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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
Jan 15, 2018

On the First Liberty Briefing this morning: This decorated Air Force Veteran was forcibly removed from a military retirement ceremony because he was going to mention ‘God!’ Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


Oscar Rodriguez is a decorated Air Force Veteran who retired in 2013 after 33 years of service. Oscar was invited by Air Force Master Sergeant Chuck Roberson to give flag-folding speech at a Roberson’s military retirement ceremony—something he has done over 100 times.

Oscar agreed to give his stirring and patriotic speech, but the Air Force Unit Commander at Chuck’s base presented a problem—Oscar’s flag-folding speech included the word “God.”

First, the unit commander tried to prevent Oscar from attending the ceremony. When he was informed that he could not legally prevent his attendance, he told Chuck that Oscar could not give the speech. But like any good Airman, Oscar was not going to abandon his wingman, and he decided to give the speech anyway. And as a private citizen, Oscar is no longer subject to the commander’s authority.

But when Oscar stood to deliver the speech during the retirement ceremony, four senior airmen approached him, assaulted him, and physically dragged him out of the retirement ceremony—before he had a chance to say the word, “God!”

The Air Force broke the law and abused its power, discriminating against Oscar—and servicemembers everywhere—who want to mention God in their private retirement ceremony.

First Liberty Institute represents Oscar because no one should be assaulted for mentioning the name of God.

For more, and to learn how First Liberty is defending religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.

Jan 12, 2018

A writer for the Tampa Bay Times is calling for First Liberty client, Cambridge Christian School to form a league of their own after the FHSAA refused to allow Christian students to pray over the loud speaker. Learn more about the case and how we’re protecting students’ religious rights at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


An editorial penned in the Tampa Bay Times has called for one of our clients to form a league of their own.

The author writes about Cambridge Christian School who earned the chance to play for a state football championship against another Christian school. Both teams asked the Florida High School Athletic Association to pray over the public address system prior to kick off. That request was denied by the FHSAA specifically because the requested speech was religious in nature.

The author supports the FHSAA. He writes: “If Cambridge and similar schools want public community prayer before their state championship games, they should leave the FHSAA and form their own private statewide Christian association and stage their own playoffs.”

Now, we were once told that if you wanted to pray in school, you should go to a private, Christian school. These students did, but now that they are there, this author would have them leave the league entirely.

Well, where does it end? Must religious picnickers form their own, private parks lest they be accused of violating the constitution for saying grace over their meal at a public park?

It was the FHSAA that engaged in religious discrimination against Cambridge Christian School. It would be an even greater offense to the Constitution’s protection of religious liberty to force these students further from public participation.

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

Jan 10, 2018

J.B. Hunt Transport conducts random drug tests for its employees by using a hair sample. However, Sikh applicants were unable to fulfill that request because of their religious beliefs. Learn how the Sikh applicants responded at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Drug testing of employees is always a source of frustration. Nonetheless, it is essential to safety in the workplace. But, does drug testing ever threaten an employee’s religious liberty?

J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc. recently found itself facing that question along with lawyers at the EEOC and The Sikh Coalition. Hunt Transport randomly tests its employees for drug use by using a hair sample. That works in most cases, but not for Sikh employees.

Sikhism requires its followers to neither shave, nor cut their hair. The simple act of plucking a hair from their head would cause Sikhs to violate their religious beliefs.

Sikh applicants to the trucking company explained their predicament, but the company denied their request for an alternative drug testing option. Ultimately, they were not hired and the employees sued alleging religious discrimination. Wisely, the company agreed to settle the matter.

Employers cannot make employment decisions based upon an employee’s religion. Further, companies have a duty to accommodate an employee’s religion so long as that can be done without undue hardship to the organization. In this case, refusing to hire someone because they would not cut their hair for a drug test is unreasonable when multiple alternative tests are at the company’s disposal.

Freedom—and especially religious freedom—demands that we do the hard work of balancing corporate safety against individual liberty.

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

Jan 8, 2018

An Amish group in Western Kentucky is claiming that the City of Auburn is targeting them with a horse manure ordinance. The question is, how should we balance religious liberty and health safety concerns in America. For more, listen at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


In Western Kentucky, Amish residents have filed a lawsuit against the City of Auburn alleging one of its ordinances imposes a burden upon the free exercise of their religion.

The ordinance has been on the books for several years and dozens of Amish have been cited for violating the law. Some have paid the fine that comes with the violation; others have refused in protest.

As you may know, the Amish live simply, refusing most modern conveniences, including motor vehicles, as their religion teaches. Instead, the Amish are known for driving their horse and buggy through town. And, where there are horses, there soon follows horse manure. So, the City of Auburn passed an ordinance requiring that horses travelling through Auburn be fitted with a…well…let’s call it a manure collection system.

The Amish believe that the ordinance is specifically targeting them and is, therefore, religious discrimination.

This will be an interesting case to watch. On the one hand, the ordinance in question has exceptions, so it is probably not a law generally applicable to everyone, which makes it more likely to be found in violation of the Constitution. On the other hand, the city has a compelling justification for the ordinance: not only does manure stink, it takes a long time to degrade and transmits disease.

Either way, it’s an interesting lesson in how we balance religious liberty in America.

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

Jan 5, 2018

Government neutrality is supposed to prevent the government from favoring one form of speech over another. It does not give government officials the right to censor or scrub out all religious content from the public square. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


You may often hear me say that the First Amendment requires government agencies to be neutral toward private, religious speech. But, what does that mean?

Some take the position that when the speech of a private person or organization enters a public forum, the government must ensure that all speech within such a forum be neutral, censored and scrubbed of any religious content. But, that is not neutrality and, when a government does that, it violates the First Amendment.

Neutrality actually means that the government will neither favor, nor disfavor particular viewpoints expressed in speech. It means that the government will not promote a particular point of view, nor censor it. It means that government respects the speech of its citizens, allowing the exchange of ideas through divergent viewpoints, even those viewpoints with which those sitting in government may disagree.

So, if a school district has a flyer distribution program that allows local organizations to distribute information to the parents of its students, it is not required to make sure those flyers present a neutral message. The school board wouldn’t be neutral if it did. As the Supreme Court has repeatedly held, “speech discussing otherwise permissible subjects cannot be excluded from a limited public forum on the ground that the subject is discussed from a religious viewpoint.”

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

Jan 3, 2018

After over ninety years of peaceful silence, the Bladensburg World War I Memorial is in jeopardy of being torn down because of it’s cross-like shape. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


In 1919, American mothers who lost their sons in World War I set about developing a war memorial in Bladensburg, Maryland. And, there it has stood in peaceful silence for over ninety years, a visible reminder of the cost of freedom.

But, in October of 2017, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reasoned that, because these mothers chose to memorialize their sons with a cross-shaped monument reminiscent of the grave markers of the thousands of American soldiers buried across Europe, the monument violates the Constitution.

Not all the judges agreed. Chief Judge Gregory issued a strong dissent reminding the court that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment does not require the government to purge any reference to religion from the public square. He concluded:

“This Memorial stands in witness to the VALOR, ENDURANCE, COURAGE, and DEVOTION of the forty-nine residents of Prince George’s County, Maryland ‘who lost their lives in the Great War for the liberty of the world.’ I cannot agree that a monument so conceived and dedicated and that bears such witness violates the letter or spirit of the very Constitution these heroes died to defend.”

We agree with Judge Gregory. This is a Veterans Memorial. We will not break faith with the Gold Star mothers and The American Legion veterans who chose to remember their sons and brothers with this cross-shaped memorial.

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

Jan 1, 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.

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