Lieutenant Junior Grade Aloysius H. Schmitt, a catholic priest better known as “Father Schmitt”, selflessly helps sailors escape during an attack. Learn more about this hero at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Lieutenant Junior Grade Aloysius H. Schmitt was a catholic priest better known as “Father Schmitt.” Originally from St. Lucas, Iowa, Father Schmitt was aboard the USS Oklahoma on December 7, 1941, as the battleship was torpedoed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Father Schmitt had just led mass that infamous Sunday morning when the ship carrying 1,300 souls was attacked. And, Father Schmitt posthumously received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for heroism. According to the citation, Father Schmitt realized only a few men could escape through a small hatch. He insisted that others go ahead of him. He remained behind, pronouncing a blessing on the men while they crawled out to safety.
Seventy-five years later, Father Schmitt’s remains have been positively identified and appropriately honored.
Many men and women are heroes, but Father Schmitt’s selfless act for his sailors is born more from care for their souls than of valor. As I consider his heroism, I’m reminded that there is an effort underway to rid Chaplains like Father Schmitt from our military. That can never be. Our military has welcomed the chaplaincy corp from its inception because one’s right to religious liberty is not surrendered at basic training.
First Liberty defends chaplains, like Father Schmitt, who would voluntarily trade a rifle for a Bible in service to their comrades in arms.
To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.
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.
Our national motto has appeared on our paper currency since the 1950’s, our coins since the 1860’s, and was first articulated as our motto by Francis Scott Key in 1812.
Recently in Ohio, 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.
First Liberty Institute represented The American Legion in a friend-of-the-court brief urging the court to dismiss the challenge to the motto. Thankfully, that court has joined eleven circuit courts of appeal and the Supreme Court of the United States in rejecting constitutional challenges to our national motto.
If a court were ever to invalidate the national motto, “In God We Trust” would have to be scrubbed from the walls of Congress, erased from our currency, deleted as the state motto of Florida, cut off of the state flag of Georgia, ripped off the backs of sheriff’s cruisers nationwide, and bleeped during the singing of the “Star Spangled Banner.”
Not only would that come at an enormous cost to accomplish, it would come at a detrimental cost to our history and heritage as a people.
To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.
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.
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.
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.
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.
According to The Fresno Bee, the Fresno City Council is considering adding the national motto, “In God We Trust,” to the wall of the council chambers. But, at least one local resident opposes the proposal.
In the mind of one atheist protestor, the delicate balance between church and state is upset entirely by the public display of these four words. And, despite the fact that the atheist writes, “Atheists like me feel the idea of “God” has little meaning,” he encourages the local community to oppose a word which he believes has “little meaning.” One wonders how a word with “little meaning” can violate the so-called separation of church and state, but that’s another issue.
Of course, if folks wanted to purchase the article in The Fresno Bee, they would do so with coins bearing the national motto since 1864. The city council would be in good company with the United States House of Representatives which has the motto emblazoned behind the speaker’s dais. And, on the way to city hall, residents may have to drive by police or sheriff’s cruisers sporting the national motto.
Throughout America’s history, the national motto has been honored and celebrated as an expression of what it means to be an American. Any effort to prevent its display should be rejected as bald efforts to rewrite our history and destroy our heritage.
A Nevada school district has reversed a long-standing 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.
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.
Bryan Finnemore is described as a fundamentalist Christian. He worked for a hydro-electric company in Bangor, Maine. Everyone there knew that he was a Christian and that’s where the problems seemed to begin.
The talk in the garage where Bryan worked was often vulgar. His coworkers made explicit, demeaning jokes about their wives. It was more than Bryan could stand. He finally spoke up, questioning how they could carry on in such a manner and explaining that such conversation was offensive to him because of his religious beliefs.
You can probably guess what happened next: Bryan’s coworkers turned their crude jokes on him, targeting Bryan’s wife instead of their own. He complained to his supervisors, but they took no action. It was too much. So, Bryan resigned.
After he filed a claim of religious discrimination, the lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the company. The Supreme Judicial Court of Maine reversed that decision, explaining that “whether a comment is of a religious nature or whether it occurred because of an individual’s religious beliefs or would not have occurred but for the individual’s religion” is a question of fact that a jury should decide.
Bryan’s case is a good reminder that sometimes it takes a jury of one’s peers to sort through all the facts in order to defend an employee’s religious liberty.
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.
The Liberty Christian Center in Watertown, New York, asked for permission to use the Watertown High School Cafeteria for its religious services.
As their application stated, the worship services to be conducted in the public school cafeteria would include activities of music, religious instruction, and Christian testimony. But, the local school board denied the application, stating that, since New York law did not specifically authorize religious organizations to utilize public school buildings, the application had to be denied.
The court reviewed previous uses of the public school cafeteria. It found that among other uses, the school had been used to host a “Local Talent Night” which featured religious music, religious instruction, and even Christian testimony. Since both the worship service and the local talent show shared a religious purpose and context, it was unlawful for the school to permit the talent show, but deny the use of the facility for a worship service.
Some decry the use of a public school by a religious organization as a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. That is simply not true. The First Amendment demands that a school board be neutral toward religion. Letting a secular organization use school property, but denying a religious organization the same use, is not neutrality, it’s hostility.
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.
Steed Lobotzke graduated from the United States Air Force Academy in 1992. He eventually found his way back to campus, this time as the tight-ends coach for the Academy’s football team.
And, like the other coaches, he has a Twitter account where he describes himself as a “Follower of Christ, family man, and football coach.” Perhaps like many of you, Coach Lobotzke often posts verses from the Bible on his Twitter account.
This angered an activist group, labeling the tweets as “unchecked Christian extremism” and demanded that the Academy put an end to it.
The Academy looked into it and determined that, in fact, the Twitter account was a personal account, not connected with the Academy, rightly concluding that it was “committed to protecting [an] individuals' right to practice any religion they choose, or no religion, provided their practices do not violate policy or law, or impede mission accomplishment, military readiness, unit cohesion, standards or discipline."
The activist’s response was vulgar and promised more antagonism against the institution, but the Academy made the right call. Had the Academy punished the coach for his personal tweets, they would’ve been hostile toward religion, rather than neutral, as the First Amendment demands.
Our Airmen may give up a lot to serve our country, but they do not give up religious liberty—in their planes, on the gridiron, or on Twitter.
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.
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.
The group known as the Chaplain’s Alliance for Religious Liberty recently gathered to honor outgoing congressman Randy Forbes. At least two, active duty chaplains prayed at the event attended by multiple members of congress.
Now, you need to understand that the Chaplain’s Alliance is a coalition of chaplain endorsers, meaning it is a group of those religious leaders who represent religious organizations that credential our military’s chaplains.
Evidently, the prayers of the active-duty chaplains at the event didn’t sit well with one activist group who 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.”
The Air Force didinvestigate and found that the prayers offered by the Chaplains did not violate any military regulation. Chaplains have long been a part of our military. In addition to caring for our servicemembers, part of their official duties include offering prayer at public events and, importantly, interacting with chaplain endorsers.
Chaplains are protected by military regulation and the Constitution. A chaplain’s religious liberty includes the freedom to pray according to the specific religious tradition of their endorsing religious organization. No one—not even our military—has the authority to unlawfully suppress the religious beliefs of an American citizen.
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.
No one really likes getting a flu shot. But, like it or not, for those in healthcare, it’s often required.
That was the policy of Saint Vincent Health Center in Erie, Pennsylvania: mandatory flu shots for all employees—unlessan employee can provide a medical or religious reason. The policy worked pretty well. If an employee had an exception, they were given a facemask, which they wore while interacting with patients. For those religious objectors, this was a great religious accommodation.
But, some employees didn’t get an exception, even though they requested one for religious reasons. Six of the employees who were denied an exception for religiousreasons were fired. But, the fourteen employees citing medicalreasons were not.
That’s a problem. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stepped in on behalf of the fired employees and now the hospital has to pay $300,000 to compensate the employees for their lost jobs.
It’s really too bad it had to come to this. The hospital had a great policy and a reasonable accommodation for employees with a religious objection to the vaccine. But, they didn’t follow their own policy and ended up treating religious employees unfairly.
So, employers, let this be a good reminder: have a policy that accommodates the religious beliefs of your employees…and then make sure you follow it.
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.
A Nebraska law banning teachers from wearing religious garb in public schools is forcing people like Sister Madeline Miller to violate their religious beliefs. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Sister Madeline Miller is a 37-year old teacher. She’s also a nun who dons a habit wherever she goes, and that includes work.
But, when she applied for a job in a Nebraska public school, she was told she would have to lose the habit. Evidently there is a Nebraska law that prevents teachers from wearing any sort of religious garb at work. That means that, despite her credentials, Sister Madeline could not work in the Nebraska public schools. You see, the church teaches that she is to wear her habit at all times, except when cleaning with harsh chemicals that could damage the blessed garments or when ministering in a communist country.
Does that mean Nebraska is worse than harsh chemicals or communist countries? Probably not, but one Nebraska lawmaker is working to repeal the antiquated and vague law. If it is not repealed, nuns could be defrocked of their habits, Jewish teachers may have to remove their yarmulkes, Catholic teachers would need to leave their rosary at home, and Mennonite teachers could not wear their plan cap.
I suspect the Nebraska legislature will have little trouble removing this law from the books. But, we should learn a lesson from Sister Miller’s experience: in a free society, we ought to welcome the appearance of religious garb, rather than ban them from our sight.
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.
Every four years, Americans experience a national transition as a new executive is inaugurated. 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.
Moments after taking the oath, Washington retreated inside Federal Hall and offered his inaugural address. As he remarked, “it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official Act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the Universe, who presides in the Councils of Nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that his benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the People of the United States . . .”
He continued, expressing his “homage to the Great Author of every public and private good” by reminding his audience that, “No People can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States.”
These are the words the same man who would remind our nation at the end of his presidency that both “religion and morality are indispensible supports” of political happiness.
So, today, our nation joins President Trumpas he implores God’s help while in office.
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.
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.
The comments from Joy Behar about Vice-President Mike Pence and his religious beliefs are a clear example of the religious bigotry the drafters of the U.S. Constitution rejected when they wrote Article VI. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
I probably don’t fit in the demographic of those watching “The View.” But, it is sometimes hard to miss the controversy surrounding that show.
Joy Behar, one of the hosts of “The View,” weighed in on the faith of Vice-President Mike Pence. Behar’s comments came after claims by Omarosa, the reality TV star turned White House advisor turned reality TV star again, expressed fear that, not only does Pence pray to Jesus, he claims that Jesus talks back.
On that, Behar said, “It’s one thing to talk to Jesus. It’s another thing when Jesus talks to you,” adding that for Christian’s like Pence to hear voices in your head may be a sign of “mental illness.” She then joked, “Can [Pence] talk to Mary Magdalene without his wife in the room?”
Behar’s comments are not merely silly; her comments are evidence of a hateful, religious bigotry that has no place in our society. Essentially, Behar has labeled Vice-President Pence as unfit for office not only because he may have a mental illness, but because his mental illness stems from his religious beliefs.
This is the exact type of religious bigotry that the drafters of the U.S. Constitution rejected when they rejected any religious tests for office in Article VI. No one should be disqualified for office on the basis of their religious beliefs.
The new U.S. Attorney Manual’s new section on religious liberty is going to help protect religious liberty for all Americans and will strengthen all of our core freedoms. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
The U.S. Department of Justice recently announced that it will update the U.S. Attorneys’ Manual, creating a new section giving special attention to religious liberty.
Updates to such a manual are sometimes viewed as routine, but they tend to reflect the values and priorities of the Department of Justice, and function as a sort of roadmap for the department’s coming years.
The updates announced in the new manual requires the nation’s U.S. Attorneys to not only identify a dedicated point of contact on litigation having to do with religious liberty, but also requires coordination of any such litigation directly with the central office in Washington, D.C. In other words, Attorney General Sessions is announcing that his office will be very hands-on in lawsuits involving our “First Freedom.”
When the Department of Justice announced the updated U.S. Attorneys’ Manual, then Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand explained, “Religious liberty is an inalienable right protected by the Constitution, and defending it is one of the most important things we do at the Department of Justice.”
Clearly, the days of abandoning protections in the law for religious liberty — including bipartisan laws like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act — may be a thing of the past. The critical leadership of the attorney general and his staff to protect religious liberty for all Americans will do much to strengthen all of our core freedoms.
A California judge recently ruled in favor of Cathy Miller, the owner of Tastries bakery when she was sued for declining to create a cake based on her religious convictions. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
At this point, it’s an all too familiar story: a same-sex couple asks a religious baker to custom create a wedding cake. Despite apologetically declining the business, the baker is sued and the bakery is forced to close.
But, this is not that story; not yet anyway. Cathy Miller is the religious baker and her bakery, called “Tastries” is located in Bakersfield, California. She was forced to decline some business when that client would’ve required her to use her creative expression to lend support to a union that violates her religious convictions. The couple filed a complaint and the State of California filed suit against Cathy.
But Judge David Lampe concluded that the state has an obligation to protect free speech for everyone, including Cathy. The court reasoned that, while everyone should be able to purchase ready-made goods regardless of what the customer plans to do with the goods, custom art is different.
Or, as the ACLU says, “Freedom of expression for ourselves requires freedom of expression for others.”
You see, the true test of whether we actually believe in the promise of the First Amendment is speech we find socially controversial. Popular ideas are not in great danger of being suppressed or silenced. The true test of our commitment to freedom is if we welcome that disagreement and live peaceably as neighbors anyway.
Billy Graham has a long-standing history of sharing the Gospel all over the world, including at publically owned venues. Today, those same venues are preventing two Christian football teams from praying over a city – owned microphone. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
America was saddened to learn of the loss of Billy Graham. Some have openly wondered whether history will ever witness another like him. The better question to ask at this point in our history may be, “Can there be another Billy Graham?”
Graham’s crusades were public expressions of faith, many times taking place on public property. In 1952, Graham’s crusade visited Washington, D.C. Graham held services on the very steps of the United States Capitol, enlisting supportive government officials to secure the permission needed for such an event.
He would go on to preach at dozens of the country’s most historic and publicly-owned venues, including what is today known as Camping World Stadium.
In 2015, the football teams from two Christian schools in Florida faced off in that same stadium where, in 1969 and again in 1983, Billy Graham stood to share his Gospel message with thousands in attendance. Incredibly, these two religious schools were denied use of the city-owned microphone to pray over the same loudspeaker once used to amplify the disarming, baritone voice of Billy Graham as he preached and prayed.
If the First Amendment does not protect the right of two Christian schools to pray for 30 seconds over a city-owned loudspeaker in 2015, can it protect the next Billy Graham who wants to use the same public address system in the same stadium?
As many know, the Amish people are not permitted to use electricity based on their religious beliefs. But what do they do when the city’s sewer system includes an electric pump? Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Lessons about religious liberty come in some of the most remarkable stories.
For instance, a Pennsylvania town recently required its Amish citizens to hook into its public sewer system. Frankly, I never thought this would pose much of a concern, let alone a question of religious liberty. But, I was wrong.
It turns out the sewer system utilizes an electric pump. The Amish, for religious reasons, are not permitted to enjoy the modern conveniences of electricity. So, even though their outhouse is of the traditional, non-electric kind, the electrical pump of the public sewer taints the Amish privy. In fact, according to the documents filed with the court, the Amish family could be excommunicated from their religious community if they were to totally connect.
Now, this is a fascinating question. Clearly, the state has a compelling interest in ensuring the proper containment and flow of sewage, but is such an interest compelling enough to overcome the substantial burden hooking into such a system would place upon the religious liberty of the Amish?
It’s a tough question, but I’m thankful we live in a country that pauses to consider the impact something like a sewer pump might have upon the religious liberty of its citizens.
Memorials are symbols meant to remind the living of the sacrifice of our fallen soldiers and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision to deny an en banc review of the Bladensburg Veterans Memorial could be setting a dangerous precedent. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Veterans’ memorials are symbols meant to remind the living of the service and sacrifice the fallen made for freedom.
That is why Gold Star mothers in 1919 started work on the Bladensburg World War I Veterans’ Memorial. They did not want the world to forget the sacrifice their sons made. So, they, along with The American Legion, erected a cross-shaped memorial. The design mirrored the universally accepted symbol erected over the thousands of graves of men who died in Europe defending freedom. No one complained for almost 100 years.
Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit refused to overturn an opinion of a panel of that court that would direct a federal district to consider whether the monument should have it’s horizontal arms removed or be razed to the ground completely.
Such a decision sets a dangerous precedent for veterans’ memorials across America. If this decision stands, other memorials will be targeted for destruction as well. We will appeal this case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
I encourage you to go to DontTearMeDown.com and join us in defending this memorial to the 49 men of Prince George’s County, Maryland killed in the line of duty during World War I.
We forget what we do not see. Unless the Supreme Court intervenes, the Bladensburg memorial and similar memorials in close by in Arlington National Cemetery may disappear as well.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recently denied review of the court that declared a cross-shaped veterans memorial unconstitutional. A number of judges on the court disagreed with the decision and made their stances known. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
When the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit declined to review a decision of that court that said the cross-shaped Bladensburg World War I Veterans’ Memorial is unconstitutional, not all the judges agreed.
Chief Judge Gregory noted his dissent. He said, “Nearly a century ago, Maryland citizens, out of deep respect and gratitude, took on the daunting task of erecting a monument to mirror the measure of individual devotion and sacrifice these heroes had so nobly advanced. The panel majority says their effort violates the Constitution the soldiers fought to defend. I, respectfully, think otherwise.”
Judge Niemeyer said with some exasperation, “Until this action was filed by persons who claim to be offended by the presence of the monument, no complaint had been made about its presence . . .”
But, Judge Wilkinson was poetic in his dissent. He wrote, “The dead cannot speak for themselves. But may the living hear their silence . . . This memorial and this cross have stood for almost one full century. Life and change flow by the small park in the form of impatient cars and trucks. That is disturbance enough.”
He concluded simply noting that the park in which the memorial stands, “may not be Arlington National Cemetery, but it is the next thing to it. I would let the cross remain and let those honored rest in peace.”