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First Liberty Briefing

First Liberty Briefing is an exclusive podcast hosted by First Liberty Institute’s Deputy General Counsel Jeremy Dys. In about 90-seconds, once 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: December, 2018
Dec 31, 2018

One litigant argues that the tax code creates the new religion of “taxism” in violation of the First Amendment.Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Ben Franklin reportedly said, “There is nothing certain in life except for death and taxes.”  Well, in a 548-page complaint, one man has targeted at least one of those certainties, and it’s not death. 

Terry Lee Hinds contends that the United States Tax Code has violated the Constitution by establishing “taxism,” an institutionalized faith and religion.  Because the tax code has the effect of favoring and even promoting organized religions through tax breaks and other benefits, Mr. Hinds believes the tax code is in violation of the First Amendment.

Well, I suppose this is the sort of case that law students are forced to grapple with, but actually have little effect in the real world.  Some may dream such a lawsuit is the silver bullet to bring down our ghoulish tax system. Alas, Mr. Hinds’ lawsuit will not free us from the taxman’s visit every April 15. 

For one reason, taxpayers have a lot of hurdles to overcome just to bring the lawsuit. Mere allegations—even ones dressed up in the garb of a First Amendment challenge—that they do not like to pay taxes will not be sufficient.

For now, Mr. Hinds and the rest of us will have to continue to pay our taxes and, most importantly, the religious charities and houses of worship that are exempt from them will continue to be exempt.

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

Dec 28, 2018

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act provides a check on government when its actions substantially burden a citizen’s free expression of religion, but it does not provide protection for abuse, neglect, or other violent acts. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


A woman in Indiana has attempted to use that state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act to justify her abusive behavior, but it didn’t work.

Kin Park Thaing was charged with neglect of a dependent and battery on a juvenile after allegedly disciplining her children by beating them with a hanger.  The beating was necessary, she argued to ensure her son would be right with God for his immoral actions. 

Part of Thaing’s defense was rooted in the Indiana RFRA, suggesting that the state was substantially burdening her religious exercise by charging her with abuse and neglect for the way she chose to discipline her children.  Thankfully, RFRA does not sanction abuse, neglect, or other violent acts. 

RFRA provides a check on government when its actions substantially burden the free exercise of religion, demanding that the state demonstrate a compelling justification for its actions.  There can be little that is more compelling than protecting against the abuse and neglect of children.

In other words, RFRA worked.  The state was able to easily demonstrate why they were compelled to charge Thaing for her abusive behavior and Thaing pled guilty to battery. 

The next time someone tries to convince you that RFRA laws can protect child abusers, remind them of Thaing’s story. Show them how effectively RFRA balanced both our commitment to religious liberty and the prevention of abuse.

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

Dec 26, 2018

The rise of hostility to religion in America is Undeniable. Since 2012, First Liberty has been documenting the number of attacks against religious freedom, and it has risen 133 percent between 2012 and 2017. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Since 2012, First Liberty Institute has been investigating the rise in the number and severity of domestic attacks on religion. Each year, that investigation is compiled into our annual survey.

We started that survey because wherever we went, people would tell us that they didn’t think there was a genuine threat to religious liberty in our country.  We call it Undeniable: The Survey of Religious Hostility to Religion in America because it makes such a compelling case.

In the past year, the total number of documented attacks on religious liberty has increased by over 15 percent.  Over the past five years, we have seen an alarming 133 percent increase.  Of the 1,400 cases documented in Undeniable, you will see a myriad of faiths represented: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh among others.  Religious hostility in America does not discriminate.

But, there is hope.  First Liberty is battling for religious freedom in court, but you can join that fight by simply educating yourself, and others, about the rights we each have and how we can preserve them.

If you haven’t yet, I’d encourage you to go to FirstLiberty.org today and download your own copy of the 2017 edition of Undeniable or order a free copy for your friend.

Despite the mounting hostility, First Liberty is prepared to stand against these relentless attacks for as long as it takes.

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

Dec 24, 2018

James Gillespie Blaine proposed amendment to the United States Constitution that would, prevent any government aid to “sectarian schools,” especially Catholic schools.  Learn what Justice Clarence Thomas said about the amendment at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


James Gillespie Blaine had an interesting life. He served as Speaker of the House of Congress and in the United States Senate.  Twice he served as Secretary of State, holding the position under three separate presidents.  He even sought the presidency, losing to Grover Cleveland.

Blaine’s most notorious legacy, however, is an amendment that bears his name. 

Blaine got his idea from a fiery speech delivered by President Grant at the height of a national controversy over the nation’s public schools, and whether religion had any place within them.  In 1875, President Grant declared, “Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the Church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions.  Keep the Church and State forever separate.”

Days later, Blaine introduced a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution that would, prevent any government aid to “sectarian schools,” especially Catholic schools. 

His amendment failed, but various states borrowed his proposal and their constitutions were amended instead.  Today, almost 40 states have a constitutional provision that prevents government aid to religious institutions.  These amendments have empowered states to legally discriminate against religious organizations when they perform the same work secular institutions do.

That prejudice led Justice Thomas to write of Blaine Amendments in the 1999 decision of Mitchell v. Helms, “This doctrine, born of bigotry, should be buried now.”

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

Dec 21, 2018

In 1991 the ACLU sent the Milwaukee police department a letter threatening to sue at Christmas because the police had an informal practice of not serving evictions on Christmas day. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


One of my family’s Christmas traditions is to read the classic Dickens tale, A Christmas Carol.  It’s a beloved classic, telling of the once miserly and miserable Ebenezer Scrooge whose disdain for all things Christmas softened when the spirits of Christmas past, present, and future force him to reconsider his ways.

One poignant scene in the story is of a young couple in great debt to Scrooge, standing on the edge of financial ruin and, perhaps, facing eviction from their home.  It’s Christmas and, while the Ghost of Christmases Yet to Come forces Scrooge to look on, the couple’s worry vanishes as they learn of Scrooge’s death, knowing that anyone other than Scrooge will be more understanding of their plight, especially at Christmas.

Well, maybe the ACLU should read the book.  In 1991, it sent the Milwaukee police a letter threatening a lawsuit at Christmas.  You see, the local government had an informal practice of not serving evictions on Christmas day. The ACLU claimed that this violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

I’m confident that not a single founding father was enough of a Scrooge so as to contemplate that a religion would be established if the police declined to evict tenants on Christmas Day. 

Perhaps the local landlord that complained—and his friends at the ACLU—need a visit from Jacob Marley.

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

Dec 19, 2018

An atheist group has attacked the state senator of Connecticut for using his personal time during the Christmas season to ring the bell outside of a local Walmart for the Salvation Army. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Maybe it’s the relentless ringing, the high-pitched clinging, or just the reminder that there’s something to this season beyond ourselves, but some find the bell ringing a little annoying.  At the end of the day, though, the Salvation Army bell ringers do good work.

That’s probably why Connecticut state senator George Logan rings the bell outside of a Walmart in Naugatuck, Connecticut each year. This would be an otherwise forgettable act of kindness, except that one atheist group took their annoyance to a whole new level.  They sent him an angry Christmas letter.

But, the letter was less concerned about the bell ringing and more upset that he would dare support an ostensibly religious charity.  Rather than support what the group considers a “church denomination,” it strongly argued that Logan should focus his attention exclusivelyon secularcharities.  This, the group suggests, would solve any appearance of promoting religion and “prevent citizens from feeling ostracized by their elected representatives.”

Well, if it’s not clear to you, let me explain that the law does not require any elected official, during his personal time, to serve only secular charities. Indeed, the Constitution protects the right of every citizen, elected or not, to serve the charity or house of worship of his choice.  The galling bigotry that this organization has evidenced toward the free exercise of this citizen is appalling—especially at Christmas.

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

Dec 17, 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 obligation to 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.

Dec 14, 2018

With the holiday season upon us, it is important that students and teachers are aware of their religious freedom when celebrating the holidays both in and out of the classroom. To learn more: FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


As the school semester winds down to Christmas break, it’s important to take a look at all the ways students might exercise their religious freedom in celebration of the holidays.

First, schools can celebrate “Christmas” just as easily as they can celebrate “winter.”  Doing so provides an educational perspective of world history and the effect of religion upon culture.

Schools can also deck the halls in Christmas decorations.  Decorations can further the cultural and religious heritage educationally important to the holiday.

Third, schools can include Christmas-themed artistic expressions in school plays.  As long as its presented in an objective manner reflecting the traditions of Christmas, it’s just fine. 

It is fine for students to wish one another “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah” and even hand out gifts significant to their religious tradition.

As they can throughout the year, students can also reference their faith in school assignments, class discussions, and private speeches during the holidays.  The First Amendment is not suspended during the Christmas season. 

And, finally, school employees can discuss their religious, holiday traditions outside of their official roles as educators. This means teachers can attend Christmas parties and religious gatherings outside of work without fearing the loss of their job.

With that, perhaps the best way to conclude is merely to say: Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and best wishes for a happy new year to all our students.

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

Dec 12, 2018

After three years of litigation, Cornerstone Church by the Bay wins their case and can use their own property to minister to the community.  Learn more about how First Liberty defended this church against the south Texas city’s zoning laws by visiting FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


After three years of litigation, Cornerstone Church by the Bay wins their case and can use their own property to minister to the community. 

The south Texas church, and the private school that it runs, purchased property that they hoped would allow them to leave their rented space and continue their ministry on their own property.  But, the city’s zoning laws were confusing.  It allowed non-religious institutions to occupy that part of town, but the zoning rules did not allow churches there.  When the church asked for a special use permit, the town’s Board of Aldermen denied the request, keeping churches from operating in that area.

Left with no other option, Cornerstone turned to First Liberty.  We filed a lawsuit on their behalf alleging that the town’s zoning actions violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act along with the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  Not long after, the court granted our request for a preliminary injunction while the litigation continued. 

But, the town has decided to quit that litigation. In settling with Cornerstone, the Town of Bayview agreed to issue the special use permit the church requested over three years ago. 

Houses of worship have legal rights that must be respected by local government officials.  This church is now free to serve their community, on their own property, as every church should be.

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

Dec 10, 2018

In one of the most famous religious freedom Supreme Court cases, Jonas Yoder, a member of the Old Order Amish, challenged the state of Wisconsin’s law requiring students to attend school through the age of 16. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Jonas Yoder was a member of the Old Order Amish living in the State of Wisconsin.  Yoder and others lived carefully according to their religious tradition, in community with other Amish and away from the influence of the modern world.

After the eighth grade, Old Order Amish schoolchildren do not continue to high school where much is taught in variance with their Amish way of life.  Instead, the children return to the home where they are instilled with the virtues of goodness, wisdom, and community welfare by their family. 

But these families ran into a problem as they sought to live out the religion that had motivated their families since the 16thcentury: the State of Wisconsin required students to attend school through at least the high school age of 16.

Yoder’s case went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States that held that the State of Wisconsin could not compel these Amish families to send their children to high school.  According to the court, “only those interests of the highest order and those not otherwise served can overbalance legitimate claims to the free exercise of religion.”

Wisconsin v. Yoder, was among the first cases that helped articulate an important balancing test that weighed a state’s interest in governing against an individual’s right to the free exercise of religion. 

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

Dec 7, 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.

Dec 5, 2018

The State of Florida has provided a religious exemption for parents who, for religious reasons, object to their children receiving immunizations. One parent invoked his exemption but did so at a private religious school. Learn how a state appellate court decided by listening to FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


The topic of immunizations can be controversial to many.  Some even have a religious objection to having their children immunized as a requirement to attend public schools.

Those objections often fall on deaf ears, but some states have provided for a religious exemption for parents who, for religious reasons, object to their children receiving the needle.  Florida falls into that category. 

So, naturally, when Patrick Flynn informed his Florida school that he was invoking that exemption, he was surprised to hear the school refuse to follow the law.  So, he filed a lawsuit.

Now, there’s an important fact that I haven’t told you yet: the school is a private, Catholic school.  It’s not a public school.  As such, it is itself protected by the First Amendment to make its own policies in keeping with their faith.

A unanimous state appellate court sided with the Catholic Diocese, citing the doctrine of church autonomy.  Siding with Flynn would “further his own religious views at the expense of the Diocese's on the topic of immunizations,” wrote the court. “We are convinced that a secular court should not be making the judgment as to which side's religious view of immunization is to be respected.”

In other words, while Flynn has a right to the protection of his religious beliefs, he may not use the state’s judicial arm to compel a private, religious institution to depart from its religious beliefs.

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

Dec 3, 2018

A New York town was at the center of an atheist’s demands to remove religious references from an annual Christmas event. Listen at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


Elaine Spaziano organized “Christmas on the Canal” for seventeen years.  It became a tradition for most of the residents of Spencerport, New York.  But, like every good Christmas story, there was a Grinch.

An atheist complained to city officials about the annual celebration because it included carols, tree lighting, a Nativity scene, and other festivities.  In response, the town told Elaine to remove religious references and secularize the event by changing “Christmas” to “Holiday” and getting rid of such displays as the nativity scene.  Elaine refused and the town pulled its sponsorship, seemingly ending the annual tradition.

But, not unlike the Who’s down in Whoville, the community rose up in support of the event and provided the necessary funding to continue the annual celebration.

“Christmas on the Canal” continues to this day, though I don’t know if the town sponsors it. Cities across the country need to understand that the law allows your town to sponsor such displays, so long as the displays contain the right mixture of the sacred and secular. Or, as the Supreme Court has said, City-supported Christmas displays are permissible under the Constitution, so long as there is no “endorsement of religious faith” and the display is, as the court noted, “simply a recognition of cultural diversity.” 

So, this Christmas don’t let your town be a Scrooge.  It’s ok to celebrate Christmas on the town square.

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

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