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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: September, 2018
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.

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