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First Liberty Briefing

First Liberty Briefing is an exclusive podcast hosted by First Liberty Institute’s Senior Counsel Jeremy Dys. In about 90-seconds, three times 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: 2018
Oct 17, 2018

In 1998, Christian Heritage Academy was denied membership to the Oklahoma Secondary School Athletic Association because of a policy it held permitting them to deny membership on a whim. Learn more at 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 school 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 15, 2018

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.

Oct 12, 2018

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

Oct 10, 2018

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. Learn more at 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.

Oct 8, 2018

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 at 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.

Oct 5, 2018

The new U.S. Attorney Manual’s new section on religious liberty is going to help protect religious liberty for all Americans and will strengthen all of our core freedoms. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


The U.S. Department of Justice recently announced that it will updatethe U.S. Attorneys’ Manual, creating a new section giving special attention to religious liberty.

Updates to such a manual are sometimes viewed as routine, but they tend to reflect the values and priorities of the Department of Justice, and function as a sort of roadmap for the department’s coming years.

The updates announced in the new manual requires the nation’s U.S. Attorneys to not only identify a dedicated point of contact on litigation having to do with religious liberty, but also requires coordination of any such litigation directly with the central office in Washington, D.C. In other words, Attorney General Sessions is announcing that his office will be very hands-on in lawsuits involving our “First Freedom.”

When the Department of Justice announced the updated U.S. Attorneys’ Manual, then Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand explained, “Religious liberty is an inalienable right protected by the Constitution, and defending it is one of the most important things we do at the Department of Justice.”

Clearly, the days of abandoning protections in the law for religious liberty — including bipartisan laws like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act — may be a thing of the past. The critical leadership of the attorney general and his staff to protect religious liberty for all Americans will do much to strengthen all of our core freedoms.

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

Oct 3, 2018

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.


The Akebono Brake Corporation hired Clintoria Burnett in 2014 at one of its South Carolina automotive brake manufacturing locations as a temporary worker.  Burnett is an adherent to the Apostolic Faith Church of God and True Holiness.  Her faith requires that she cannot wear pants and, even since she was a small child, has only worn skirts and dresses.

When Burnett received the offer for the job of Washer Inspector, she was wearing an ankle-length skirt.  When she was told that she would have to wear pants to perform her job, the company withdrew their offer of employment.  According to the complaint filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the company, “failed to engage in anyform of interactive process regarding a religious accommodation for Burnett, and failed to consider any potential accommodation of Burnett’s religious beliefs.”

Once an employer knows of an employee’s religion, it is required by law to at least make an effort to accommodate ordemonstrate why such an accommodation would work an “undue hardship” upon the business.

Companies often have difficulty staffing positions and safety regulations can make that task even more difficult.  Yet, it is vital that companies maintain our national commitment to religious liberty and human dignity by at least trying to find a way to accommodate an employee’s religious liberty at the job site. 

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

Oct 1, 2018

Protecting the rights of minority American religions like Sikhism, Native American religions and Islam help protect mainstream or majority religions. Learn more about the cases that help further all religions at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Sometimes our listeners ask why we spend so much time discussing cases involving minority American religions, like Sikhs, Native Americans, or Muslims.

The short is answer is that our mission at First Liberty is very simple: we protect religious liberty for allAmericans. 

But, it’s also historical.  If you look at the body of caselaw governing religious liberty, some of the most consequential cases have arisen from minority faiths.

Wisconsin v. Yoder, for instance, debated whether the State of Wisconsin could compel Amish families to send their children to public school against their religious practices.

In the 1980’s, the Supreme Court decided Goldman v. Weinbergerexamining whether an Air Force regulation violated the First Amendment by prohibiting an airman from wearing his yarmulke.

More recently, in Holt v. Hobbs, the Supreme Court examined whether a corrections system could present a compelling justification for allowing quarter-inch beards, but prohibiting half-inch beards.

And, then there’s the case with the funny name: Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. Hialeah. That case examined whether a city ordinance discriminated against the religion of Santeria by prohibiting ritual animal slaughter.

The bottom line is this: whether it is a mainstream denomination or a minority religion, religious liberty for one is religious liberty for all.  And, the lossor religious liberty for one religion is a loss in liberty for everyone.

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

Sep 28, 2018

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 onlyplace in which to exercise their beliefs; it’s just one ofthe places they exercise their beliefs.  So, while the rules might burden their religious exercise, it’s not a substantialburden 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.

Sep 26, 2018

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 24, 2018

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.


The Islamic Society of Basking Ridge New Jersey has fought city hall for the last four years.  The society hopes to build a mosque in the Liberty Corner section of Bernards Township, ending the 25-mile one-way drive its members must make each day to attend daily prayers.

The Township has rejected their application 9 times.  The planning board held 39 different public hearings over three and a half years—significantly more hearings on a site plan than any other application to date. Every time the Islamic Society amended their application, the township insisted upon additional requirements. In short, the city buried the society in endless paperwork that no other house of worship had to complete.

In November of 2016, the United States Department of Justice sued the Township on behalf of the Islamic Society.  Less than two months later, they won. 

Those seeking to build a house of worship should never be harassed. It is both unfair and unlawful for a city to require one house of worship to meet certain standards, but allow a different religious body to ignore those same standards.  

This case will probably be appealed and the challenge will continue, but I hope the Islamic Society will continue to be successful. 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.

Sep 21, 2018

A Freshman at Georgia State University was requested by her professor to remove her niqab, a religious head covering worn by some Muslim women, but the university stepped in. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


A professor at Georgia State University has attempted to use a law once designed to curb the anonymity of the Ku Klux Klan to prevent a religious student from wearing a veil.

Freshman Nabila Khan was surprised by her professor’s request that she remove her niqab, a head covering and veil worn by some Muslim women as part of their religious exercise.

Khan wears her veil to her job and elsewhere, but her professor evidently thought it troubling enough to hand Khan a copy of the Georgia law disallowing masks that obscure the face when Khan declined to remove the veil.

Georgia State University has explained the law to the professor and acknowledged that fact veils are permitted on campus as a way to accommodate the free exercise of religion.

You may be opposed to the idea that women should wear a niqab, but the principle is vitally important. If a state institution can marginalize one peaceful, religious practice, it can act to marginalize the free exercise of any peaceful religious practice.

And, there’s another important point to be made here: Georgia’s governor has infamously vetoed a state religious freedom restoration act, also known as RFRA.  Khan’s case presents one of the most routine examples of cases that benefit from state RFRA’s.  Hopefully, Governor Deal and the Georgia lawmakers can add that protection soon.

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

Sep 19, 2018

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 orfellow citizens—for peacefully exercising their religion.

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

Sep 17, 2018

An animal-rights group targeted Orthodox Jews on the eve of Yom Kippur for conducting a traditional religious practice. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


Kaporos 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.

The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaparos does not like this practice.  They sued the Jewish community in New York City, arguing that the practice violated sanitation and public nuisance laws.

The Manhattan judge presiding over the case wasn’t buying it.  Judge Debra James concluded that there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate that Kaporos was a public nuisance and she refused judicially stop the 2,000 year religious tradition.

The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos may not like it, but the First Amendment is a high bar protecting even peaceful, minority religious rituals involving chickens. That bar should not be lowered unless there is a clear, compelling reason to do so. 

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

Sep 14, 2018

Bernie Sanders questions religious Christian beliefs of Senate nominee, despite article VI of the Constitution. Learn more 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.

Sep 12, 2018

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.

Sep 10, 2018

The 2,000 year-old Orthodox Jewish Tradition will continue as it always has for the foreseeable future for the Chabad of Irvine, thanks to the defense by First Liberty Institute. Learn more 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.

Sep 7, 2018

Randall Krause filed a lawsuit against the Tulsa County Library Commission, claiming their recycling program contained “fake” recycling bins and that it victimized him and other adherents of environmentalism. Learn what the court had to say at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


A federal court in Oklahoma has ruled that, despite the religious ardor of some of its adherents, environmentalism is not a religion.

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. Krause alleged that the Commission had placed “fake” recycling bins throughout town, victimizing him and other adherents to environmentalism.

Well, the judge didn’t buy the argument. Dismissing the case, the court explained that Krause had failed to establish that his environmentalism was anything more than personal preferences and secular beliefs without foundation in any religion.  And, even if it were, the “fake” recycling bins placed around town did not amount to a coercive law meriting protection by the First Amendment.

Determining what is a religion is difficult for any court.  But, as the Supreme Court has explained, “religious beliefs need not be acceptable, logical, consistent, or comprehensible to others in order to merit First Amendment protection.”  But, the court doesrequire beliefs to be rooted in a religion in order to trigger protection under the religion clauses of the First Amendment.

For now, at least in Tulsa, environmentalism does not constitute a valid religion.  But, it leaves me with one nagging question: is a “fake recycling bin” just a trashcan?

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

Sep 5, 2018

Nonetheless, 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.


After years of litigation on the topic, it appears that some lawmakers still don’t get it. 

In 2014, the Supreme Court of the United States in its Hobby Lobbydecision declared that family-owned businesses should be free to reflect the religious conscience of their owners.  For the state to compel individuals to act contrary to their religious beliefs, is a substantial burden on their religious freedom.

Nonetheless, 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.  The pending legislation would force small business owners to provide abortifacients in their corporate health policies by deleting current legislative protections intended to protect the religious conscience of small business owners.

Americans of goodwill can disagree with one another on matters of contraception.  But, we should all be in agreement that it is not the government’s job to compel the beliefs of its citizens.

As Justice Alito put it when writing for the majority in Hobby Lobby: “In our constitutional tradition, freedom means that all persons have the right to believe or strive to believe in a divine creator and a divine law.  For those who choose this course, free exercise is essential in preserving their own dignity and in striving for a self-definition shaped by their religious precepts.”

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

Sep 3, 2018

Mia Komarevic, a member of the Serbian East Orthodox Church, filed a lawsuit against her former employer, the fashion company Chanel. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Here’s a fashionable case for us to talk about: a San Francisco woman has filed a lawsuit against her former employer, the fashion company Chanel.

According to the complaint, Mia Komarevic witnessed other staff members borrowing the designer duds for a night out on the town, only to return them the next morning as if they were brand new.  Evidently that sort of thing is frowned upon in the world of fashion.  So, Mia reported them.

Apparently, that led to some bad blood.  The chastised managers retaliated against her. They intentionally scheduled her to work on her Sabbath, violating her Serbian East Orthodox beliefs, and refused to consider other accommodations. 

Mia has filed a lawsuit against the fashion company alleging religious discrimination.  It’ll be an interesting case to watch.  It’s not often that religious liberty claims make it to the fashion page or that your host often readsthe fashion pages. 

Yet, this case highlights the importance of valuing religious employees.  It is often the case that religion instills the character qualities of hard work and honesty in an employee.  To allow managers to abuse those laudable qualities is unfair and undermining our society’s dedication to respecting the religious beliefs of our neighbors.

Rather than punish an employee for their religious character, the law provides protection…and punishment for those who abuse religious employees.

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

Aug 31, 2018

A California judge recently ruled in favor of Cathy Miller, the owner of Tastries bakery when she was sued for declining to create a cake based on her religious convictions. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


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

At this point, it’s an all too familiar story: a same-sex couple asks a religious baker to custom create a wedding cake. Despite apologetically declining the business, the baker is sued and the bakery is forced to close.

But, this is not that story; not yet anyway.  Cathy Miller is the religious baker and her bakery, called “Tastries” is located in Bakersfield, California.  She was forced to decline some business when that client would’ve required her to use her creative expression to lend support to a union that violates her religious convictions.  The couple filed a complaint and the State of California filed suit against Cathy.

But Judge David Lampe concluded that the state has an obligation to protect free speech for everyone, including Cathy.  The court reasoned that, while everyone should be able to purchase ready-made goods regardless of what the customer plans to do with the goods, custom art is different. 

Or, as the ACLU says, “Freedom of expression for ourselves requires freedom of expression for others.” 

You see, the true test of whether we actually believe in the promise of the First Amendment is speech we find socially controversial.  Popular ideas are not in great danger of being suppressed or silenced.  The true test of our commitment to freedom is if we welcome that disagreement and live peaceably as neighbors anyway.

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

Aug 29, 2018

Despite the repeated efforts of The United States Department of Justice, the town of Airmont, New York has returned to its thirty-year history of religious discrimination, even fining an Orthodox Jewish Rabi $1,000 and up to one year in jail for peacefully worshipping within his own home with his community. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


If I were to tell you about worshippers describing themselves as “underground,” what comes to mind?  Oppressive regimes and brutal dictators maybe? Nazi Germany or first century Rome? 

Actually, that comes from our clients, Orthodox Jewish residents in Airmont, New York. 

And, sadly, this is nothing new.  The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit explained in the 1995 case of LeBlanc-Stenberg v. Fletcher, that Airmont “had been incorporated for the purpose of excluding Jewish citizens, using zoning restrictions designed to prevent Jewish adherents from gathering for prayer within city limits.”

Going on three decades later, and at least two Department of Justice-led lawsuits, and the City of Airmont is still wielding its zoning laws to discriminate.  Attorneys with First Liberty were in Airmont not long ago, defending a local Rabbi. He had spent over two and a half years, and about $20,000 in application costs trying to gain the approval to use his home for prayer meetings. 

Instead, the city rewarded him with a citation, carrying a penalty of up to $1,000 and a year in jail, for the unlawful use of his home for prayer.

We managed to get those charges dropped . . . at least temporarily. 

No one should feel like they have to pray “underground,” hiding from the government or fearing punishment for what is supposed to be the freeexercise of religion.

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

Aug 27, 2018

After Mary Ann Sause’s handwritten complaint was rejected, First Liberty Institute took her case and battled it out at the United States Supreme Court. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


The facts of Mary Anne Sause’s case are almost unbelievable.  When the police visited her federally subsidized home one night investigating a noise complaint, they were clearly irritated. 

Their harassment and threats were so harsh that she feared she would be taken to jail.  That’s why she asked if she could pray silently while they finished their paperwork.  When an officer returning to the apartment noticed her on her knees, he ordered her to stop—which would’ve probably been fine if the officer continued asking questions necessary to a police investigation.  But, he didn’t.  Instead, he continued to mock her and suggest not too subtly that she should move away from their small Kansas town.

Mary Anne felt abused.  So abused that she went to the library to research how to file a federal lawsuit.  With a paper and pen, she handwrote a complaint that a federal judge later dismissed. First Liberty took on her appeal and, what started as a hand written complaint, ended at the Supreme Court of the United States.

In a per curiam decision, the court granted Mary Anne’s appeal, vacated the decisions below, and remanded the case to the lower courts.  As the justices explained in their opinion, “There can be no doubt that the First Amendment protects the right to pray . . . Prayer unquestionably constitutes the ‘exercise’ of religion.”

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

Aug 24, 2018

The Supreme Court recently rejected the appeal to address a circuit court split over whether county commissioners can open their meetings with prayer, despite the longstanding tradition. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


“This Court’s Establishment Clause jurisprudence is in disarray.” Those are the words of Justice Clarence Thomas, dissenting from the Supreme Court’s decision to reject the appeals of two different county commissions who open their meetings with prayer.

The commissioners in Jackson County, Michigan and Rowan County, North Carolina have followed a longstanding tradition in our country of opening legislative meetings in prayer.  While the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit said that individual commissioners leading prayer is constitutional, the Fourth Circuit disagreed.

We know from past decisions of the Supreme Court that the lawmakers could hire a chaplain to lead the prayers or have a local volunteer pray.  So, why not the lawmakers themselves?  As Justice Thomas observed, the only real difference is “the person leading the prayer.”

For now the conflict between the Fourth and Sixth Circuits remains. Lawmakers may lawfully lead prayers in Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and Michigan, but the Fourth Circuit decision prevents lawmakers in South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, or West Virginia from praying.

We hope other circuits will follow the reasoning of the Sixth Circuit because, as Justice Thomas said in his dissent, “The Fourth Circuit’s decision is both unfaithful to our precedents and ahistorical . . . as long as this country has had legislative prayer, legislators have led it.”

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

Aug 22, 2018

For the first time in our nation’s history, Attorney General Jeff Sessions hosted a summit on religious liberty, demonstrating the Trump Administration’s ongoing commitment to religious freedom. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


At the end of July 2018, the Attorney General of the United States hosted a religious liberty summit in the Grand Hall of the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.

As far as I know, this is the first time in our nation’s history that a sitting Attorney General has held a day-long summit on religious liberty.  For that, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and President Trump, are to be commended for the administration’s ongoing commitment to religious liberty.

Those, like me, who attended the summit heard from a cross-section of America’s religious community. One Jewish rabbi spoke of years of discrimination by a city in Florida intent on keeping their small synagogue from worshiping in their town.  A Sikh told us stories of the bullying and abuse his faith community faces throughout the country.  One Muslim attorney reminded us of the very real Islamophobia her community faces on a daily basis.  Catholics, Protestants, and others spoke of similar concerns ranging from religious land use to matters of conscience.

More than a task force will be required to protect the religious liberty of all Americans—in the military, our schools, within houses of worship, and throughout the public square. Yet, gone are the days of an administration prosecuting nuns over birth control and reducing the robust protections of the First Amendment to a watered down, “freedom to worship.”

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

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