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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
Nov 14, 2018

When the government’s interest in timbering led to the destruction of land traditionally used by Native Americans for religious purposes, the Supreme Court ruled against the Native Americans. The opinion read, “Whatever rights the Indians may have to the use of the [land in question did] not divest the Government of its right to use what is, after all, its land.” Learn more: Firstliberty.org/Briefing.


In 1987, the Supreme Court was asked whether timbering operations within a National Park over a portion of land traditionally used for religious purposes by Native Americans violated the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause. 

Justice O’Connor’s opinion in Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Associationconcluded that “Whatever rights the Indians may have to the use of the [land in question did] not divest the Government of its right to use what is, after all, its land.”

But, not all the justices agreed.  Justice Brennan, joined by Justices Marshall and Blackmun, disagreed.  He reasoned that the timbering in question threatened the “very existence of a Native American religion.”  He concluded on a somber note, “Today, the Court holds that a federal land-use decision that promises to destroy an entire religion does not burden the practice of that faith in a manner recognized by the Free Exercise Clause . . . I find it difficult, however, to imagine conduct more insensitive to religious needs . . ..”

Thirteen years later, Congress would pass the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.  At the least, RLUIPA would’ve required the government to demonstrate that its actions were the least restrictive in pursuit of a compelling government interest.

RLUIPA, like RFRA, insists that government actions substantially burdening the free exercise of religion receive heightened scrutiny.  That protects all of our religious liberty.

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

Nov 12, 2018

The city of Austin, Texas targeted a Christian Pregnancy Resource Center by forcing the ministry to post signs disclaiming the services they did not perform, while pro-abortion groups were not required to post any sign or disclaimer. Learn more about how we fought and won the case at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


In 2010, the City of Austin, Texas—a town that takes pride in keeping itself weird—passed an ordinance that targeted pro-life, Christian pregnancy resource centers.

These centers, as you may guess, care for women during their pregnancies, helping them with parenting and other resources, but were, out of conviction, opposed to the concept of abortion.  But, the City of Austin thought that was tooweird and, by its ordinance, forced the pro-life resource centers to post signs at their entrance disclaiming the services they did not perform, while pro-abortion groups were not required to post any sign or disclaimer.

First Liberty Institute filed a federal lawsuit seeking to invalidate that ordinance on behalf of three pregnancy resource centers. The argument was pretty simple: the Free Speech clause of the First Amendment prevents the city governments from compelling the speech of religious organizations like these pregnancy centers and, by requiring the disclaimers by religious organizations while exempting secular organizations, cities violate the First Amendment’s religion clauses.

Well, it took a few years of litigation, but those unconstitutional ordinances in Austin are gone. Cities contemplating the idea of following Austin’s example should be advised that not only will they lose in court, like the City of Austin, you will have to pay our attorney fees for such illegal action.

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

Nov 9, 2018

When Tzvi McCloud asked for a religious accommodation at his new job in order to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, a Jewish holy day, he was disciplined and sent home. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Tzvi McCloud was hired to work in customer service for XPO Last Mile, a logistics company out of Maryland. But, he didn’t even make it to his first day of work.

When McCloud’s operations manager called him to let him know he was hired and asked him to report to work on October 3, 2016, McCloud explained there was a problem.  McCloud wanted to report to work that day, but it was Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days of the year for him as an Orthodox Jew. He asked if reporting the next day would be permissible. 

Initially, the manager agreed, but, later that evening, the market vice president called to inform McCloud that the only days the company observed were federal holidays, not religious ones.

McCloud chose to observe his holy day and showed up for work on October 4.  When he did, he was sent home.  Now, the EEOC is involved, suing XPO for religious discrimination.

EEOC regional attorney Debra Lawrence said it well, “The freedom to exercise one’s religious beliefs is one of our nation’s fundamental values . . . A one-day postponement of a start date is not an undue hardship.”

In other words, religious liberty and the corporate mission need not be in conflict. Accommodating the religious practices of our employees is good business.

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

Nov 7, 2018

Texas Governor stands for religious freedom by signing a bill that prohibits the government from forcefully demanding ministers’ sermons. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


It’s not every day that the governor of a state finds himself behind the pulpit of a church.  But, I guess not every state is Texas.

Greg Abbott, governor of the great state of Texas, joined Pastor Steve Riggle and churchgoers at Grace Community Church, recently to sign a bill into law. 

The bill that passed the Texas legislature made it unlawful for the government to force religious leaders to turn over copies of sermons during a civil lawsuit or administrative proceeding. 

And, if you don’t think such a law is necessary, recall that the pastor of the church Governor Abbott was in that day was asked by the mayor of Houston to turn over his sermons—even though he wasn’t even a party to the lawsuit.

If that’s not enough, recall that Dr. Eric Walsh, himself a lay minister, was fired by the State of Georgia over something he said in a sermon.  And, after he sued the state, Georgia’s attorney general subpoenaed copies of Dr. Walsh’s sermons, sermon notes, and sermon transcripts.

So, the day has come in which we need laws on the books to make it clear that the state is not entitled to review a pastor’s sermons.  The pulpit has rightly been called “the sacred desk.” The promise of America has been that he who fills that desk is entitled to speak what his conscience demands.

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

Nov 5, 2018

To most people, a pay raise suggests the recognition of hard work and appreciation from your company. However, after organizing his fellow law professors into a union, Sheldon Gelman lost committee appointments and soon his wife, Jean Lifter, was fired. Gelman received a raise, but the number caught everyone’s attention. Learn more: FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


You probably have a similar opinion about pay raises that Sheldon Gelman and Jean Lifter did: they’re symbolic.  Do a good job, and an increase in pay suggests that the company is grateful for the effort.

Gelman and Lifter were law professors at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.  Gelman organized his fellow law professors into a union with the support of Lifter, his wife, and over the objections of management.  The next Spring, the faculty, Gelman included, received a pay raise, but Gelman lost some committee appointments and, soon after, Lifter was terminated altogether.

One wouldn’t think much of it, but the dollar amount on the pay increase caught everyone’s attention.  It was too intriguing to be coincidental.  The newly organized union faculty received a raise of $666.  Taken alongside Gelman’s loss of committee influence and Lifter’s termination, the numerals seemed to send a message.  Gelman and Lifter sued alleging retaliation against a protected First Amendment freedom.

But, the Unite States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit wasn’t buying it.  There were simple explanations for the pay raise amounting to apocalyptic numbers. And, while Gelman’s union organizing was certainly protected by the First Amendment, there were no facts present to suggest the law school retaliated against him for doing so.

The lesson here is clear: if your paycheck shows the supposed “Mark of the Beast,” don’t assume your employer violated the First Amendment.

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

Nov 2, 2018

Saint Vincent Health Center in Erie, Pennsylvania had a policy for all employees to receive mandatory flu shots unless an employee can provide a medical or religious reason. But, some employees didn’t get an exception, even though they requested one for religious reasons.  Learn what happened to the health center and the employees at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


No one really likes getting a flu shot. But, like it or not, for those in healthcare, it’s often  required.

That was the policy of Saint Vincent Health Center in Erie, Pennsylvania: mandatory flu shots for all employees—unlessan employee can provide a medical or religious reason. The policy worked pretty well.  If an employee had an exception, they were given a facemask, which they wore while interacting with patients.  For those religious objectors, this was a great religious accommodation.

But, some employees didn’t get an exception, even though they requested one for religious reasons.  Six of the employees who were denied an exception for religiousreasons were fired.  But, the fourteen employees citing medical reasons were not.

That’s a problem.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stepped in on behalf of the fired employees and now the hospital has to pay $300,000 to compensate the employees for their lost jobs. 

It’s really too bad it had to come to this. The hospital had a great policy and a reasonable accommodation for employees with a religious objection to the vaccine.  But, they didn’t follow their own policy and ended up treating religious employees unfairly.

So, employers, let this be a good reminder: have a policy that accommodates the religious beliefs of your employees…and then make sure you follow it.

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

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.

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.

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