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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: October, 2018
Oct 31, 2018

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


The U.S. Department of Justice recently announced that it will 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.

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

Oct 29, 2018

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.

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

Oct 26, 2018

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?

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

Oct 24, 2018

After five years, a group of high school cheerleaders won their case in court after being told they could not put Bible versus on break through football banners. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


It was Friday night and the lights in Texas shone down on the field.  The Kountze High School football team was about to smash through a banner and onto the field.

Holding the banner were the Kountze High School cheerleaders.  Negative slogans like “Beat the bulldogs” were a thing of the past.  These cheerleaders wanted to be positive.  So, they looked to the Bible for a positive message they could communicate instead. 

But, the school said the new banner message had to go. They had received a complaint and could not afford to take any chances.  But, the cheerleaders were not about to give up.

First Liberty Institute stepped in and, for the next 5 years, represented the young women.  The school argued that since the banner was on school property, the message—chosen entirely by the students and displayed on paper the student purchased and painted—was government speech and that couldn’t be religious without violating the constitution.

The court disagreed. No reasonable person would conclude that the message—scrawled in student script and held aloft by students—could be an official message of the state.  Instead, the student’s message was private speech, entitled to the protections of the First Amendment.

Matthews v. Kountze Independent School District stands for the important principal that schools cannot censor, ban, or claim ownership to the private religious speech of its students.

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

Oct 22, 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.

Oct 19, 2018

Despite most residents being unable to identify their county seal, a federal district court ruled that the county seal of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania is unconstitutional. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Most residents of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, probably have no idea what their county seal looks like. 

It has a cow, factories, a silo, an oil lamp set on two books, a courthouse, flags and bunting, and more. Recently, a federal district court reluctantly declared the seal unconstitutional because, centered in the background of it all, is a cross.

According to the court’s opinion:

“The County has not . . . legally compelled its citizens to practice and conform to Christianity, infringed on freedom of conscience, or created political conflict between the Christian Church and other religious sects. Simply put, the County of Lehigh did not intend to ‘establish’ religion or institute a County religion.”

And, so, the court concluded:

“Lehigh County’s Seal is a passive symbol that does not coerce any citizen to practice or adhere to Christianity, and does not establish a county religion. Thus, the Seal does not violate the plain text of the Establishment Clause. Nor does it establish religion in the way the drafters of the First Amendment imagined. Higher courts, however, have delineated a different mechanism by which the court must determine whether the Seal survives constitutional scrutiny. While the court may not fully agree with the test provided, the court must apply that test.”

Well, we can only hope an appeal will change that test.

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

Oct 17, 2018

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Oct 15, 2018

When two private Christian schools were forbade by the Florida High School Athletic Association to pray prior to a championship game, First Liberty Institute filed an appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


In 2015, the Florida High School Athletic Association forbade Cambridge Christian School from praying over the loudspeaker of the Citrus Bowl ahead of the state championship football game, even though both participating teams were Christian schools and each had a tradition of prayer before games.

Praying over the loudspeaker allows students on the field, and their parents and fans in the stands, to unite prior to kickoff. But, the FHSAA believes it violates the constitution.

First Liberty Institute filed an appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit on behalf of Cambridge Christian School.  We argue that by banning two private Christian schools from praying over the loudspeaker before a football game while allowing other, non-religious messages to come across the same speaker, the FHSAA is telling high school kids that prayer in public is wrong.

We hope the Eleventh Circuit will recognize this for what it is: the censorship of religious speech—because it is religious—of two private, Christian schools.

First they told religious students that if you want to pray in school, then you have to attend a private, religious school. They did, but even then they have been told they cannot pray in public.  Where else do these religious students have to go? Must they now form their own league in order to exercise the rights guaranteed to them under the Constitution?

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

Oct 12, 2018

The use of cross-shaped memorials has been a long standing tradition in honoring the dead. In 1915 Major John McCrae wrote the famous poem, “In Flanders Fields” and the cross reference is no mistake. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


In May of 1915, Major John McCrae buried his friend.  It is believed that after the burial he penned the now famous poem, “In Flanders Fields.”  This is what he wrote:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

 

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

 

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

The reference to crosses was no accident. These were the markers used for temporary gravestones across Europe.  When the graves were made permanent, the world community rejected efforts to convert the temporary, cross-shaped gravestones into rounded tombstones.

That is why today, across America, many veterans memorials are cross-shaped.  And, that is why we defend them.  Today, “the foe” of McCrae’s poem are those wishing to purge the religious from public view, including veterans memorials bearing religious imagery.  But, we will not break faith, with those who died.

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

Oct 10, 2018

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Oct 8, 2018

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


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

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

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

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

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

Oct 5, 2018

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Oct 3, 2018

The Akebono Brake Corportaion hired Clintoria Burneett in 2014 to fulfill the job of Washer Inspector. But when her religious beliefs prohibit her from wearing pants, the company sought to withdraw their offer of employment. Learn more about Clintoria’s story at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


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

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

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

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

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

Oct 1, 2018

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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