Joseph Frederick claimed his First Amendment rights were violated when the school principal confiscated his “Bong hits for Jesus” sign at a broadcasting event. Learn more: FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
All the justices agreed about one thing: Joseph Frederick was just looking for attention.
In 2002, Frederick and his Juneau, Alaska classmates took a field trip as the Olympic Torch Relay passed through the town. Frederick had a prime spot directly across from the cameras broadcasting the event across the nation. He wanted to get on TV, so he painted a banner.
But, just as he unfurled the banner, school principal Deborah Morse caught the message that would eventually get the Supreme Court’s attention. “Bong hits for Jesus,” it read. Morse confiscated the banner and later suspended Frederick for the stunt, asserting it encouraged illegal drug use, against school policy. Frederick claimed she violated his First Amendment rights.
Ultimately, in Morse v. Frederick, the Supreme Court agreed with Principal Morse and upheld the crackdown on Frederick’s banner. Morse, acting on behalf of the state, may have censored him, but, according to the court, students cannot hide behind the First Amendment to promote illegal drug use at school.
Yet, sometimes school officials also claim the right to censor student religiousexpression. We remind them that while they mightbe able to censor on-campus expressions promoting illegal drug use, vulgar speech, or even conduct that causes a material disruption to their educational mission, school officials cannot suppress the student’s speech just because it is religious in nature.
To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.
A church was wrongly accused of violating ‘separation of church and state’ for renting space from local school district. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
A Massachusetts church is accused of violating the separation of church and state because it rents space from the local school district.
Town leaders of Southbridge, Massachusetts have raised concerns about Iglesia Casa de Destino’s rented use of a public school in its town. The church pays the standard rate to use the school’s auditorium once per week, like many churches do across the country. But, the church is known in the community for its conservative, religious beliefs.
One of the town councilmen is openly questioning whether the church should have a standing agreement to use the property. Not only is the building expensive to operate, the councilman suggested that the agreement could violate the so-called separation of church and state.
Well, not likely. The Supreme Court has twice upheld the practice. A town is, of course, under no obligation to rent its facility to anyone. But, historically, publicly owned schools have been used and rented by a variety of organizations, including churches. Once a school district decides that it will rent its facilities to the community, it would be unlawful religious discrimination to prevent churches from renting the space.
As the Supreme Court observed in the 1981 decision of Widmar v. Vincent, “The Constitution forbids a State to enforce certain exclusions from a forum generally open to the public, even if it was not required to create the forum in the first place.”
To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.
Three employees decided to meet together after work and pray for a colleague that had been causing them problems. They met at their colleague’s cubicle on a day that she was not even in the office. Learn more about how a court decided this case by listening to FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Evelyne Shatkin, Linda Shifflett, and Doug Maples took prayer seriously. So, seriously in fact, that they decided to meet together after work and pray for a colleague that had been causing them problems.
They met at the cubicle of their colleague after work on a day that she was not even in the office. Their prayer got pretty serious. They anointed the cubicle with oil, according to Shatkin’s religious tradition. They prayed for peace and joy for their colleague. They even commanded “demons to leave” their colleague as they prayed.
Word got back to their supervisors about the after-hours prayer meeting. After an investigation, the supervisor concluded that “the nature, the manner that they’re praying, what language they’re using” determines whether the prayer was harassment. Human resources agreed and notified the prayer-givers that they would be terminated for their harassing prayers. Shatkin and Shifflett asked for a religious accommodation for the prayers, but that was denied. They were fired.
First Liberty Institute took up their case. A federal district court sided with the employees, as it concluded, “Can a prayer for someone constitute harassment when the alleged object of the prayer is unaware of it? This court suspects not.” In fact, the court concluded that the college’s own policies protected the prayers of these employees.
Firing someone for their peaceful exercise of religion at work doesn’t have a prayer.
To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.
A Tennessee Governor has recently signed into law a measure protecting the religious liberty of Tennessee’s student-athletes. Find more about this law at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee has signed into law a measure protecting the religious liberty of Tennessee’s student athletes.
The new law allows parents to opt their students out of participation in an athletic contest “if the event is on an official school holiday, observed day of worship, or religious holiday.” Moreover, it sets the authority aright by explaining that school officials “may not require a student to attend an athletic event” over the parent’s objection.
Some wonder how necessary such a measure is. They argue that schools already respect the religious choices of student-athletes and do not punish those students who, for religious reasons, sit out of scheduled contests.
That, I suppose, is a debate for the ages. Whether athletes should participate on holy days is not a new issue, just watch the classic movie Chariots of Fireas but one example. Nonetheless, it is good to see the State of Tennessee explicitly stating that its school districts should be mindful that there are things to be respected of higher importance than sports.
Athletics can teach students much about life, diligence, and teamwork. But, life-balance is a critical element taught by sports in school as well. Today’s student-athletes are tomorrow’s business leaders who may be required to accommodate the religious practices of employees. Let us hope they learn the delicate balance of freedom well.
The Florida Legislature could sign a law that would align it with the federal Equal Access Act, protecting the religious liberty of its students and teachers. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
It looks like religious liberty may have found a friendly reception in Florida’s state lawmakers.
The Florida legislature recently sent to the governor a bill prohibiting discrimination against students and educators for religious expression at school. The bill expressly permits students to reference their faith in class assignments and even extra-curricular activities, while requiring school districts to create what we call a “limited public forum” at public events. This means that, if students at a school event are invited to speak publicly, they would be permitted to express their religious beliefs.
Should the governor sign the measure, the law of Florida would align itself with the federal Equal Access Act. That means student religious groups would have state law on their side when seeking to access campus facilities in the same way secular groups do.
Teachers are also covered. The bill has a provision restricting school districts from preventing teachers from participating in student-initiated religious activities before or after school.
These are reasonable measures that will show respect for the religious liberty of Florida’s students and teachers. As the Supreme Court said in Shelton v. Tucker: “The vigilant protection of constitutional freedoms is nowhere more vital than in the community of American schools.”
Of course, that vigilance starts with the passing of laws and ends by faithfully adhering to them.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kansas City files a lawsuit against the Mission Woods city council for denying the use of his own home for religious meetings on the basis of traffic and parking concerns. Learn more about this issue at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
The city of Mission Woods, Kansas covers just 64 acres outside of Kansas City. Its part-time government leadership is concerned that the expansion of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kansas City into their small town is going to cause problems.
The Archdiocese purchased a derelict home in Mission Woods. The roof had holes in it. Animals roamed the attic freely. But the Archdiocese favored the house for prayer groups, religious meetings and religious education throughout the week. Nonetheless, the Mission Woods city council has twice denied their application citing traffic and parking concerns.
In the past, the city council has approved more expansive land-use in the same area for secular groups like athletic fields for the local high school and a significant parking lot for the University of Kansas health system. It appears that sports and parking are preferred by the city council, but parking for religious meetings is unwelcome.
The Archdiocese has taken the appropriate step to file a lawsuit under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act or RLUIPA. It may appear insignificant, but this case gives all the appearances of religious discrimination. Congress understood that city councils could easily hide religious discrimination within neutral rationales and zoning ordinances like traffic and parking. RLUIPA forces a closer look at those seemingly neutral defenses, requiring an agency to demonstrate their fairness.
The Ministerial Exception plays a major role in protecting the unique mission of every religious organization by giving them the opportunity to hire and remove employees based on how they further the organization’s mission. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Maria Nolen and St. Ann Catholic School had a falling out.
Nolen thinks her religious employer fired her from her job as principal of the school for speaking out against what she viewed as racial discrimination. The Diocese of Birmingham, Alabama, that operates St. Ann’s, said that Nolen simply wasn’t the right person to advance their religious mission.
Nolen’s responsibilities were pretty clear. As principal, she was responsible for implementing an educational atmosphere charged with the Catholic beliefs of her employer. That included monitoring lesson plans to make sure the teaching of the church was reflected in the lessons of the classroom, leading school prayers, and organizing religious activities for the students and faculty.
The court quickly determined that there was “little doubt that Nolen’s role as principal . . . falls within the general ambit of the ministerial exception.” Although she lacked the formal title of “minister,” her role clearly conveyed the church’s message and carried out its mission. Therefore, the court could not interfere with what amounts to a decision by a religious body as to who best perpetuates its religious message and mission.
The ministerial exception is an important doctrine that protects the unique aspects of a religious employer, giving relief to religious organizations from the rigors of employment law that may hamper their unique religious mission.
Learn how America's Founding Fathers recognized the importance of religious liberty during the Declaration of Independence. Learn more by visiting FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
When telling the story of America, we rightly recount how the founders of our country sought to be free from something. Perhaps we ought to consider that we are also free to something.
The Pilgrims sought to be free from persecution, but were also eager to be free topractice their faith in peace.
The Declaration of Independence lists a litany of “injuries and usurpations” from which we sought to be free from, but also declared precisely what we are free to: “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” to name an essential few.
From the early colonists to the Founding Fathers to the diverse faiths of our neighbors—each benefit from a national commitment to religious liberty that tolerates the free exercise of religion by all peaceful Americans.
The American commitment to liberty recognizes that freedom grows when none are required to hide who they really are in the free exercise of religion. We are less free when religion is banished from public, hidden from view, or treated with contempt.
As we celebrate our Independence on this the Fourth of July, let us remember that our forefathers paid a high price for our liberty – not merely the right to be free from oppression, but to be free tospeak openly, exercise our faith, and live our lives according to our most deeply cherished beliefs. That is liberty.
The wait for the Supreme Court nomination is now over. His qualifications for the office are unquestionable. But what does his record reflect on the issue of religious liberty? Learn more about Judge Gorsuch at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
The long wait to see what kind of judge President Trump would appoint to the nation’s highest court is now over. Just ahead looms the confirmation battle for Judge Neil Gorsuch.
His qualifications for the office are unquestionable. With degrees from Columbia, Harvard, and Oxford, there can be little doubt about his intelligence. But what about his record as a judge?
At First Liberty Institute, we have one criterion for evaluating judicial candidates: does his record reflect a history of upholding the Constitution, especially as to religious liberty? I’m happy to say that it does.
Judge Gorsuch wrote and joined opinions supporting the rights of ministries like the Little Sister of the Poor and closely-held family businesses like Hobby Lobby to be free from the burden imposed by the HHS Abortion Pill Mandate.
He wrote or signed opinions upholding the constitutionality of the public display of Ten Commandments monuments and even wrote an opinion defending the existence of cross-shaped memorials for fallen state troopers.
Whether Neil Gorsuch will adequately fill the shoes of the late Justice Scalia is impossible to fully predict. What we can say with some confidence is that JudgeGorsuch has a history of defending the First Amendment from the bench. We hope that Justice Gorsuch will live up to the American people’s expectation and strongly protect our constitutional freedoms.
In the recent Supreme Court decision in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, the newest member of the court, Justice Neil Gorsuch, felt compelled to qualify his endorsement of the majority opinion. Learn what his is opinion on the matter is by visiting FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Recently, we discussed the Supreme Court’s decision in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer. Chief Justice Roberts declared it “odious to the constitution” for the state to prevent a church from participating in a public benefit merely because of its religious status.
The newest member of the court, Justice Neil Gorsuch, felt compelled to qualify his endorsement of the majority opinion. In his concurring opinion, Justice Gorsuch suggests removing the false distinction between religious statusand religious use. As an example, he asks, “Does a religious man say grace before dinner? Or does a man begin his meal in a religious manner?” The same facts could be described in the same way, but, under the court’s decision, only one is protected.
Justice Gorsuch reveals that he believes that the First Amendment protects more than religious status when he writes, “Neither do I see why the First Amendment’s Free Exercise should care.” Whether status or use, the point of the First Amendment is to protect religious exercise. He says, “I don’t see why it should matter whether we describe that benefit, say, as closed to Lutherans (status) or closed to people who do Lutheran things (use). It is free exercise either way.”
It’s good to see the newest member of the court thinking so clearly. The First Amendment should protect the free exercise of religion, regardless of status or use.
After a picture of high school football players praying over their coach landed on the front page of a local newspaper, activists sent the school district an angry letter threatening to sue. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Whether it’s Tim Tebow, Coach Joe Kennedy, or the thousands of players taking a knee together in prayer after a game, prayer seems to be a popular theme around football.
At Reitz High School in Evansville, Indiana, the players value prayer rather highly, it would seem. That became controversial only when a picture of the players gathered in prayer landed on the front page of the local newspaper.
Activists sent the school district an angry letter, threatening a lawsuit should school officials refuse to take action. According to them, the coach was violating the law because the picture showed him surrounded by his football players and everyone appeared to be praying.
But, let’s break down that picture a little closer. Yes, the coach was in the center, surrounded by his players, but it clearly shows the players, with bowed heads and hands laid on the coach, led by one player who’s lips are forming the prayers. The players were praying for their coach.
Activists would have this coach stop up his ears and run screaming from the scene of this religious activity. But, common sense—and the Constitution—would call this hostility to the free exercise of religion by the players. Students have a first amendment right to pray for their coach and the school cannot legally stop their religious expression.
Thankfully, that’s precisely what school officials told the activists.
The Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial was erected to honor 49 veterans who gave their lives for their nation—but one group is suing to tear it down. Find out why: FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
In 1925, the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial was erected to honor the 49 men of Prince George’s County, Maryland, who gave their lives in WWI. It stands outside of Washington, D.C., in the median near the National Defense Highway. This memorial—one of the oldest memorials on U.S. soil to honor the fallen of World War I—has stood without complaint for nearly a century.
For the first time in over nine decades, the American Humanist Association voiced a complaint. They filed a federal lawsuit seeking to topple the memorial because those who erected it chose the shape of a cross to honor the fallen.
One of the mothers who supported the memorial early on noted to her senator that her son died and was buried in Europe. Though she could not visit his grave there, she said, she considered the Bladensburg World War I memorial to be her son’s grave marker close to home.
First Liberty Institute, along with our volunteer attorneys at the law firm of Jones Day, represents the American Legion who erected the memorial in 1925. This memorial was erected to honor heroes who gave their lives in defense of freedom. To tear this memorial down now would not only desecrate their memory, it would demonstrate a level of hostility to religion that our Founding Fathers warned against.
Ethicists are recommending that Canadian doctors should not be allowed to opt out of providing services to patients, even if it goes against their conscience. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
A recent article out of Canada reports that ethicists are recommending that conscience laws be modified for the medical profession.
The argument suggests that physicians should not have the right to opt out of providing such services as prescribing contraceptives when a patient requests those services. According to the authors, “Doctors must put patients’ interest ahead of their own integrity. If this leads to feelings of guilty remorse or them dropping out of the profession, so be it.”
That is truly shocking language that we should take note of, especially since, as the article in the National Postpoints out, every country in the civilized world recognizes at least some form of conscientious objection. Not only do the authors suggest that certain professions should be closed to those whose integrity would require the abandonment of the conscience to practice, it fails to understand what conscience is.
The reason we provide protections for the exercise of conscience is because people should not be made by the government to make their conscience optional. As Dr. Robert George of Princeton University has put it, “The right of conscience is a right to do what one judges oneself to be under an obligationto do.”
We will see whether Canada takes up the proposal by its professors, but south of the border, we must be vigilant that we never permit the government to make optional what our Creator has made obligatory.
Former NFL players, Steve Largent and Chad Hennings along with two Seattle high school coaches filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of Coach Kennedy’s right to take a knee after games. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
You may be familiar with Coach Joe Kennedy, the high school football coach at Bremerton High School who was fired for taking a knee in silent prayer after the game. Recently, he received support from a few other football players and coaches.
First, Steve Largent, a retired Seattle Seahawk and Hall of Famer, and Chad Hennings, three-time Super Bowl champion with the Cowboys, explain to the court how football coaches were a positive influence on their lives, contending that Bremerton’s actions restrict free speech and impair coaches’ ability to serve as role models and mentors to their students.
Hall of famer or not, we should all seek to defend the right to free speech. It’s central to our American identity as a diverse, pluralistic society, where we foster the free exchange of ideas.
Second, from two football coaches at Garfield High School in Seattle. These coaches gained national media attention by joining their team in kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice. In their friend-of-the-court brief, the coaches ask the court to affirm that the First Amendment protects the rights of public employees—including football coaches—to private expression.
If the Constitution protects the right of a football coach to kneel to protest injustice, it certainly protects the right of Coach Kennedy to kneel in prayer.
Despite the numerous assertions that students may not talk about their faith in public schools, the Supreme Court has consistently ruled differently. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Michael Chandler, a vice-principal in the DeKalb County school system, did not like the law passed by the Alabama legislature that would permit religious speech to occur on public school property.
Before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, he argued that any religious speech—even student-initiated religious speech—that occurs in the public schools isstate speech and, therefore, a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. The circuit court disagreed, holding that for the state to be anything but neutral toward student religious speech it would be hostile to the free exercise of religion.
At about the same time, the Supreme Court of the United States decided a separate case involving students praying over the PA system before a public school football game. So, the Eleventh Circuit reviewed Mr. Chandler’s case a second time.
But, nothing changed. The Eleventh Circuit said that, when the state is neutral toward religion, the Establishment Clause is satisfied and private, religious speech does not need to be censored by the state. But, there’s also another clause in the First Amendment. As the court concluded, “The Free Exercise Clause does not permit the state to confine religious speech to whispers or banish it to broom closets. If it did, the exercise of one’s religion would not be free at all.”
The city of Sinton, Texas passed an ordinance that prevented a halfway house, ministry conducted by a pastor and ex-con, to run within 1,000 feet of any church. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
In 1998, Pastor Richard Barr started a halfway house ministry in his hometown of Sinton, Texas. The idea was to offer housing, biblical instruction, and counseling to probationers and parolees as they prepared to transition back into civil society. For Pastor Barr, an ex-con himself, this was more than a ministry; this was personal.
Barr ran the in-home ministry to ex-cons from his own home, located just a few feet from his church in Sinton. Things were going smoothly until about a year later when the city passed an ordinance preventing halfway houses within 1,000 feet of any church, school, park, or residential area.
The City of Sinton, at the time, was less than 2.2 miles square consisting of less than 6,000 residents. There was no place else for Barr to run his ministry. The city fathers had literally run him out of town with this ordinance—a fact they were later to admit was intentional.
First Liberty Institute represented Pastor Barr and his ministry. We argued that the city violated the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act by substantially burdening his free exercise of religion without a compelling justification. The Texas Supreme Court agreed and invalidated the ordinance as to our client.
Barr’s case is yet another example of how a state’s RFRA protects a small ministry seeking to do good to his community from the overbearing hand of government.
In Cutter v. Wilkinson, the Supreme Court has rightly strengthened our national commitment to religious liberty for both religious organizations and prisoners. Learn how the Supreme Court did so at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
On past episodes, we have discussed RLUIPA, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. It’s the law with the funny name that protects both the way in which religious organizations use their property and the free exercise of religion by prisoners during their incarceration.
Soon after President Clinton signed the law in 1999, several inmates employed RLUIPA to challenge the failure of the corrections system to accommodate the religious practices of inmates from nonmainstream religions. On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, RLUIPA was invalidated as a violation of the Constitution.
The Sixth Circuit reasoned that RLUIPA, “impermissibly advances religion by giving greater protection to religious rights than to other constitutionally protected rights” and, by so doing, the statute might just “encourage prisoners to become religious in order to enjoy greater rights.”
The Supreme Court of the United States unanimously reversed that decision. Writing for the court in Cutter v. Wilkinson, Justice Ginsburg explained that RLUIPA “fits within the corridor of the Religion Clauses [of the First Amendment]” and that it rightly “alleviates exceptional government-created burdens on private religious exercise.”
These “government-created burdens” on religious liberty are the right targets for Congressional action. Whether a prisoner seeking to exercise his faith, or a religious organization being unjustly run out of town by a county commission, RLUIPA strengthens our national commitment to religious liberty.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act requires a state to provide a compelling justification before it may substantially burden the free exercise of religion. But, just what is a substantial burden? Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act requires a state to provide a compelling justification before it may substantially burden the free exercise of religion. But, just what is a substantial burden?
In 1963, the Supreme Court said that putting someone to the choice of “following the precepts of her religion and forfeiting benefits, on the one hand, and abandoning one of the precepts of her religion in order to accept work, on the other hand,” is a substantial burden.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit explained in 1988 that for a city to force a house of worship to move outside city limits and forbid ministry-owned property to be used for religious services substantially burdens religious liberty.
The Eleventh Circuit, in 2004, explained that, “a ‘substantial burden’ is akin to significant pressure which directly coerces the religious adherent to conform his or her behavior accordingly” and can result “from pressure that tends to force adherents to forego religious precepts or from pressure that mandates religious conduct.”
In 2007, the First Circuit defined “substantial burden” as “one that ‘puts substantial pressure on an adherent to modify his behavior and to violate his beliefs.’”
Our country’s longstanding dedication to freedom carefully protects the right of citizens to freely exercise their religion free from a government-imposed substantial burden.
After months of fighting Bernard’s Township zoning laws, the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge New Jersey was finally granted the right to build their mosque. No matter the religion, city governments cannot intentionally throw up obstacles to religious organizations. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
3.25million dollars—that’s the price one New Jersey town will pay for its religious discrimination.
Not long ago, on this program, I told you about the refusal of Bernard’s Township, New Jersey, to grant a building permit to the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge New Jersey. The society fought city hall for at least four years, having their application denied 9 separate times.
In November 2016, the US Department of Justice filed a suit against the township, alleging a violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. The Department of Justice won just two months later.
But, by May 2017, the Township decided to give up the fight, settle with the government, and allow the Islamic Society to build their mosque.
This is good news for religious liberty. Though Bernards Township, in this case, used their zoning laws to prevent the building of a mosque, it could’ve just as easily been a synagogue, church, cathedral, or other house of worship. City governments cannot intentionally throw up permitting obstacles to religious organizations. They must treat a religious organization’s application for land use just like it would any other land use application.
In a land that values freedom, our government should never make the free exercise of religion difficult.
Houston health care company fired young Catholic immigrant, Alexia Palma, for being unwilling to promote contraception. Learn more about Alexia’s story at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Alexia Palma had a rough childhood, but her grandparents introduced her to the Catholic faith where she found both meaning and comfort.
After college, Alexia found a job working as a health educator in a health clinic located in inner-city Houston, Texas. She taught courses on general nutrition, high blood pressure, glucose intolerance, diabetes, a series of classes on becoming a mom, and several others. One of the other courses was a class on family planning in which Alexia would be required to teach about birth control. That presented a problem, since her Catholic faith morally opposes birth control.
She voiced that concern to her supervisors, and they quickly arranged a simple accommodation, recognizing that this course was less than 2% of her job and accommodating her religious beliefs did not present an undue hardship on the company.
That worked for 18 months, until new management took over. The new management ended the accommodation, its vice-president told her that employees are required to “put aside” their “personal beliefs” at work, and insisted that she either do so or be terminated. Alexia refused and was fired.
First Liberty Institute filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC on Alexia’s behalf. Federal law requires employers to at least try to accommodate the religious beliefs of their employees—especially when less than 2% of their job requires accommodation.
FFRF (Freedom From Religion Foundation) sent a letter to commanders of the air national guard base in Pease, New Hampshire to demand an end to prayer at official events. Learn more about the letter and how we responded at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Military chaplains have been leading prayer at military events for as long as this country has had a military. But one group wants the military to silence the prayers of chaplains.
In February of 2017, a group sent a letter to commanders of the air national guard base in Pease, New Hampshire. The letter, signed by an attorney, had the look and feel of a legal demand letter. But, while it tossed around legal lingo and cited to a case or two, it stopped short of actually threatening a lawsuit. Nonetheless, their message was clear: prayer at official events violates the constitution, is “beyond the scope of a government entity,” and is “unnecessary and divisive,” it said.
Our friends at the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, a group of endorsers that speaks for about half of our armed forces chaplains, asked us to respond. Mike Berry, one of our attorneys and a former Marine JAG officer, calmly explained that the Constitution, federal law, military regulations, and court precedent make it clear that not only maychaplains pray at official events, chaplains are protectedwhen they do. The Air National Guard says the invocations will now continue.
You should visit FirstLiberty.org and read the rest of First Liberty’s letter. Military chaplains play an essential role and should never be censored or prohibited from providing invocations at official military events.
Recently, the Secretary of the Army announced new religious accommodation guidelines: brigade-level commanders may now grant religious accommodations to servicemen and women who wear beards, turbans, or hijabs for religious reasons. Learn how this will benefit America’s soldiers at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
The United States Army is known for its uniform appearance and you’ve probably seen pictures of new recruits sporting a clean-shaven look.
Recently, the Secretary of the Army announced new religious accommodation guidelines: brigade-level commanders may now grant religious accommodations to servicemen and women who wear beards, turbans, or hijabs for religious reasons.
Sikhs are expected to see the most immediate benefit. For years, Sikhs have litigated orders to remove their religiously required beards and turbans. The new guidelines should solve much of the unnecessary restrictions previously placed upon those freely exercising their religion by means of grooming requirements.
Retired Army chief chaplain and Southern Baptist minister, Douglas Carver, sees benefit to the Army’s broad protection for the religion of soldiers. According to Carver, soldiers are prepared to go to battle and, if need be, die. For soldiers, it is the practice of religion that most often “brings courage and calmness.”
It’s hard to imagine a finer force that protects religious liberty and all liberty on the planet than the United States military. As our servicemembers work to protect our liberty, we ought to do what we can to preserve their religious liberty in service to our country.
Gregory Holt was granted permission by the Supreme Court to grow his beard while in prison in accordance with his Islamic faith. Listen at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Gregory Holt is a felon serving time for his crime in a prison operated by the Arkansas Department of Corrections. He is also known as Abdul Maalik Muhammed and, according to his Islamic faith, believed he should leave his beard uncut.
Well, there was a problem. Prison regulations only permitted inmates to grow their beard one-quarter of an inch long. Holt filed a lawsuit under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, or RLUIPA, alleging that this restriction on beard growth was a substantial burden on the free exercise of his religion without a compelling justification.
At the end of the day, the court found 9-0 that the regulation did in fact substantially burden the prisoner’s religion. The court reasoned that there were ways to accommodate even a violent felon’s religious exercise while also accomplishing its correctional goals.
Holt v. Hobbsserves as an important reminder that even incarcerated felons retain at least some religious liberty. And, don’t forget “religious land use” is the first three letters in RLUIPA, meaning that this case also works to protect churches, synagogues, and religious ministries that are substantially burdened by the heavy hand of government that would substantially burden the free exercise of their religion without a compelling justification.
And that’s the remarkable story of how a felon’s beard protects your religious liberty.
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.
Lieutenant Colonel Michael Kersten was interviewed for a story by the base newspaper entitled, “Meet Your Leadership.” One question really annoyed Mikey Weinstein, an activist that often decries the presence of religion within the United States Military. Learn how Mikey Weinstein reacted at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Lieutenant Colonel Michael Kersten was interviewed for a story by the base newspaper entitled, “Meet Your Leadership.” The Q&A article ranged from why Kersten joined the air force to his proudest achievements as an officer in the United States Air Force.
One question really annoyed Mikey Weinstein, an activist that often decries the presence of religion within the United States Military. The question asked, “Is there a leader from your career that influenced you the most?” It was Col. Kersten’s answer that sent Weinstein searching for his computer to type out an angry letter to the base commander. Kersten answered, “As a Christian, my example is to be like Christ. He is my guide and affects all of my decisions.”
Weinstein was apoplectic. He denounced Kersten’s answer as proselytization and condemned its presence in a base publication as favoritism to Christianity. Worse, Weinstein demanded that Kersten be “visibly punished.”
But, “visibly punishing” someone for exercising their religion would be the precise opposite of religious freedom. We do not haul people who exercise their religious liberty to the center of a military base and “visibly punish” them. That’s not freedom.
Sorry, Mr. Weinstein. We protect the religious liberty of all Americans—including our service men and women—because religious freedom is a human right, a right not sacrificed in service to our country.