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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
Aug 13, 2018

Chaplain Scott Squires is facing disciplinary action for following the rules of his endorsing agency, The North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Army’s regulations when he denied to conduct a Strong Bond marriage retreat for a same-sex couple. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


The men and women of our armed forces follow rules. They have to.  As Colonel Jessup famously put it in the movie A Few Good Men, “We follow orders or people die.”

Scott Squires takes that to heart and, in his 25-year career as a soldier and Army chaplain, he’s always followed the rules: of the Army andthe North American Mission Board that sends him there. 

When he learned that one of his soldiers wanted to attend a marriage retreat he was leading as an Army chaplain, he knew he had to follow the rules.  He did and found himself in trouble. 

The North American Mission Board prevents its chaplains from facilitating marriage retreats for same-sex couples.  The Army respects that and their rules allow chaplains to find another chaplain who can lead such a retreat.  So, that’s what Chaplain Squires did. 

He thought that would be the end of it, but an Army investigator thought otherwise and recommended that Squires be charged with “dereliction of duty.” 

Chaplain Squires’ career is facing ruin because he followed the rules. Prohibiting chaplains from discussing aspects of their religious beliefs or practices with which some disagree would strip thousands of chaplains of the ability to act and speak in accordance with their sincerely held religious beliefs.

First Liberty represents Chaplain Squires because no chaplain should have to give up his First Amendment rights in order to serve.

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

Aug 10, 2018

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.

Aug 8, 2018

Many know about Aaron and Melissa Klein, the bakers in Oregon who lost their bakery and were fined $135,000 because they politely refused to bake a cake that conflicted with their religious convictions. But the media doesn’t show the attacks the Kleins have faced from those in their community. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


You probably know the story of Aaron and Melissa Klein, the bakers in Oregon forced out of business and fined $135,000 by the state when they politely declined business that would have forced them to violate their religious convictions.

What you may not know is that, after the State of Oregon pronounced them guilty of discrimination, private citizens were eager to show their contempt for the Kleins.

Many of the comments they received are so vulgar that I cannot repeat them here.  But, here is a tame sampling. 

One person, writing on Facebook said to the Kleins, “I hope your shop burns.”  Another chimed in, noting that she hoped Aaron and Melissa would “burn in Hell.”

One man sent a message that said, “I hope you lose your house and have to live on the streets.” One woman even said, “We hope your children get cancer and die.”

When the government declares that citizens like Aaron and Melissa are not entitled to the Constitution’s promises of religious liberty and free speech, its people push aside any goodwill that allows people to coexist peacefully with beliefs with which they may disagree. 

Aaron and Melissa have asked the Oregon Supreme Court to review their case.  We hope the court will accept the appeal, if only to remind everyone that it is possible to live peacefully as neighbors even when we disagree.

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

Aug 6, 2018

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 canbe 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 3, 2018

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 theirreligion, 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.

Aug 1, 2018

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.

Jul 30, 2018

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

Jul 27, 2018

In 1956, when Elihu Schimmel wanted to celebrate the Jewish High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah aboard his station of a U.S. Naval Vessel, the United States Army and Navy honored his religious liberty and helped make the Jewish service possible. Learn more at 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 servicemembers.

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

Jul 25, 2018

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.

Jul 23, 2018

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.

Jul 20, 2018

Joseph Frederick claimed his First Amendment rights were violated when the school principal confiscated his “Bong hits for Jesus” sign at a broadcasting event. 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 religiousexpression.  We remind them that while they mightbe 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.

Jul 18, 2018

A church was wrongly accused of violating ‘separation of church and state’ for renting space from local school district. Learn more 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 16, 2018

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 13, 2018

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 Fireas 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.

Jul 11, 2018

The Florida Legislature could sign a law that would align it with the federal Equal Access Act, protecting the religious liberty of its students and teachers. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


It looks like religious liberty may have found a friendly reception in Florida’s state lawmakers.

The Florida legislature recently sent to the governor a bill prohibiting discrimination against students and educators for religious expression at school. The bill expressly permits students to reference their faith in class assignments and even extra-curricular activities, while requiring school districts to create what we call a “limited public forum” at public events.  This means that, if students at a school event are invited to speak publicly, they would be permitted to express their religious beliefs. 

Should the governor sign the measure, the law of Florida would align itself with the federal Equal Access Act.  That means student religious groups would have state law on their side when seeking to access campus facilities in the same way secular groups do.

Teachers are also covered.  The bill has a provision restricting school districts from preventing teachers from participating in student-initiated religious activities before or after school. 

These are reasonable measures that will show respect for the religious liberty of Florida’s students and teachers. As the Supreme Court said in Shelton v. Tucker: “The vigilant protection of constitutional freedoms is nowhere more vital than in the community of American schools.”

Of course, that vigilance starts with the passing of laws and ends by faithfully adhering to them.

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

Jul 9, 2018

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kansas City files 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.

Jul 6, 2018

The Ministerial Exception plays a major role in protecting the unique mission of every religious organization by giving them the opportunity to hire and remove employees based on how they further the organization’s mission. Learn more at 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.

Jul 4, 2018

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 topractice 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 tospeak 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.

Jul 2, 2018

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.


The long wait to see what kind of judge President Trump would appoint to the nation’s highest court is now over.  Just ahead looms the confirmation battle for Judge Neil Gorsuch.

His qualifications for the office are unquestionable.  With degrees from Columbia, Harvard, and Oxford, there can be little doubt about his intelligence.  But what about his record as a judge? 

At First Liberty Institute, we have one criterion for evaluating judicial candidates: does his record reflect a history of upholding the Constitution, especially as to religious liberty? I’m happy to say that it does.

Judge Gorsuch wrote and joined opinions supporting the rights of ministries like the Little Sister of the Poor and closely-held family businesses like Hobby Lobby to be free from the burden imposed by the HHS Abortion Pill Mandate.

He wrote or signed opinions upholding the constitutionality of the public display of Ten Commandments monuments and even wrote an opinion defending the existence of cross-shaped memorials for fallen state troopers.

Whether Neil Gorsuch will adequately fill the shoes of the late Justice Scalia is impossible to fully predict. What we can say with some confidence is that JudgeGorsuch has a history of defending the First Amendment from the bench.  We hope that Justice Gorsuch will live up to the American people’s expectation and strongly protect our constitutional freedoms.

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

Jun 29, 2018

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 statusand 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 27, 2018

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.

Jun 25, 2018

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.

Jun 22, 2018

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 Postpoints 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 obligationto 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.

Jun 20, 2018

Former NFL players, Steve Largent and Chad Hennings along with two Seattle high school coaches filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of Coach Kennedy’s right to take a knee after games. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


You may be familiar with Coach Joe Kennedy, the high school football coach at Bremerton High School who was fired for taking a knee in silent prayer after the game.  Recently, he received support from a few other football players and coaches.

First, Steve Largent, a retired Seattle Seahawk and Hall of Famer, and Chad Hennings, three-time Super Bowl champion with the Cowboys, explain to the court how football coaches were a positive influence on their lives, contending that Bremerton’s actions restrict free speech and impair coaches’ ability to serve as role models and mentors to their students.

Hall of famer or not, we should all seek to defend the right to free speech. It’s central to our American identity as a diverse, pluralistic society, where we foster the free exchange of ideas.

Second, from two football coaches at Garfield High School in Seattle.  These coaches gained national media attention by joining their team in kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice. In their friend-of-the-court brief, the coaches ask the court to affirm that the First Amendment protects the rights of public employees—including football coaches—to private expression.

If the Constitution protects the right of a football coach to kneel to protest injustice, it certainly protects the right of Coach Kennedy to kneel in prayer.

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

Jun 18, 2018

Despite the numerous assertions that students may not talk about their faith in public schools, the Supreme Court has consistently ruled differently. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Michael Chandler, a vice-principal in the DeKalb County school system, did not like the law passed by the Alabama legislature that would permit religious speech to occur on public school property.   

Before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, he argued that any religious speech—even student-initiated religious speech—that occurs in the public schools isstate speech and, therefore, a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.  The circuit court disagreed, holding that for the state to be anything but neutral toward student religious speech it would be hostile to the free exercise of religion.

At about the same time, the Supreme Court of the United States decided a separate case involving students praying over the PA system before a public school football game.  So, the Eleventh Circuit reviewed Mr. Chandler’s case a second time.

But, nothing changed.  The Eleventh Circuit said that, when the state is neutral toward religion, the Establishment Clause is satisfied and private, religious speech does not need to be censored by the state. But, there’s also another clause in the First Amendment.  As the court concluded, “The Free Exercise Clause does not permit the state to confine religious speech to whispers or banish it to broom closets. If it did, the exercise of one’s religion would not be free at all.”

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

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