reason or none at all, the court found there was no legitimate purpose served. OSSAA members could, the court noted, reject applications for membership “for any reason, including dislike or distrust.”

Of course, the court was willing to allow OSSAA to chart its own membership, but it had to be fair. Creating a system that allowed ample room for members to reject religious schools just because they did not like them was not enough.

The court’s point is clear: the First Amendment requires precision. When the state acts without precision, rights can be quickly abused.

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

Oct 9, 2017

When a lone Jewish Sailor aboard a U.S. Naval vessel reached out and asked for help in celebrating the Jewish High Holy Days in 1956, the Navy and Army made it happen. The celebrating of the Holy Days that year was made possible, high above the artic circle thanks to the United States military. Learn more: FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


It was September 1956 and Elihu Schimmel was cold and lonely. He was stationed aboard a U.S. Naval vessel above the arctic circle. His location would account for his being cold, but he didn’t think there was much to be done about his loneliness.

Rosh Hashanah was set to begin and, aside from another Jewish sailor, Schimmel was several friends short of a minyan, a quorum of 10 Jewish men necessary for services. But, Schimmel knew there were others scattered about the fleet in the coldest theater of the Cold War.

He decided to ask the powers that be if they would help. The Navy, and the Army hitching a ride, enthusiastically agreed. The order went out that those wishing to join Schimmel aboard ship would be transported—by seaplane, launch, or helicopter—for the observance of the Jewish High Holy Days.

When the time came, 10 Jewish service men showed up—exactly enough. The Navy went further, announcing at sunset that the services were about to begin and ordering all aboard to show reverence by putting out their cigarettes.

Schimmel served out his time as a naval medical officer, but he would never forget that celebration, high above the Arctic Circle, made possible courtesy of the United States military.

And, we now won’t forget how the United States military honored the religious liberty of its service members.

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

Oct 6, 2017

To most people, a pay raise suggests the recognition of hard work and appreciation from your company. However, after organizing his fellow law professors into a union, Sheldon Gelman lost committee appointments and soon his wife, Jean Lifter, was fired. Gelman received a raise, but the number caught everyone’s attention. Learn more: FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


You probably have a similar opinion about pay raises that Sheldon Gelman and Jean Lifter did: they’re symbolic. Do a good job, and an increase in pay suggests that the company is grateful for the effort.

Gelman and Lifter were law professors at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. Gelman organized his fellow law professors into a union with the support of Lifter, his wife, and over the objections of management. The next Spring, the faculty, Gelman included, received a pay raise, but Gelman lost some committee appointments and, soon after, Lifter was terminated altogether.

One wouldn’t think much of it, but the dollar amount on the pay increase caught everyone’s attention. It was too intriguing to be coincidental. The newly organized union faculty received a raise of $666. Taken alongside Gelman’s loss of committee influence and Lifter’s termination, the numerals seemed to send a message. Gelman and Lifter sued alleging retaliation against a protected First Amendment freedom.

But, the Unite States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit wasn’t buying it. There were simple explanations for the pay raise amounting to apocalyptic numbers. And, while Gelman’s union organizing was certainly protected by the First Amendment, there were no facts present to suggest the law school retaliated against him for doing so.

The lesson here is clear: if your paycheck shows the supposed “Mark of the Beast,” don’t assume your employer violated the First Amendment.

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

Oct 4, 2017

The ministerial exception is an important tool that protects the rights of religious employers to determine who is fit to perpetuate the mission and message of a religious organization. So when Maria Nolen claimed she had been wrongly fired, the court ruled otherwise, protecting the Catholic Diocese’s right to employ whom they saw fit. Learn More: FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


Maria Nolen and St. Ann Catholic School had a falling out.

Nolen thinks her religious employer fired her from her job as principal of the school for speaking out against what she viewed as racial discrimination. The Diocese of Birmingham, Alabama, that operates St. Ann’s, said that Nolen simply wasn’t the right person to advance their religious mission.

Nolen’s responsibilities were pretty clear. As principal, she was responsible for implementing an educational atmosphere charged with the Catholic beliefs of her employer. That included monitoring lesson plans to make sure the teaching of the church was reflected in the lessons of the classroom, leading school prayers, and organizing religious activities for the students and faculty.

The court quickly determined that there was “little doubt that Nolen’s role as principal . . . falls within the general ambit of the ministerial exception.” Although she lacked the formal title of “minister,” her role clearly conveyed the church’s message and carried out its mission. Therefore, the court could not interfere with what amounts to a decision by a religious body as to who best perpetuates its religious message and mission.

The ministerial exception is an important doctrine that protects the unique aspects of a religious employer, giving relief to religious organizations from the rigors of employment law that may hamper their unique religious mission.

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

Oct 2, 2017

The United States has always had a long-standing history of respecting the faith of its service members in the military. During the Spanish-American War and World War II, there are examples of the military respecting its service members’ need to honor their duty to the Creator. Learn More: FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


The United States military probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the Jewish High Holy Days. Yet, thanks to our country’s dedication to religious liberty, our military has often shown its respect for the faith of its service members.

Back in 1898, during the Spanish-American War, about 5,000 Jews served in our country’s military. 4,000 of them put in for furloughs in order to attend services for the Jewish High Holidays.

By 1944, the Nazis had exterminated almost ever Jew in the French village of Verdun. A year later, 500 Jewish-American GI’s would gather in Verdun’s town square to observe Rosh Hashanah.

That same September, on the other side of the globe, B-29 crews occupied the island of Guam. For many of them, it would be their last Rosh Hashanah.   The hangar was converted to a Jewish house of worship under the direction of the commanding general for that station, himself not Jewish. Still, men of all faiths built seats, a pulpit, the Holy Ark for Scriptures, erected lighting, and even a sound system. 1,500 men would pray for “Peace to him who is far off and to him that is near.”

These are just a handful of ways in which the United States military, even during times of war, acknowledged the essence of the First Amendment: that men have a great duty to the Creator that government must respect.

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

Sep 29, 2017

CBM Ministries operates a afterschool Bible Education program in Pennsylvania. To transport the students to the program they use a bus, however, one day a state trooper cited the bus driver for violating the bus safety laws. CMB Ministries filed a lawsuit, claiming the traffic law substantially burdened their religious expression. Learn more: FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


Can you claim the First Amendment to get out of a ticket?

CBM Ministries operates a release time Bible education program in Pennsylvania. Release time allows public school students to be released during the school day for religious classes located off campus, often times at a local church. But, it’s not the release time that is at issue in this case. It’s the way the students get from school to the church.

When one of the drivers showed up at the school to pickup the kids, a state trooper noticed that the bus was not properly inspected. The trooper cited the driver for violating state law concerning school bus safety.

As you might expect, without buses to safely transport students from school to release time education and back, CBM Ministries had a problem. So, they filed a lawsuit.

The lawsuit claimed that the enforcement of school bus safety laws on CBM Ministries’ vehicles substantially burdened its religious exercise. The court acknowledged that the law may have had an incidental impact upon the ministry’s religious exercise, but it was actually entirely neutral towards religion. In other words, the law regulated school buses, whether used for religious or secular purposes. The law did not discriminate, nor was it applied in a discriminatory manner.

Religious liberty protects against laws that discriminate on the basis of religion, but it probably won’t get you out of that speeding ticket.

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

Sep 27, 2017

Recent studies prove that worldwide hostility to religion is increasing, and even more alarming is that government restrictions are not the only restrictions against religion. Learn more about the urgency to protect religious freedom at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Well, the numbers are out and they don’t look good. According to the Pew Research Center, for the first time in three years, worldwide hostility to religion increased in the year 2015.

Between 2014 and 2015, those countries marked with “high” or “very high” levels of government restrictions—actual government policies and activity restricting the free exercise of the religion of its people—grew a full percentage point.

During that same time period, social hostilities increased 4%. “Social hostilities” are “acts of religious hostility by private individuals, organizations or groups in society.” So, even if the government was not hostile in terms of official policy, the private actions of its people grew significantly.

Looking at the big picture, whether its government policies or private individuals, 40% of the countries across the globe are hostile to religion.

That means that the world is inching closer to a majority of countries demonstrating hostility towards religion. Of course, we can be immediately thankful for the great many protections we possess as Americans. But, let us not be lulled into thinking that our experiment in liberty is the historical norm. Religious freedom is not something passed on from one generation to another by virtue of our DNA. It requires every generation to renew its commitment to liberty—and especially religious liberty—both here and abroad.

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

Sep 25, 2017

America was founded on religious freedom and toleration, and today that is not any different. A recent poll released by the Public Research Institute revealed that the religious landscape of America is changing. However, even with this change America’s commitment to religious freedom must not fail. Learn More: FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


America is known for its commitment to religious liberty. People have always fled foreign lands persecuting their faith for a safe place to exercise their religion. That’s part of the story of our founding.

For the most part, the majority religion practiced here has been Christianity. According to a recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute, that may be changing.

The survey, conducted in all 50 states with more than 101,000 Americans, is called, “America’s Changing Religious Identity.” The big take away is that the religious landscape is changing in this country, especially in the under 30 crowd. There are Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist populations that are on the rise, while the Christian community—both Catholic and Protestant—appear to be shifting downward.

It’s an interesting study and worth our attention. It reminds us that the promise of the First Amendment is a promise that Americans would be free to exercise their religion, not the religion of the state. It also reminds us that religious liberty is a promise for all religions in this country.

I think that promise is a good thing. It allows for a robust debate, the opportunity to debate finer theological points, and to settle our disagreements over eternal matters peacefully and respectfully.

The bottom line is this: America’s religious landscape may change, but our commitment to religious liberty cannot.

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

Sep 22, 2017

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?

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

 

Sep 20, 2017

Even in jail the free exercise of religion is protected for all faiths. Numerous cases about inmates asserting their exercise of religion from their cells are received each week, some with more merit than others. However, no matter the circumstance, the right to freely practice and exercise religion is protected, even from a jail cell. Learn more: FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


Each week, I get an email with a list of cases about prisoners asserting their right to the free exercise of religion. I find it fascinating that, even in jail, we protect religious liberty. Here’s just a sampling of the cases I see each week.

In Nunez v. Wertz, a Pennsylvania federal court allowed a complaint by a Muslim inmate to move forward after his complaint asserted that he had been denied the right to wear his pant legs rolled up, except during his religious services.

In Illinois, a federal court allowed an inmate to move forward with his assertion that the prison was not providing him with a diet consistent with his Native American religious beliefs.

In Gambino v. Payne, a magistrate recommended dismissing the case of an inmate converting to Judaism. Apparently, the free exercise clause was not sufficient to protect against his complaint of inadequate privacy in the showers.

Finally, a catholic inmate in California is allowed to amend his complaint, but the court dismissed his original complaint. Evidently, the court was not inclined to let him leave confinement to attend a funeral.

Some cases appear to have less merit than others. Inmates sometimes have little else to do but file lawsuits. Nonetheless, judges take complaints of the denial of religious liberty seriously—even if that denial comes from a jail cell.

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

 

Sep 18, 2017

First Liberty Institute received a victory when the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in favor of the county commissioner’s invocation in Jackson County, Michigan. The court determined that there was no constitutional violation with the offering of an invocation from a county commissioner. However, a similar case in Rowan County, North Carolina received the exact opposite ruling from the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Learn more: Firstliberty.org/Briefing


Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit sitting en banc affirmed the decision of a federal district court judge. That’s significant because that judge found no constitutional problem with the county commissioners of Jackson County, Michigan providing invocations on a rotating basis prior to their commission meetings.

In Jackson County, the county commissioners do what most local lawmakers do: they start their meeting with the pledge of allegiance and then have an invocation to further solemnize the occasion. But, a local activist filed a lawsuit to put an end to the practice, claiming he was offended by the invocation.

Well, the Supreme Court has twice spoken to this. Back in 1983, in Marsh v. Chambers, the high court gave approval to invocations before state legislative bodies. Then, in 2014, in Town of Greece v. Galloway, the court approved citizen-led invocations before city council meetings. Both decisions noted America’s lengthy tradition of opening public meetings with prayer.

But, the really interesting part of this story is the circuit split it creates. First Liberty also represents the county commissioners of Rowan County, North Carolina who have a very similar practice. In July, the Fourth Circuit disapproved of commissioner-led invocations.

The Supreme Court usually wants to resolve differences of opinion between circuit courts, so it might take a trip to the Supreme Court before these cases are fully resolved.

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

Sep 15, 2017

Upon returning a changed man from World War I, Riley Bembry and a number of other returning soldiers erected a simple white cross, dedicating it to all who have fought and died for their country. In 2001, someone sued and a judge ordered the cross to be removed from view. Learn more: firstliberty.org/Briefing


Riley Bembry returned from World War I a changed man. Upon his return, this former army medic, settled in Los Angeles and became a butcher. But, the city could not contain him. He headed into the Mojave Desert and became a prospector.

By the time the Great Depression gripped the nation, other veterans of the Great War had found their way to Bembry’s cabin, each seeking to escape the emotional and physical scars left from the war. Together, in 1934, they erected a simple, seven-foot monument atop a rocky outcropping not far from Bembry’s cabin, but miles and miles from anything else. They chose a common symbol to honor war-dead: a white cross and dedicated it, “To honor the dead of all wars.”

When Bembry died in 1984, Henry Sandoz, Bembry’s close friend, began to care for the Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial Cross. In 2001, someone sued. A judge would eventually order the memorial hidden from view—literally covered with a padlocked bag—while the case was decided. First Liberty had the privilege of working with Henry Sandoz, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, The American Legion and others to defend that memorial. Before he was a senator, Ted Cruz volunteered his time as lead counsel on the case.

Because of Henry Sandoz, Ted Cruz, Veterans of Foreign Wars, The American Legion, and First Liberty, that memorial still stands today just where Bembry placed it in honor of “the dead of all wars.”

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

Sep 13, 2017

Download your free copy of the 2017 Edition of Undeniable: The Survey of Religious Hostility to Religion in America, today. First Liberty Institute has been compiling this annual report since 2012 and this years edition shows an alarming 133% increase in attacks against religion. Learn more: firstliberty.org/Briefing


Since 2012, First Liberty Institute has been investigating the rise in the number and severity of domestic attacks on religion. Each year, that investigation is compiled into our annual survey.

We started that survey because wherever we went, people would tell us that they didn’t think there was a genuine threat to religious liberty in our country. We call it Undeniable: The Survey of Religious Hostility to Religion in America because it makes such a compelling case.

In the past year, the total number of documented attacks on religious liberty has increased by over 15 percent. Over the past five years, we have seen an alarming 133 percent increase. Of the 1,400 cases documented in Undeniable, you will see a myriad of faiths represented: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh among others. Religious hostility in America does not discriminate.

But, there is hope. First Liberty is battling for religious freedom in court, but you can join that fight by simply educating yourself, and others, about the rights we each have and how we can preserve them.

If you haven’t yet, I’d encourage you to go to FirstLiberty.org today and download your own copy of the 2017 edition of Undeniable or order a free copy for your friend.

Despite the mounting hostility, First Liberty is prepared to stand against these relentless attacks for as long as it takes.

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

Sep 11, 2017

In 1937, Wayman Presley raised money to erect a cross on Bald Knob. However, in 2012, Robert Sherman sued the state of Illinois for granting money to restore the cross because he found it offensive and did not want his taxpayer dollars going towards the restoration of the cross. Learn more: firstliberty.org/Briefing          


It all started with a postal worker, a bunch of pigs, and an old time radio show. But, it ended in court.

Back in 1937, Wayman Presley, an Illinois postal worker decided that it would be a good idea to erect a cross on Bald Knob. The fundraising was slow until Ralph Edwards interviewed Presley on the wildly popular radio show, “This is Your Life.” Myrta Clutts must’ve heard the show because she soon conceived the idea to raise and sell pigs to finish the construction. Clutts, with the help of Presley, raised $30,000 worth of pork.

So, there it stood: 111 feet of gleaming white concrete, 1,034 feet above sea level near the Bald Knob Wilderness.

But, it turns out, not everyone liked it. Robert Sherman didn’t. So, Sherman did what most don’t think to do when they disagree with an inanimate object: he sued the State of Illinois for giving out a grant to help restore the aging monument. But, his lawsuit was dismissed.

Turns out Sherman didn’t have a dog, or a pig, in the fight. Just because someone is a taxpayer is not enough connection to a case to challenge an action by the state.

Sherman v. Illinois raises an important point: just because someone is offended by something religious does not mean a lawsuit will be successful. State officials should remember that next time someone demands they purge religion from public view.

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

Sep 8, 2017

Learn more about cases previously covered by First Liberty Briefing with updates on three cases including, a Muslim woman who was forced to remove her head covering; the Somali-American employees who were fired for using their break time to pray; and a New Jersey town that had previously denied approval for the construction of a Mosque. Learn more: firstliberty.org/Briefing


A few updates, now, on cases previously covered on the First Liberty Briefing.

First, out of California. You may recall the story of Kirsty Powell, the Muslim woman whose head covering was forcibly removed by the police. After spending the night in jail, without her head covering, Powell was allegedly traumatized. Her lawsuit prompted a change in the Long Beach Police’s policy, accommodating, when possible, those who cover their head for religious reasons. And, the city council has agreed to pay $85,000 in damages.

Next, the EEOC has found reasonable cause supporting the allegations of about 150 Somali-American employees who were fired after being denied the use of their break time to pray. The Minnesota meatpacking company will now either face a federal lawsuit, led by the federal government on behalf of the employees, or look to settle the matter quickly.

And, finally, Bernard’s Township, New Jersey has given final—and unanimous—approval to the construction of a mosque it previously had denied. That action brought an end to more than one lawsuit on the matter and years of frustration. All that is left to do is for the city’s insurer to write a check for $3.25 million to the mosque’s law firm.

Each of these cases remind us about the precarious position religious liberty holds in America, along with the certain need for its defense.

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

Sep 6, 2017

When the government’s interest in timbering led to the destruction of land traditionally used by Native Americans for religious purposes, the Supreme Court ruled against the Native Americans. The opinion read, “Whatever rights the Indians may have to the use of the [land in question did] not divest the Government of its right to use what is, after all, its land.” Learn more: firstliberty.org/Briefing


In 1987, the Supreme Court was asked whether timbering operations within a National Park over a portion of land traditionally used for religious purposes by Native Americans violated the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause.

Justice O’Connor’s opinion in Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association concluded that “Whatever rights the Indians may have to the use of the [land in question did] not divest the Government of its right to use what is, after all, its land.”

But, not all the justices agreed. Justice Brennan, joined by Justices Marshall and Blackmun, disagreed. He reasoned that the timbering in question threatened the “very existence of a Native American religion.” He concluded on a somber note, “Today, the Court holds that a federal land-use decision that promises to destroy an entire religion does not burden the practice of that faith in a manner recognized by the Free Exercise Clause . . . I find it difficult, however, to imagine conduct more insensitive to religious needs . . ..”

Thirteen years later, Congress would pass the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. At the least, RLUIPA would’ve required the government to demonstrate that its actions were the least restrictive in pursuit of a compelling government interest.

RLUIPA, like RFRA, insists that government actions substantially burdening the free exercise of religion receive heightened scrutiny. That protects all of our religious liberty.

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

Sep 5, 2017

Universities across America display plaques recognizing donors and their generous donations as well as famous quotes of figures such as Aristotle and Plato. And yet, when Dr. Mike McCracken wanted the plaque in the new conference room that his donations had paid for to reference “God’s physical law” he was denied as the University insisted that such mention would violate the Constitution. To learn more: firstliberty.org/Briefing


“To those who seek to better the world through the understanding of God’s physical laws and innovation of practical solutions.” That was the inscription Dr. Mike McCracken wanted on the plaque of the new conference room, paid for by his donations to Purdue University and placed in honor of the people who inspired him the most: his parents.

But, the university rejected the language. According to their legal analysis, the inclusion of the phrase, “God’s physical laws” could be seen as an endorsement of religion, violating the Constitution.

There are dozens of plaques throughout the campus. Most identify alumni or donors. In the student center, a large display of plaques features the bronze images of past presidents and a quote of theirs. There are quotes from past graduates, like Neil Armstrong, and even plaques with quotes from Socrates and Aristotle.

So, why would the university proudly display plaques featuring quotes from astronauts, ancient philosophers, and past presidents, but refuse an alumnus wishing to honor his parents with a passing reference to “God’s laws”? Good question.

By permitting plaques to display secular quotations, but refusing religious references, the university was committing what we call viewpoint discrimination. But, after a letter pointing that out and some discussions over the phone, Purdue agreed to redo the plaque to make it clear that that reference to “God’s physical laws” was coming from Dr. McCracken and not the university.

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

Sep 1, 2017

Joseph Frederick claimed his First Amendment rights were violated when the school principal confiscated his “Bong hits for Jesus” sign at a broadcasting event. The case reached the Supreme Court and in Morse v. Frederick, the Court agreed with Principal Morse’s act of censorship. While school officials may have the right to censor the promotion of illegal drug use, vulgar speech, or disruptive conduct, they do not have the right to censor students’ religious expression. Learn more: FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


All the justices agreed about one thing: Joseph Frederick was just looking for attention.

In 2002, Frederick and his Juneau, Alaska classmates took a field trip as the Olympic Torch Relay passed through the town. Frederick had a prime spot directly across from the cameras broadcasting the event across the nation. He wanted to get on TV, so he painted a banner.

But, just as he unfurled the banner, school principal Deborah Morse caught the message that would eventually get the Supreme Court’s attention. “Bong hits for Jesus,” it read. Morse confiscated the banner and later suspended Frederick for the stunt, asserting it encouraged illegal drug use, against school policy. Frederick claimed she violated his First Amendment rights.

Ultimately, in Morse v. Frederick, the Supreme Court agreed with Principal Morse and upheld the crackdown on Frederick’s banner. Morse, acting on behalf of the state, may have censored him, but, according to the court, students cannot hide behind the First Amendment to promote illegal drug use at school.

Yet, sometimes school officials also claim the right to censor student religious expression. We remind them that while they might be able to censor on-campus expressions promoting illegal drug use, vulgar speech, or even conduct that causes a material disruption to their educational mission, school officials cannot suppress the student’s speech just because it is religious in nature.

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

Aug 30, 2017

An atheist group attacked Sergeant Larry Gallo and his family after they were featured in an Air Force publication highlighting their medical missions trip to Central America. The group went as far as equating their missions trip to the Crusades and demanding that the publication be removed. To learn more: FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


They were sick of a commercialized Christmas. The presents and general distraction from what they believed to be a season meant to remind us of something deeper led Larry Gallo and his family to look for something different.

So, they left behind the packages and bows to serve the less fortunate in Central America. Larry’s girls are physician’s assistants so it was natural for them to take on a medical missions role. Larry, a maintenance engineer, discovered that the kids in line needed some company. So, as his daughters provide the medicine, Larry kept the kids happy. So, what’s the problem?

Well, Larry Gallo is better known as Sergeant Larry Gallo. When the U.S. Air Force featured Gallo’s story in one of their publications, an atheist group said the article violated the First Amendment. They even alleged that Gallo’s story, “emboldens our Islamic enemies because we look like Crusaders and it enrages our Islamic allies.” They wanted the article taken down.

After a quick Internet search recently, I discovered that the article in question is still active on an Air Force website—and it should be. The Air Force should never cave to demands of censoring religion from public view. It should never punish those service members who put service over self, even outside the line of duty.

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

Aug 28, 2017

Two new West Point cadets have a religious objection to wearing the traditional “tar bucket” hats when on parade. They are Sikh, and wearing their turbans is an important religious observance for these men. Will the United States Army extend their religious accommodations to the parade grounds? Learn more: FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


Two new cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point do not want to wear the tar bucket.

If you’re not familiar with the uniform of West Point cadets, when on parade, cadets wear a plumed shako hat or, as they are commonly called, a “tar bucket.” The cadets object to wearing the hat because it would force them to remove their turban. That is a problem chiefly because the cadets are Sikh and the turban is a religious observance for the men. 

So, while the United States Army has provided accommodation for Sikh soldiers in the past, this new lawsuit questions whether that accommodation need extend to the parade grounds. And, it is an interesting question. Clearly, forcing the cadets to remove their turban would be, in the words of the cadets, “blasphemous.” Yet, there is something to the tradition and uniformity found in the military dress of our nation’s military academies. 

Congress, thankfully, has helped provide guidance in the settling of such matters. In the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Congress insists that the government identify its compelling interest and restrict the free exercise of religion in the least restrictive manner possible whenever a citizen alleges a substantial burden to his free exercise of religion. RFRA does not guarantee an outcome in any case. But, it does make the government justify its behavior.

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

Aug 25, 2017

Every year, First Liberty presents The Phillip B. Onderdonk, Jr. Religious Liberty Award to a hero of religious liberty. This year on the stage of the 99th National Convention of The American Legion, First Liberty presented the Onderdonk Award to Senator Ted Cruz. Learn more about this prestigious award by visiting FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Every year, First Liberty presents The Phillip B. Onderdonk, Jr. Religious Liberty Award to a hero of religious liberty.

This year, on the stage of the 99th National Convention of The American Legion, First Liberty presented the Onderdonk Award to Senator Ted Cruz.

Before he was a presidential candidate or United States Senator, Ted Cruz volunteered his time as lead counsel on First Liberty cases. He was lead counsel in defense of the Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial Cross. Cruz even took the time to travel to the Mojave Desert and visit with the memorial’s caretaker as we, on behalf of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and The American Legion, worked together successfully to keep the memorial from being torn down.

Later, Cruz would work with us to defend against the Veteran Administration’s unlawful requirement that a minister could not pray in Jesus name at the funeral of veterans.

Ted Cruz has a lengthy history of defending religious liberty—the very religious liberty that the men, honored with veteran’s memorials across the country, fought to defend.

I would encourage you to go to FirstLiberty.org/Award today to learn more about this award and see the Military Service Tribute Edition Henry Repeating Rifle that serves as the award.

Congratulations, Senator Cruz, on receiving The Phillip B. Onderdonk, Jr. Religious Liberty Award.

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

Aug 23, 2017

Orthodox Jewish residents asked their city for permission to attach small black strips or “lechis”, to set boundaries for their religious practice of the Sabbath but the city denied their request. Learn how this case affects the free exercise of religion in America by visiting FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Jewish members of the Orthodox faith cannot push or carry objects outside their home during the Sabbath. However, for two millennia throughout the entire world, their religious tradition has expanded their home area with the creation of an eruv. But, not in New Jersey.

In the Borough of Tenafly, Orthodox residents asked the city for permission to attach small black strips, called lechis, to the telephone poles in order to set the eruv boundaries. These strips are nearly identical to ordinary ground wires and certainly less noticeable from the holiday displays, signs pointing out directions to local churches, or even house numbers the city permitted on the poles on a case-by-case basis.

But, the city would not allow the eruvs. As a result, the Orthodox community was homebound. Mothers couldn’t push their babies in strollers to the synagogue. They couldn’t even carry their prayer books to the synagogue. Without court intervention, the city’s action would effectively prevent the Orthodox community from practicing their faith entirely.

Thankfully, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit realized this grave First Amendment violation. It concluded that the “government cannot discriminate between religiously motivated conduct and comparable secularly motivated conduct in a manner that devalues religious reasons for acting.”

Singling out the religious conduct of one group not only prevents the free exercise of that faith group; it damages everyone’s religious liberty.

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


Aug 21, 2017

In 1983, a Bethel High School student proudly nominated his friend for a student government position and used vulgar language while doing so. Learn what the Supreme Court said about regulating student speech and expression by visiting FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Matthew Fraser was a dedicated friend. In April of 1983, the Bethel High School student took to the stage of a school assembly to proudly nominate his friend for a student government position.

As about 600 high school students listened, he . . . well, perhaps the best way to describe his speech is to quote Justice Burger’s description of it. He wrote, “Fraser referred to his candidate in terms of an elaborate, graphic, and explicit sexual metaphor.”

Well, you can probably spot the problem. Bethel, like a lot of high schools had a policy against the use of lewd, obscene, and profane language. So, the next morning, the school informed Fraser that he had broken the rules and would be appropriately disciplined.

Fraser didn’t like that. He claimed, in a federal lawsuit, that the policy violated his First Amendment rights. But, the Supreme Court disagreed. The court explained that, while students retain First Amendment freedoms at school, school officials may still prevent vulgar and lewd speech—like Fraser’s—that undermines the educational mission of the school.

Bethel School District v. Fraser reminds us that school officials can permit student religious speech and expression without losing the ability to regulate vulgar student speech that undermines the educational mission of the school. School officials who try to censor student religious speech face an uphill battle. 

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

Aug 18, 2017

In 1963, the Supreme Court of the United States ended the public reading of the Bible in public schools. So, can the Bible be taught in public schools? Learn the answer by listening at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


In 1963, the Supreme Court of the United States ended the public reading of the Bible in public schools.

For years, students in the School District of Abington Township listened to a student read a passage from the Bible, recite the Lord’s prayer, provide announcements, and end with everyone reciting the pledge to the American flag together. That was too much involvement by the school for the court. The court determined that neutrality had been breached and a violation of the Establishment clause had occurred. 

But, the question remains: can you teach the Bible in the public schools? The answer is yes.

At the end of the court’s opinion in Abington v. Schempp, the court noted:

“[I]t might well be said that one’s education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization. It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment.”

So, the Bible can be taught in the schools. Exactly how is a more difficult conversation.

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

 

Aug 16, 2017

After three years of litigation, Cornerstone Church by the Bay wins their case and can use their own property to minister to the community. Learn more about how First Liberty defended this church against the south Texas city’s zoning laws by visiting FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


After three years of litigation, Cornerstone Church by the Bay wins their case and can use their own property to minister to the community.

The south Texas church, and the private school that it runs, purchased property that they hoped would allow them to leave their rented space and continue their ministry on their own property. But, the city’s zoning laws were confusing. It allowed non-religious institutions to occupy that part of town, but the zoning rules did not allow churches there. When the church asked for a special use permit, the town’s Board of Aldermen denied the request, keeping churches from operating in that area.

Left with no other option, Cornerstone turned to First Liberty. We filed a lawsuit on their behalf alleging that the town’s zoning actions violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act along with the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Not long after, the court granted our request for a preliminary injunction while the litigation continued.

But, the town has decided to quit that litigation. In settling with Cornerstone, the Town of Bayview agreed to issue the special use permit the church requested over three years ago. 

Houses of worship have legal rights that must be respected by local government officials. This church is now free to serve their community, on their own property, as every church should be.

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

Aug 14, 2017

The State of Florida has provided a religious exemption for parents who, for religious reasons, object to their children receiving immunizations. One parent invoked his exemption but did so at a private religious school. Learn what a state appellate court had to say about the case by listening to FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


The topic of immunizations can be controversial to many.  Some even have a religious objection to having their children immunized as a requirement to attend public schools.

Those objections often fall on deaf ears, but some states have provided for a religious exemption for parents who, for religious reasons, object to their children receiving the needle.  Florida falls into that category. 

So, naturally, when Patrick Flynn informed his Florida school that he was invoking that exemption, he was surprised to hear the school refuse to follow the law.  So, he filed a lawsuit.

Now, there’s an important fact that I haven’t told you yet: the school is a private, Catholic school.  It’s not a public school.  As such, it is itself protected by the First Amendment to make its own policies in keeping with their faith. 

A unanimous state appellate court sided with the Catholic Diocese, citing the doctrine of church autonomy.  Siding with Flynn would “further his own religious views at the expense of the Diocese's on the topic of immunizations,” wrote the court. “We are convinced that a secular court should not be making the judgment as to which side's religious view of immunization is to be respected.”

In other words, while Flynn has a right to the protection of his religious beliefs, he may not use the state’s judicial arm to compel a private, religious institution to depart from its religious beliefs. 

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

Aug 11, 2017

The State of Florida has a new law on religious liberty. The “Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act” codifies much of the case law protecting religious expression in public school. Learn more about what this means for students and school employees by listening to FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


The State of Florida has a new law on religious liberty. The “Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act” codifies much of the case law protecting religious expression in public school.

Under the new law, schools are instructed to treat voluntary student religious expression in the same way as other viewpoints being expressed. Students are given the backing of the state in their manner of religious dress. Groups of students are given the space to form student religious clubs and gather to pray, just like any other club.

School employees benefit under the law as well. The new law expressly states, “Employees may not be prevented from participating in religious activities on school grounds that are initiated by students at reasonable times prior to or after the school day.”

Finally, the law requires the Florida Department of Education to develop a model policy establishing a limited public forum at certain times for the voluntary expression of religious viewpoints by students and personnel. This provision, which is required to be adopted by each school district throughout the state, will undoubtedly provide direction for how to handle things like graduation speeches, school board meetings, and maybe even ahead of athletic contests.

There’s nothing earth-shattering in this new law, but whenever a state takes the time to codify what the courts have determined the First Amendment requires, it’s a good thing for religious liberty.

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

Aug 9, 2017

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.

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

Aug 7, 2017

A case out of New York City involved activists attempting to stop Orthodox congregations from performing an ancient Jewish ritual called “kaporos”. Learn what the court affirmed during the appeal process by listening to FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


If you are a regular listener to this program, you’ve heard the term “kaporos” before. You know that First Liberty represents the Chabad of Irvine against efforts by animal rights activists trying to end their millennia-old religious tradition. 

We previously discussed a case out of New York City in which activists attempted to stop Orthodox congregations from performing this ancient Jewish ritual. Kaporos requires the participant to wave a chicken over his head while reciting a prayer that contemplates his own mortality and the redemption of his sins. The chicken is then slaughtered in Kosher fashion. 

Well, in New York City, activists complained that this posed a public health hazard. According to the complaint, feathers, blood, and chicken parts flowed in the streets, gagging passersby. But, the court rejected the complaint and refused to compel city officials to put an end to the practice.

Now, on appeal, the court has affirmed that decision, explaining: “Rituals involving animal sacrifice are present in some religions and although they may be upsetting to nonadherents of such practice, the United States Supreme Court has recognized animal sacrifice as a religious sacrament and decided that it is protected under the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution.”

That’s the point of the First Amendment: to protect your right to freely exercise your religion, even if someone else finds it upsetting.

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

Aug 4, 2017

A court found that it could only make decisions based on practical and secular issues after a former Catholic school employee chose to file a discrimination lawsuit against the institution. Learn why the court affirmed the school’s right to make employment decisions by visiting FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


Joanne Fratello was hired as the high school principal at St. Anthony’s School in New York.

She was efficient in carrying out the religious mission of the school. She intimately managed how the education the students received was infused with the religion of the Catholic church. She personally led prayers for the students over the loudspeaker. She even approved hymn selections and the selection of participants of annual Masses at the school.

Fratello’s supervisors found her efforts praiseworthy. They even extended her contract. We don’t quite know what happened, but Fratello was suddenly fired. Hurt and angry, Fratello filed a lawsuit, alleging discrimination.

A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit concluded that the school was able to claim Fratello as a minister, one who carries out the religious function of the school’s religious mission. Therefore, the ministerial exception barred her claims of employment-discrimination. 

As the court concluded, “Judges are not well positioned to determine whether ministerial employment decisions rest on practical and secular considerations [that] though perhaps difficult for a person not intimately familiar with the religion to understand, are perfectly sensible—and perhaps even necessary—in the eyes of the faithful.”

In other words, sometimes religious freedom means allowing religious organizations to be religious, even if you don’t understand their religious reasons why.

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

Aug 2, 2017

Seth Clark, a salutatorian from Akin, Illinois decided to quote the Bible in his graduation speech. A community member complained that religious content would be shared on school grounds. But there’s a neat and surprising story. Listen to how the situation turned out by listening to FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Akin, Illinois is a small town in the heartland of our country. There you will find salt-of-the-earth folks growing the crops that feed the rest of us. Everyone knows everyone, so it was no surprise when the Clark’s boy, Seth, was announced the salutatorian of his graduating grade school class.

But, when word got around that Seth was going to quote from the Bible in his speech, someone complained. That complaint reached the school board and, soon enough, Seth was told that the Constitution would not let his speech with religious content be delivered on school grounds, to a captive graduation ceremony audience. 

Well, that was that…or so it seemed.

The story has a bit of a surprise ending. A neighbor who lived across from the school offered up his front porch. So, when it came time for Seth’s speech, the audience turned around. There, on the front porch of this iconic Midwestern town was Seth Clark holding forth, giving the speech that he always wanted to give.

Perhaps you live in one of those towns where folks still stop to chat on the front stoop on a cool summer’s evening. If not, you need to know that the Constitution never requires a student’s private remarks be given on private property.

“It was the proudest moment of my life,” said Seth’s Mom. Well, I suppose it was.

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

Jul 31, 2017

Three employees decided to meet together after work and pray for a colleague that had been causing them problems. They met at their colleague’s cubicle on a day that she was not even in the office. Learn more about how a court decided this case by listening to FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Evelyne Shatkin, Linda Shifflett, and Doug Maples took prayer seriously. So, seriously in fact, that they decided to meet together after work and pray for a colleague that had been causing them problems.

They met at the cubicle of their colleague after work on a day that she was not even in the office. Their prayer got pretty serious. They anointed the cubicle with oil, according to Shatkin’s religious tradition. They prayed for peace and joy for their colleague. They even commanded “demons to leave” their colleague as they prayed. 

Word got back to their supervisors about the after-hours prayer meeting. After an investigation, the supervisor concluded that “the nature, the manner that they’re praying, what language they’re using” determines whether the prayer was harassment. Human resources agreed and notified the prayer-givers that they would be terminated for their harassing prayers. Shatkin and Shifflett asked for a religious accommodation for the prayers, but that was denied. They were fired.

First Liberty Institute took up their case. A federal district court sided with the employees, as it concluded, “Can a prayer for someone constitute harassment when the alleged object of the prayer is unaware of it? This court suspects not.” In fact, the court concluded that the college’s own policies protected the prayers of these employees.

Firing someone for their peaceful exercise of religion at work doesn’t have a prayer.

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

Jul 28, 2017

A small New Jersey congregation rented from a local school building until the rent increased. The twenty-five congregants couldn’t afford the new price and used Reverend Robert Cameron’s house as a new meeting place. Learn how this congregation fought all the way to the State Supreme Court against unfair zoning laws by visiting FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Robert Cameron was a minister without a home. Well, that’s not quite right. Rev. Cameron actually had a home, a house much like any other in Franklin Township, New Jersey.

Actually, Rev. Cameron, and his congregation at the Mount Carmel Reformed Episcopal Church, had no home for their church. They had been renting a local school building, but someone hiked the rent. The twenty-five congregants couldn’t afford the increase. So, they decided to meet in Rev. Cameron’s house until they could find a new meeting place.

You would think that would be uncontroversial, but town officials told him he was violating the town’s zoning laws. A judge agreed and, for the crime of holding a worship service in his home, he was given a $500 fine for every time the church would meet in his home.

Rev. Cameron didn’t give up. He appealed that decision and the Supreme Court of New Jersey acknowledged that the zoning ordinance was vague and its focus on religious activity alone led to unfair and inconsistent results. It had to go.

State v. Cameron was decided in 1981, two decades before Congress would pass the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. Today, RLUIPA provides a critical defense for pastors, churches, and religious organizations against cities and towns that would substantially burden the free exercise of religion in the religious use of their property. 

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

Jul 26, 2017

A few months ago, First Liberty Briefing shared the story of a Rastafarian chef who was discharged from an Orlando hotel for refusing to cut his dreadlocks. There’s an update on that case and you can listen to it by visiting FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


A few months ago, I shared with you the story of a Rastafarian chef who was discharged from an Orlando hotel for refusing to cut his dreadlocks. Well, here’s an update on that case.

As you will recall, Rastafarians wear their hair in dreadlocks as part of their sincerely held religious beliefs. So, under federal law, his employer was required to accommodate his hair, unless doing so posed an undue hardship to the business itself. 

After efforts to resolve the matter failed, the EEOC brought a federal lawsuit. That prompted further settlement discussions, which resulted in the hospitality company agreeing to pay $30,000 to settle the lawsuit. The company further agreed to amend its policies and train its employees to make it clear that religious-based requests for accommodation will be provided.

Once again, this demonstrates how costly it is to deny an employee their religious liberty. And, if you’re like me, you may not have a sincerely held religious belief about how you wear your hair. But, that doesn’t matter. Sincerely held religious beliefs—even about hair—deserve the protection of the law. 

In an age of increasing complexity in the employment context, it’s important to remember that our national commitment to liberty means that we respect and, where possible, accommodate the religious beliefs of our employees—to the point that, as the late Justice Antonin Scalia once wrote, we give religious employees “favored treatment.”

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

Jul 24, 2017

In 2012, the Mt. Vernon City Council received a complaint for opening the meeting with prayer. In an effort to satisfy everyone, the prayer took place two minutes before the meeting officially started but that ultimately caused uproar. Learn more about the case at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


Back in 2012, as the Mt. Vernon City Council officially gaveled in their monthly meeting, someone offered a prayer. That’s not terribly out of the ordinary. But, something was different this time. This prayer took place at 7:28. The meeting officially started at 7:30. Everyone noticed the change.

You see the city council had received a complaint from a local atheist questioning and disparaging the practice. He even told the local press, “Having a prayer of any faith creates an atmosphere of exclusion.” In response, the council took the prayer off the agenda and moved it ahead two minutes, before official business began.

No one was satisfied. To the atheist, it was still exclusionary. To the rest, it was one more capitulation of driving religion from the public square. The uproar was so great that the city council was compelled to pass a resolution restoring the prayer to the agenda. 

Well, the whole thing was avoidable. City councils have been opening their official business with prayer since our country’s beginning. The Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed this tradition, most recently explaining in Greece v. Galloway that legislative prayer is “meant to lend gravity to the occasion and reflect values long part of the Nation’s heritage.”

In other words, cities opening their meetings with prayer are part of who we are as a country.

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

Jul 21, 2017

A Nevada school district has reversed a long-standing policy that allows students in Washoe County to decorate their graduation caps. Learn how this story helped facilitate religious liberty by visiting FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


A Nevada school district has reversed a long-standing policy just in time for its high school graduates to stick a feather in their cap.

Students in the Washoe County School District have, in the past, been prevented from decorating their graduation caps.  The policy prevented what we might call graduation graffiti, the inappropriate decorating of caps and gowns with vulgar language and even gang symbols.  But, in its zeal to protect the solemnity of the day, the policy prevented Native American students from decorating their cap with an eagle feather.

Native Americans attach significant spiritual meaning to eagle feathers. The district’s policy prevented Quecholi Nordwall’s older sister from wearing a feather at graduation in 2014 and he was determined to make a difference this year. 

And it looks like that’s just what happened.  With the change in policy, the school district has, in fact, opened the graduation cap to decoration once more.  The district could probably still prevent vulgar and lewd messages from appearing, but now, not only may Native American students adorn their caps with an eagle feather, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and other religious students should be able to decorate their caps with reference to their faith. 

This is how religious liberty encourages liberty, tolerance, and diversity:  As one faith group’s religious expression is protected, it means that those of other faiths benefit as well.   

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

Jul 19, 2017

Does the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) protect religious acts of protests outside of the Supreme Court? Learn how a U.S. District Court decided the case at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


Sometimes the substantial burden on a person’s religious exercise comes literally to the steps of the Supreme Court.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia recently dismissed a lawsuit alleging that preventing anti-war activists from demonstrating outside the Supreme Court violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

 The activists noted in their complaint that as a “post-denominational Christian” and “Unity Christian,” their religious beliefs compel protests against war. They insist on living out their spirituality through prayer vigils and peace walks, sometimes on the Supreme Court’s steps.

Interestingly, the court never questioned the sincerity of their beliefs, no matter how odd they seem. Nevertheless, the court determined that RFRA did not protect their religious acts of protest. Why? Because the rule restricts “only one of a multitude of means by which Plaintiffs could engage in their religiously motivated activity.” According to their own words, the steps of the Supreme Court are not the only place in which to exercise their beliefs; it’s just one of the places they exercise their beliefs. So, while the rules might burden their religious exercise, it’s not a substantial burden since there are many avenues left open to their religious exercise.

RFRA provides broad protection to those who seek to exercise their religion, even when they attempt to do so in public. This case reminds us that RFRA correctly balances that right against the legitimate needs of government to govern.

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

Jul 17, 2017

Bernie Sanders questions religious beliefs of Senate nominee, Russell Vought. Learn more about Article VI of the Constitution and how it prohibits a religious test for those seeking office at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.  


Not long ago, we examined Article VI of the Constitution, which prohibits the application of a religious test for office.  The point of this provision is to both prevent the exclusion of religious individuals from office and to ensure good and wise citizens of every stripe can serve the country.

Recent senate confirmation hearings brought Article VI to the national stage, raising questions of religious liberty.  Senator Bernie Sanders questioned nominee Russell Vought over an article in which he examined a passage from the Gospel of John, defending the exclusivity of Christ in salvation according to Vought’s Christian faith.  Sanders decried Vought’s conclusion that followers of other faiths, and Islam in particular, were condemned according to Vought’s explanation of the Christian faith.

I won’t debate the theological correctness of Vought’s arguments, but it’s worth noting that at the conclusion of questioning, Senator Sanders announced he would vote against Vought, not over any professional qualification, but because, “this nominee is really not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about.”

Senators can vote for or against executive nominees for nearly any reason, but for one to publicly question a nominee’s religious faith, pronounce it disagreeable, and withhold his vote expressly because of the nominee’s faith, makes me wonder if, in fact, the senator from Vermont may have created a religious test for office, in violation of the Constitution.

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

Jul 14, 2017

Former UPS employees sued the delivery service company after a supervisor put an end to their break-time prayers. Learn why it’s religious discrimination to not accommodate employees by visiting FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


The folks in brown are facing a claim of religious discrimination in Minnesota. 

Former UPS employees sued the delivery service after a supervisor put an end to their break-time prayers. The package people permitted their Muslim employees to pray during their breaks at a Minneapolis facility. That worked well for a while. The employees did their work and, when afforded the same break time as anybody else, they used the time to pray.

But, then a new operations manager started and put an end to the practice, making it very clear that anyone who prayed during a break—even a break to use the restroom—would be terminated. The manager did not even disguise his discrimination. In a meeting announcing the new policy, he asked which employees wanted to pray. When those who did raised their hands, he informed them that they would all be replaced. 

Federal law requires employers to reasonably accommodate its employee’s religious beliefs. That’s what UPS did previously by letting employees use breaks to pray. There is no allegation that such a practice caused any hardship to UPS. So, for the manager of the company to reverse course and threaten termination of anyone who prayed on break is a gross violation of the law. 

Religious discrimination has no place in the workplace. Employers should respect and accommodate the religious beliefs of its employees.

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

Jul 12, 2017

Church wrongly accused of violating ‘separation of church and state’ for renting space from local school district. Learn more about religious liberty rights of churches and other houses of worship at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


A Massachusetts church is accused of violating the separation of church and state because it rents space from the local school district.

Town leaders of Southbridge, Massachusetts have raised concerns about Iglesia Casa de Destino’s rented use of a public school in its town.  The church pays the standard rate to use the school’s auditorium once per week, like many churches do across the country.  But, the church is known in the community for its conservative, religious beliefs. 

One of the town councilmen is openly questioning whether the church should have a standing agreement to use the property.  Not only is the building expensive to operate, the councilman suggested that the agreement could violate the so-called separation of church and state. 

Well, not likely.  The Supreme Court has twice upheld the practice.  A town is, of course, under no obligation to rent its facility to anyone.  But, historically, publicly owned schools have been used and rented by a variety of organizations, including churches. Once a school district decides that it will rent its facilities to the community, it would be unlawful religious discrimination to prevent churches from renting the space.  

As the Supreme Court observed in the 1981 decision of Widmar v. Vincent, “The Constitution forbids a State to enforce certain exclusions from a forum generally open to the public, even if it was not required to create the forum in the first place.”

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

Jul 10, 2017

The Supreme Court has indicated that it wants to consider whether people of faith who operate a business will be welcomed to the public square or driven from it. Learn more by visiting FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


The Supreme Court has announced that it will hear the appeal of Masterpiece Cakeshop. You are probably familiar with at least the broad outline of the facts. A baker is approached to create a product that communicates a message he has a moral objection to creating. It is, unfortunately an all too familiar refrain these days. It’s threat to religious freedom and the freedom of speech should be obvious.

Our constitution guarantees the rights of free exercise of religion and free speech for every American. By granting review of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Supreme Court of the United States has indicated that it wants to consider whether people of faith who operate a business will be welcomed to the public square or driven from it.

Americans want a diverse public square that tolerates a variety of beliefs and opinions. We hope the Supreme Court will use this opportunity to protect people like First Liberty clients, Aaron and Melissa Klein, who have been forced out of business, penalized $135,000 and even had a gag order issued against them—all because the State of Oregon would not tolerate them operating their business according to their religious conscience.

No one should lose their livelihood because the government disagrees with their religious beliefs. Let’s hope the Supreme Court makes that abundantly clear.

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


Jul 7, 2017

The vote in Trinity Lutheran was 7-2, meaning, seven justices agreed that the opinion written by Chief Justice Roberts accurately represents the law, while two disagree. Learn what their opinions mean for religious liberty by visiting FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Before moving on to other topics, I wanted to point out something that may have slipped past your attention in evaluating the Trinity Lutheran decision: the numbers. Specifically, the numbers 9, 7, 2, and 3.

There are nine members of the Supreme Court of the United States. Sometimes they are divided by ideology: liberal, conservative, or moderate. But, at the end of the day, each member of the court gets one vote.

The vote in Trinity Lutheran was 7-2, meaning, seven justices agreed that the opinion written by Chief Justice Roberts accurately represents the law, while two disagree. If we break those numbers down, we see that joining Chief Justice Roberts were Justices Breyer, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito, Kagan, and Gorsuch. Two justices dissented: Justice Sotomayor and Justice Ginsburg.

There were also three concurring opinions. Justice Thomas notes that he agrees with the court’s analysis, but disagrees with one of the cases used to support the conclusion of the court. Justice Gorsuch wrote to explain that the majority makes an unnecessary distinction between religious status and use. Justice Breyer uses his concurrence to suggest that “Public benefits come in many shapes and sizes,” so perhaps the majority opinion shouldn’t be limited just to playgrounds. 

But, the numbers don’t lie: seven justices agree that the state may, in some fashion, provide funds to religious organizations without violating the constitution.

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

Jul 5, 2017

The Supreme Court rejected status-based discrimination against religious organizations in its recent Trinity Lutheran v. Comer opinion, but not all the justices see eye-to-eye. Learn what the dissenting Justices said by visiting FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


The Supreme Court rejected status-based discrimination against religious organizations in its recent Trinity Lutheran v. Comer opinion, but not all the justices see eye-to-eye.

As we have discussed, seven justices agreed with Chief Justice Robert’s opinion, making it the majority opinion of the court. Three justices qualified that agreement in concurring opinions. Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ginsburg, penned a lengthy, sometimes heated, dissent, criticizing the majority opinion.

Justice Sotomayor reviews language from Trinity Lutheran’s website, highlighting its clear religious mission. She argues that, even if it’s a playground here, it cannot dislodge the conclusion that a state is funding a religious, rather than a secular, organization. The majority opinion, she maintains, “permits direct subsidies for religious indoctrination . . . [and] favors religious groups” as they compete for public dollars. 

For the dissenting justices, then, allowing a state to fund any organization that has a religious purpose may violate the Constitution. She concludes, “The Court today blinds itself to the outcome this history requires and leads us instead to a place where separation of church and state is a constitutional slogan, not a constitutional commitment.” 

That very well may be, but then again, perhaps that’s not so bad. As the majority opinion made clear, the constitution finds “odious” any notion that religious organizations can be driven from the public square based on nothing more than their religious status.

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

Jul 3, 2017

Learn how America's Founding Fathers recognized the importance of religious liberty during the Declaration of Independence. Learn more by visiting FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


 When telling the story of America, we rightly recount how the founders of our country sought to be free from something. Perhaps we ought to consider that we are also free to something.

The Pilgrims sought to be free from persecution, but were also eager to be free to practice their faith in peace. 

The Declaration of Independence lists a litany of “injuries and usurpations” from which we sought to be free from, but also declared precisely what we are free to: “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” to name an essential few.

 From the early colonists to the Founding Fathers to the diverse faiths of our neighbors—each benefit from a national commitment to religious liberty that tolerates the free exercise of religion by all peaceful Americans.

The American commitment to liberty recognizes that freedom grows when none are required to hide who they really are in the free exercise of religion. We are less free when religion is banished from public, hidden from view, or treated with contempt.

As we celebrate our Independence on this the Fourth of July, let us remember that our forefathers paid a high price for our liberty – not merely the right to be free from oppression, but to be free to speak openly, exercise our faith, and live our lives according to our most deeply cherished beliefs. That is liberty.

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

Jun 30, 2017

In the recent Supreme Court decision in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, the newest member of the court, Justice Neil Gorsuch, felt compelled to qualify his endorsement of the majority opinion. Learn what his is opinion on the matter is by visiting FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Recently, we discussed the Supreme Court’s decision in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer. Chief Justice Roberts declared it “odious to the constitution” for the state to prevent a church from participating in a public benefit merely because of its religious status.

The newest member of the court, Justice Neil Gorsuch, felt compelled to qualify his endorsement of the majority opinion. In his concurring opinion, Justice Gorsuch suggests removing the false distinction between religious status and religious use. As an example, he asks, “Does a religious man say grace before dinner? Or does a man begin his meal in a religious manner?” The same facts could be described in the same way, but, under the court’s decision, only one is protected.

 Justice Gorsuch reveals that he believes that the First Amendment protects more than religious status when he writes, “Neither do I see why the First Amendment’s Free Exercise should care.” Whether status or use, the point of the First Amendment is to protect religious exercise. He says, “I don’t see why it should matter whether we describe that benefit, say, as closed to Lutherans (status) or closed to people who do Lutheran things (use). It is free exercise either way.”

 It’s good to see the newest member of the court thinking so clearly. The First Amendment should protect the free exercise of religion, regardless of status or use.

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

Jun 28, 2017

The Supreme Court of the United States issued its opinion in the case of Trinity Lutheran v. Comer in favor of the church. Learn more about the playground case here: FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

The potential for scraped knees has led to an important victory for religious liberty.


On June 26, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its opinion in the case of Trinity Lutheran v. Comer. The court, by a margin of 7-2, held in favor of the church.

Trinity Lutheran applied for reimbursement by the State of Missouri through a program that would allow them to trade out their course, pea gravel surface for softer, shredded tires on their church-operated child learning center playground. But, Missouri rejected Trinity Lutheran’s application. Why? Because the state maintained that it could not fund grants designated for religious organizations.

 The Supreme Court found such a policy to be rank religious discrimination. As Chief Justice Roberts said, “The Missouri Department of Natural Resources has not subjected anyone to chains or torture on account of religion. And the result of the State’s policy is nothing so dramatic as the denial of political office. The consequence is, in all likelihood, a few extra scraped knees. But the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand.”

I agree. No state official should discriminate against people of faith, or the religious organizations they operate, based merely on their religious status.

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

Jun 26, 2017

Mosque wins fight against Township preventing building permit grant using the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. Learn more about the victory at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


3.25 million dollars—that’s the price one New Jersey town will pay for its religious discrimination.

Not long ago, on this program, I told you about the refusal of Bernard’s Township, New Jersey, to grant a building permit to the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge New Jersey.  The society fought city hall for at least four years, having their application denied 9 separate times. 

In November 2016, the US Department of Justice filed a suit against the township, alleging a violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.  The Department of Justice won just two months later.

But, by May 2017, the Township decided to give up the fight, settle with the government, and allow the Islamic Society to build their mosque. 

This is good news for religious liberty.  Though Bernards Township, in this case, used their zoning laws to prevent the building of a mosque, it could’ve just as easily been a synagogue, church, cathedral, or other house of worship.  City governments cannot intentionally throw up permitting obstacles to religious organizations.  They must treat a religious organization’s application for land use just like it would any other land use application. 

In a land that values freedom, our government should never make the free exercise of religion difficult.

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

Jun 23, 2017

Texas Governor signs a bill prohibiting state review of sermons. Learn more about the bill at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


It’s not every day that the governor of a state finds himself behind the pulpit of a church. But, I guess not every state is Texas.

Greg Abbott, governor of the great state of Texas, joined Pastor Steve Riggle and churchgoers at Grace Community Church, recently to sign a bill into law.

The bill that passed the Texas legislature made it unlawful for the government to force religious leaders to turn over copies of sermons during a civil lawsuit or administrative proceeding.

And, if you don’t think such a law is necessary, recall that the pastor of the church Governor Abbott was in that day was asked by the mayor of Houston to turn over his sermons—even though he wasn’t even a party to the lawsuit.

If that’s not enough, recall that Dr. Eric Walsh, himself a lay minister, was fired by the State of Georgia over something he said in a sermon. And, after he sued the state, Georgia’s attorney general subpoenaed copies of Dr. Walsh’s sermons, sermon notes, and sermon transcripts.

So, the day has come in which we need laws on the books to make it clear that the state is not entitled to review a pastor’s sermons. The pulpit has rightly been called “the sacred desk.” The promise of America has been that he who fills that desk is entitled to speak what his conscience demands.

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

Jun 21, 2017

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.”

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

Jun 19, 2017

The recent leak of the HHS mandate gives hope to religious business and ministries who have been penalized by the contraceptive mandate under Obama. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


After litigating for nearly three years, First Liberty Institute’s religious ministry clients look to receive relief from the crippling penalties imposed by the HHS contraceptive mandate found in “Obamacare.”  Well, at least that what it seems. 

Our clients, several religious ministries from across the country, first filed suit seeking exemption from the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate in October of 2014 and have been waiting for resolution on appeal since the spring of 2015.  After the Supreme Court heard arguments in the Little Sisters of the Poor case, the Court told the Obama administration to work with clients like ours to find a resolution.  But, that never happened before President Obama left office. 

If the interim final rule recently leaked is adopted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, its broad protections for religious conscience of individuals, nonprofits, and businesses would all but end the pending lawsuits because the rule simply exempts from the mandate those who object for religious reasons.

As I recently explained to the press: “The Trump administration has clearly announced its intent to adopt an important new policy for religious ministries across the country: the government will no longer force a religious ministry to violate their faith or face a government penalty.”

Nothing is certain yet, but it is nice to know that someone in the Trump administration is working to protect the religious conscience of our clients.

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

Jun 16, 2017

When Tzvi McCloud asked for a religious accommodation at his new job in order to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, a Jewish holy day, he was disciplined and sent home. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


Tzvi McCloud was hired to work in customer service for XPO Last Mile, a logistics company out of Maryland.  But, he didn’t even make it to his first day of work.

When McCloud’s operations manager called him to let him know he was hired and asked him to report to work on October 3, 2016, McCloud explained there was a problem.  McCloud wanted to report to work that day, but it was Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days of the year for him as an Orthodox Jew.  He asked if reporting the next day would be permissible. 

Initially, the manager agreed, but, later that evening, the market vice president called to inform McCloud that the only days the company observed were federal holidays, not religious ones.

McCloud chose to observe his holy day and showed up for work on October 4.  When he did, he was sent home.  Now, the EEOC is involved, suing XPO for religious discrimination.

EEOC regional attorney Debra Lawrence said it well, “The freedom to exercise one’s religious beliefs is one of our nation’s fundamental values . . . A one-day postponement of a start date is not an undue hardship.”

In other words, religious liberty and the corporate mission need not be in conflict.  Accommodating the religious practices of our employees is good business.

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

Jun 14, 2017

Toni Richardson, a special needs educational technician in Augusta, Maine, was threatened to be disciplined and potentially fired for telling a fellow employee, with whom she also goes to church, that she would pray for him. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Toni Richardson is an educational technician at Cony High School in Augusta, Maine.  Her work in the special needs classroom can be very demanding, but she loves it.

A colleague, with whom Toni attends church, was new to the job and found it overwhelming.  One day, after the students had left the classroom and it was just the two of them, Toni tried encouraging her colleague, letting him know that she was praying for him.  He thanked her for the encouraging gesture. 

Soon after, when talking to the HR director for the Augusta School Department, Toni was asked whether she had ever told someone at school that she was praying for them.  She was shocked, but admitted that she had.  The HR representative said Toni had violated the law and warned her never to do it again. 

Toni also received a coaching memorandum informing her that she had violated the First Amendment and admonishing her to make “no reference to [her] spiritual or religious beliefs” while at school.  And, if she did, the memo said, she could face additional discipline or even dismissal.

Last month, First Liberty, along with our co-counsel at the Maine law firm of Eaton Peabody, filed a charge of religious discrimination and retaliation with the EEOC. The law is pretty clear: school employees are not required to hide their faith from each other while on campus.

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


Jun 12, 2017

The lawsuit that was filed against the Chabad of Irvine was recently dismissed. Learn about how religious liberty was upheld at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Several months ago on this program, we discussed the religious practice of “Kaporos.” It literally means “atonement” and has been a religious tradition of Orthodox Jews for over 2,000 years.

On the eve of Yom Kippur, some Orthodox Jews will recite scripture and then swing a live chicken over their head while reciting a prayer like, “This is my substitute, this is my exchange, this is my atonement. This fowl will go to death, and I will enter upon a good and long life.” The chicken is then butchered in the Kosher fashion and the meat of the chicken is then often donated to those in need of food. The ceremony invites the participants to contemplate their own mortality and appreciate the atonement of their sins.

We represent the Chabad of Irvine that was sued by animal rights activists in Federal court during the holy week of October of 2016. I’m pleased to report that that lawsuit was recently dismissed. We will continue to defend this synagogue at the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, but the practice should continue for at least the foreseeable future.

Rabbi Alter Tenenbaum expressed his relief well, he said, “We are overjoyed that the judge saw the wisdom of protecting our ability to practice a cherished tradition of our faith. This is a great victory, not only for the synagogue, but for all Americans who value our constitutional freedoms.”

To learn more about this case and how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.

Jun 9, 2017

Universities are increasingly providing space for religious students on campus. Learn about why some oppose this decision to have separate religious spaces 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. 

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

Jun 7, 2017

Recent Minneapolis reports reveals that an aspiring female teen boxer has been granted religious accommodation. Learn about this and more sports-related cases that require religious liberty at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


News out of Minneapolis reports of an aspiring teen boxer granted a religious accommodation.

Amaiya Zafar is a 16-year old boxing protégé that, for some time, has had her sights set on representing the United States as a boxer at the 2020 Olympics. But, current rules place her in the position of having to choose between her faith and her sport.

USA Boxing, however, has solved the problem for the St. Paul teenager by accommodating her faith in the ring. As a result, Zafar will be permitted to keep her arms and legs covered with long sleeves and leggings, as her faith requires.

That’s a simple solution and, while I don’t share Zafar’s religious beliefs concerning clothing, I do support efforts by anyone, USA Boxing included, to take reasonable steps to respect the religious beliefs of Americans whenever possible.

Of course, Zafar is not the first boxer to need a religious accommodation. Cassius Clay, better known as Muhammad Ali, famously asserted his religious beliefs as grounds for conscientious objection to the Vietnam War.

In other sports-related cases, we are working to protect the right of Coach Joe Kennedy to pray silently at the 50-yard line when the game is over. Meanwhile, in Florida, we are defending the right of a football team at a Christian school in Florida to be able to pray over the loudspeaker prior to kickoff. 

As these stories remind us: religious liberty impacts every area of our life, including sports.

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

Jun 5, 2017

In April of 2017, the Indiana General Assembly passed, and its governor quickly signed, a measure providing students with the chance to take an elective surveying the worlds religions, Learn more about this law at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

The Hoosier state has taken steps to codify important religious liberty protections for Indiana’s students.

In April of 2017, the Indiana General Assembly passed, and its governor quickly signed, a measure providing students with the chance to take an elective surveying the worlds religions, while outlining the civil liberties afforded to its students in Indiana’s public schools.

The new law provides each local school district the freedom to offer an elective course that will study the historical, cultural, and literary contributions of the world’s major religions.

At the same time, some of the critical civil liberties protected by the law include protecting a student’s right to express their religious beliefs in class and class assignments, the right to pray before, during, and after the school day, and the right to access a school’s facilities in the same manner that secular groups do.

Of course, many of these protections are found in policies issued by the United States Department of Education. Nonetheless, it is encouraging to see a state dedicate significant legislative effort to religious liberty. Students should not be required to hide their faith at school, nor should they be punished for daring to discuss their religious beliefs while at school. 

Religious liberty should be our national priority. It’s good to see that, at least for one state, it’s a clear priority for their students.

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

Jun 2, 2017

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kansas City filed a lawsuit against the Mission Woods city council for denying the use of his own home for religious meetings on the basis of traffic and parking concerns. Learn more about this issue at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

The city of Mission Woods, Kansas covers just 64 acres outside of Kansas City. Its part-time government leadership is concerned that the expansion of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kansas City into their small town is going to cause problems.

The Archdiocese purchased a derelict home in Mission Woods. The roof had holes in it. Animals roamed the attic freely. But the Archdiocese favored the house for prayer groups, religious meetings and religious education throughout the week. Nonetheless, the Mission Woods city council has twice denied their application citing traffic and parking concerns. 

In the past, the city council has approved more expansive land-use in the same area for secular groups like athletic fields for the local high school and a significant parking lot for the University of Kansas health system. It appears that sports and parking are preferred by the city council, but parking for religious meetings is unwelcome. 

The Archdiocese has taken the appropriate step to file a lawsuit under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act or RLUIPA. It may appear insignificant, but this case gives all the appearances of religious discrimination. Congress understood that city councils could easily hide religious discrimination within neutral rationales and zoning ordinances like traffic and parking. RLUIPA forces a closer look at those seemingly neutral defenses, requiring an agency to demonstrate their fairness.

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

May 31, 2017

A Tennessee Governor has recently signed into law a measure protecting the religious liberty of Tennessee’s student-athletes. Find more about this law at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

Welcome to the First Liberty Briefing. I’m Jeremy Dys.

Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee has signed into law a measure protecting the religious liberty of Tennessee’s student athletes.

The new law allows parents to opt their students out of participation in an athletic contest “if the event is on an official school holiday, observed day of worship, or religious holiday.” Moreover, it sets the authority aright by explaining that school officials “may not require a student to attend an athletic event” over the parent’s objection.

Some wonder how necessary such a measure is. They argue that schools already respect the religious choices of student-athletes and do not punish those students who, for religious reasons, sit out of scheduled contests. 

That, I suppose, is a debate for the ages. Whether athletes should participate on holy days is not a new issue, just watch the classic movie Chariots of Fire as but one example. Nonetheless, it is good to see the State of Tennessee explicitly stating that its school districts should be mindful that there are things to be respected of higher importance than sports.

Athletics can teach students much about life, diligence, and teamwork. But, life-balance is a critical element taught by sports in school as well. Today’s student-athletes are tomorrow’s business leaders who may be required to accommodate the religious practices of employees. Let us hope they learn the delicate balance of freedom well.

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

May 29, 2017

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.

May 26, 2017

The Florida legislature has proposed a bill prohibiting discrimination against students and teachers for religious expression at school. Learn more about what this bill can do for students and educators at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

May 24, 2017

In Cutter v. Wilkinson, the Supreme Court has rightly strengthened our national commitment to religious liberty for both religious organizations and prisoners. Learn how the Supreme Court did so at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

May 22, 2017

A recent case out of Fresno regarding our national motto, “In God We Trust,” is proving that American heritage is trying to be resisted by vehement disputants. Learn what this issue entails at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

May 19, 2017

Recent studies prove that worldwide hostility to religion is increasing, and even more alarming is that government restrictions are not the only restrictions against religion. Learn more about the urgency to protect religious freedom at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

May 17, 2017

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.

May 15, 2017

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.

May 12, 2017

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.

May 10, 2017

Recent news out of Carson City, Nevada reveals that some lawmakers in “The Battle Born State” have initiated legislation that would delete the state’s laws protecting the religious conscience of employers. Learn more about the proposed legislation at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

May 8, 2017

A recent case out of Pennsylvania shows us that religious organizations remain subject to secular courts on matters neutral to religion. Learn what issues were brought before the courts at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

May 5, 2017

James Gillespie Blaine proposed amendment to the United States Constitution that would, prevent any government aid to “sectarian schools,” especially Catholic schools. Learn what Justice Clarence Thomas said about the amendment at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

May 3, 2017

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

May 1, 2017

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.

 

Welcome to the First Liberty Briefing. I’m Jeremy Dys.

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.

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

Apr 28, 2017

Justice Alito is a proven defender of religious liberty. You may recall he authored the court’s opinion in Hobby Lobby, protecting the religious consciences of family-owned businesses. Learn how he’s challenging Americans to protect religious liberty at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

Apr 26, 2017

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.

Apr 24, 2017

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.

Apr 21, 2017

Should courts make decisions on church doctrine or practices? How should churches go about their rights when it affects their congregation? Learn what happened to the Syrian Christian man at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

Apr 19, 2017

Sometimes we think that the judicial system can and will solve all of our disputes. Learn about a recent case from the Court of Appeals that says there are some things a court cannot decide at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

Apr 17, 2017

Even truck drivers deserve religious liberty—that may be the clear lesson from a case recently filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Learn about the case at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

 

Welcome to the First Liberty Briefing. I’m Jeremy Dys.

Even truck drivers deserve religious liberty—that may be the clear lesson from a case recently filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

J.C. Witherspoon, Jr., Inc. hired Leroy Lawson in 2012. His job was to drive truck from the company’s South Carolina facility. During his pre-hire interview, Lawson informed the truck supervisor that, as a Hebrew Pentecostal for 35 years, he observes a religious Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. During that time, he explained, he is not permitted to engage in any labor.

Just weeks after his hire, the company mandated that all drivers work on Saturdays. Lawson complied, but at the end of his shift, he informed his supervisor that the day’s labor would be the last he worked on his Sabbath ever again.

Thankfully, his company accommodated his faith, until December of 2013 when they asked him to violate the observance of his Sabbath by working. Lawson refused and was promptly terminated. 

Lynette Barnes, the regional EEOC attorney handling the case, put it well in a press release: “Under federal law, employers have an obligation to endeavor to fairly balance an employee’s right to practice his or her religion and the operation of the company.” 

Much of life requires that we make compromises. Federal law—and the Constitution—suggests that an employee’s religion should never be one of them.

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

Apr 14, 2017

A group sent a letter to commanders of the air national guard base in Pease, New Hampshire to demand an end to prayer at official events. Learn more about the letter and how we responded at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

Apr 12, 2017

Welcome to the First Liberty Briefing. I’m Jeremy Dys.

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.

 

Apr 10, 2017

Bryan Finnemore was a self-described fundamentalist Christian. At the hydro-electric company where he worked, he oftentimes overheard a lot of vulgar statements that did not sit well with his religious beliefs and eventually filed a religious discrimination claim. Learn what the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine said about his claim at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

Apr 7, 2017

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.

Apr 5, 2017

There is an effort in America to restrict chaplains in our military. Have you ever considered the enormous cost this could have on our armed forces? Learn about Chaplain Robert P. Taylor and the sacrifices he made for his unit FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

Apr 3, 2017

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.

Mar 31, 2017

Employees at the Minnesota Department of Corrections were required to attend nondiscrimination training. While some employees nodded off, completed paperwork or read, others read their Bible in silent protest. The three employees that read their Bibles were reprimanded. Learn what the Court of Appeals for the Eight Circuit said about the case at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

Mar 29, 2017

In 1975, residents of Harrisonburg, Virginia sued their school board. The lawsuit questioned the school’s practice of releasing students from school to receive religious instruction. Learn what the outcome of the lawsuit was at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

Mar 27, 2017

Dr. Walsh, a lay minister and public health expert applied for the District Health Director position for the State of Georgia. After he was hired, something strange happened. Learn how First Liberty won the lawsuit against the state and defended Dr. Walsh’s religious liberty rights at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

Mar 24, 2017

Commissioner James O’Neill recently revealed that officers may now grow a ½ inch beard and a turban in place of their cap. Learn why this new policy makes sense for religious liberty at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

Mar 22, 2017

Saint Vincent Health Center in Erie, Pennsylvania had a policy for all employees to receive mandatory flu shots unless an employee can provide a medical or religious reason. But, some employees didn’t get an exception, even though they requested one for religious reasons. Learn what happened to the health center and the employees at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

Mar 20, 2017

Dennis Blackhawk, a Lakota Indian bought a few black bear cubs for religious purposes. The State of Pennsylvania insisted that Blackhawk obtain a permit for his cubs and pay the state the associated fee. Learn how the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit decided the case at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

Mar 17, 2017

Mia Komarevic reported staff members for borrowing some of the designer items. The chastised managers retaliated against her by intentionally scheduling her to work on her Sabbath. Learn what the law says about this type of case at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

Mar 15, 2017

Randall Krause filed a lawsuit against the Tulsa County Library Commission. Evidently, the Commission maintains a recycling program and, according to Krause, it constitutes an undue burden on the Free Exercise of his environmentalism. Learn what criteria the court uses to decide what constitutes a religion at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

Mar 13, 2017

The Morris County freeholders board in New Jersey has been funding the restoration of churches through a trust fund. Learn how local organizations, including churches are supported through a neutral review committee at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

Mar 10, 2017

Antioch Community Church near Kansas City decided to update its church sign by replacing it with a digital one. Soon after, the city served the church a citation for not granting the church permission to make the update. Learn how the court ruled in the case at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

Mar 8, 2017

A 56-year-old pagan priest was allowed to wear his Moonsong horns as part as his religious liberty. Learn how others are allowed the same right at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

Mar 6, 2017

A couple was pulled over by Long-Beach police and soon after, they were arrested. When it came time for booking photos, Kirsty Powell was physically forced to remove her hijab, thus violating her religious beliefs. Learn why it’s important to protect religious freedom at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

Mar 3, 2017

Dr. Singh was discriminated against during an interview process with Premier Medical Group based on his appearance and religious beliefs. Learn more about the lawsuit at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

Mar 1, 2017

Learn how an antiquated Nebraska law may grant Sister Madeline Miller permission to teach in her religious garb in a public school. Listen at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

Feb 27, 2017

Many employers provide religious accommodation for their employees but are they required to? Learn about Linda Tisby's case at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

Feb 24, 2017

The Supreme Court declared that the Bible was “worthy of study” and could be “presented objectively as part of a secular program of education” in the public schools. Learn how the Bible must be taught at FirstLiberty.org.

Feb 22, 2017

In 1963, the Supreme Court of the United States ended the public reading of the Bible in public schools. So, can the Bible be taught in public schools? Learn the answer by listening at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

Feb 20, 2017

A court found that a Catholic Diocese in Indiana had the right to make staffing decisions according to their religious mission. Learn more about the case at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

Feb 17, 2017

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations proclaims the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion among many other rights. Learn more about proclamation at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

Feb 15, 2017

Father Joseph Lafleur served the Army Air Corps as a chaplain during World War II and helped bring wounded soldiers to safety. For his bravery and service, the Army Air Corp awarded Lafleur the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and Distinguished Service Cross. Learn how Chaplain Lafleur helped other soldiers even under attack at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

Feb 13, 2017

Steed Lobotzke, a Football coach for the United States Air Force Academy and alumni used his personal Twitter account to post Bible verses. This angered an activist group, labeling the tweets as “unchecked Christian extremism” and demanded that the Academy put an end to it. Learn how the Academy decided to respond at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

Feb 10, 2017

Recently, the Secretary of the Army announced new religious accommodation guidelines: brigade-level commanders may now grant religious accommodations to servicemen and women who wear beards, turbans, or hijabs for religious reasons. Learn how this will benefit America’s soldiers at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

Feb 9, 2017

A lawsuit against an Indiana Sheriff that refused to supply its Muslim inmates with a Halal diet has been dismissed. After the ACLU filed suit in 2016, the Sheriff has agreed to provide the Halal diet to the inmates. Learn how RFRA help prevent a county official from substantially burdening the free exercise of religion at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

Feb 9, 2017

The Liberty Christian Center in Watertown, New York, asked for permission to use the Watertown High School Cafeteria for its religious services. The local school board denied the application and use of school property. Learn what the Constitution says about the issue at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

Feb 3, 2017

The wait for the Supreme Court nomination is now over. His qualifications for the office are unquestionable. But what does his record reflect on the issue of religious liberty? Learn more about Judge Gorsuch at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

Feb 1, 2017
The Islamic Society of Basking Ridge New Jersey has fought city hall for the last four years. The city rejected 9 applications, held 39 public hearings and buried the Islamic Society in endless paperwork to deny them access to build the mosque. Learn more about how the Department of Justice helped defend religious freedom at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Jan 30, 2017
Protecting the rights of minority American religions like Sikhism, Native American religions and Islam help protect mainstream or majority religions. Learn more about the cases that help further all religions at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Jan 27, 2017
Ricky Knight and Billy Two Feathers filed a lawsuit on behalf of several of their fellow inmates in the Alabama Department of Corrections. The lawsuit challenged the department’s “short-hair policy”. Learn how the court decided on the case at FirstLiberty.org.
Jan 25, 2017
Many of the stories you hear on the First Liberty Briefing come from the cases we are working on at First Liberty Institute. Others are drawn from the body of cases that we use to ply our religious liberty trade. But, many of the stories that we tell are drawn from Undeniable, our annual survey on religious hostility in America. Learn more about our annual survey at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Jan 23, 2017
A veterans memorial known as the “Big Mountain Jesus” honors World War II soldiers from the Army’s 10th Mountain Division and stands tall atop Big Mountain in the Flathead National Forest. But one group wanted to get rid of the memorial because of its religious nature. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
Jan 20, 2017
Today, Donald Trump will recite the oath of office, likely ending with the traditional declaration, “So help me God.” Some question whether George Washington actually said “So help me God,” starting a tradition maintained by most of our presidents. But, we do know Washington’s other words. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Jan 18, 2017
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act requires a state to provide a compelling justification before it may substantially burden the free exercise of religion. But, just what is a substantial burden? Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Jan 16, 2017
City elders in City of Port Jervis, New York passed an ordinance that banned houses of worship to use land within a designated business district. Learn more about how the Department of Justice intervened at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Jan 13, 2017
A group of atheists, filed a lawsuit against the United States Congress, the Department of the Treasury, the U.S. Mint, the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and, for good measure, the United States of America in a failed bid to invalidate the national motto from our currency. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Jan 11, 2017
Two active duty chaplains prayed at an event held to honor outgoing congressman Randy Forbes. An activist group insisted that the Department of Defense investigate the matter thoroughly, review the content of the prayers offered by these chaplains, and discipline the chaplains for participating in what it called a, “fundamentalist Christian supremacy event.” Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Jan 9, 2017
Houston health care company fired young Catholic immigrant, Alexia Palma, for being unwilling to promote contraception. Learn more about Alexia’s story at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Jan 6, 2017
Lieutenant Colonel Michael Kersten was interviewed for a story by the base newspaper entitled, “Meet Your Leadership.” One question really annoyed Mikey Weinstein, an activist that often decries the presence of religion within the United States Military. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Jan 4, 2017
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.
Jan 2, 2017
The Akebono Brake Corportaion hired Clintoria Burneett in 2014 to fulfill the job of Washer Inspector. But when her religious beliefs prohibit her from wearing pants, the company sought to withdraw their offer of employment. Learn more about Clintoria’s story at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
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