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First Liberty Briefing

First Liberty Briefing is an exclusive podcast hosted by First Liberty Institute’s Deputy General Counsel Jeremy Dys. In about 90-seconds, once a week, Jeremy recalls the stories that have shaped America’s religious liberty, from the founding era to current legal battles and more. It’s an insider’s look at the stories, cases, people, and laws that have made America the world’s leader in protecting religious liberty.
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Now displaying: March, 2019
Mar 25, 2019

The Bladensburg WWI veterans memorial is a symbol of honor and sacrifice of the 49 men from Prince George’s County, Maryland who fought and died in service to their county during WWI. First Liberty is fighting to defend the veterans memorial from destruction. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


They came from many walks of life.  Several were simple laborers.  One was a well-known surgeon.  Another, a legend and past recipient of the Medal of Honor whose heroism in World War I earned him the Distinguished Service Cross. But, they all came from Prince George’s County, Maryland.

Educated or not, white or black, rich or poor, their bodies were interred under small grave makers in cemeteries far too distant for their families to ever visit.

In 1925, a local post of The American Legion erected the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial to honor 49 men from the county who gave their lives serving in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War I.

The Fourth Circuit determined the cross-shaped memorial is unconstitutional. First Liberty Institute, and our network attorneys at the international law firm Jones Day, appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.  By June, we should have a decision.

I think the Gold Star mothers who designed the Bladensburg memorial in 1919 would be pleased. They chose the shape of the memorial to recall the crosses marking the countless American graves on the Western Front of that war.

Surely the Constitution permits Gold Star Mothers to erect a simple memorial that mirrors those that marked the graves of their sons buried on the battlefields of Europe.

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

Mar 18, 2019

Despite the presence of Article VI to the Constitution, confirmation hearings for judicial nominees have continued to include questions pertaining to the nominee’s religious viewpoints. This is not fair, nor permitted by the Constitution. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Confirmation hearings have been interesting of late. Some senators are asking questions of nominees that are more than tough. They are unfair.

My favorite example of this came when Sen. Cory Booker asked judicial nominee Neomi Rao whether she believed homosexuality is a sin.  That’s a question that seems out of line because it invites the nominee to assert a theological pronouncement. 

Senator Mike Lee thought so too.  He said, “I can’t fathom a circumstance in which it’s ever appropriate for us to ask a nominee about his or her religious beliefs about whether x, y or z is a sin.”  Senator Lee then had to remind Sen. Mazie Hirono of Sen. Booker’s actual question about sin when Hirono shot back, “It is not that we all ask ‘do you think such and such is a sin, etc., etc.'”

These questions may in fact violate Article VI of the Constitution, which guarantees that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” 

Forcing citizens to adhere to a specific religious ideology—or none at all—violates the rights common to our humanity, rights endowed to us by our Creator.  Article VI exists to keep the halls of government open to an ideological variety of Americans. 

That’s something our senators would do well to remember.

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

Mar 15, 2019

Seth Clark, a salutatorian from Akin, Illinois decided to quote the Bible in his graduation speech. A community member complained that religious content would be shared on school grounds. But there’s a neat and surprising story. Listen to how the situation turned out by listening to FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Akin, Illinois is a small town in the heartland of our country.  There you will find salt-of-the-earth folks growing the crops that feed the rest of us. Everyone knows everyone, so it was no surprise when the Clark’s boy, Seth, was announced the salutatorian of his graduating grade school class.

But, when word got around that Seth was going to quote from the Bible in his speech, someone complained.  That complaint reached the school board and, soon enough, Seth was told that the Constitution would not let his speech with religious content be delivered on school grounds, to a captive graduation ceremony audience.

Well, that was that…or so it seemed.

The story has a bit of a surprise ending.  A neighbor who lived across from the school offered up his front porch.  So, when it came time for Seth’s speech, the audience turned around.  There, on the front porch of this iconic Midwestern town was Seth Clark holding forth, giving the speech that he always wanted to give. 

Perhaps you live in one of those towns where folks still stop to chat on the front stoop on a cool summer’s evening.  If not, you need to know that the Constitution never requires a student’s private remarks be given on private property. 

“It was the proudest moment of my life,” said Seth’s Mom.  Well, I suppose it was.

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

Mar 13, 2019

The State of Florida has a new law on religious liberty.  The “Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act” codifies much of the case law protecting religious expression in public school. Learn more about what this means for students and school employees by listening to FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


The State of Florida has a new law on religious liberty.  The “Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act” codifies much of the case law protecting religious expression in public school.

Under the new law, schools are instructed to treat voluntary student religious expression in the same way as other viewpoints being expressed.  Students are given the backing of the state in their manner of religious dress. Groups of students are given the space to form student religious clubs and gather to pray, just like any other club. 

School employees benefit under the law as well. The new law expressly states, “Employees may not be prevented from participating in religious activities on school grounds that are initiated by students at reasonable times prior to or after the school day.” 

Finally, the law requires the Florida Department of Education to develop a model policy establishing a limited public forum at certain times for the voluntary expression of religious viewpoints by students and personnel. This provision, which is required to be adopted by each school district throughout the state, will undoubtedly provide direction for how to handle things like graduation speeches, school board meetings, and maybe even ahead of athletic contests.

There’s nothing earth-shattering in this new law, but whenever a state takes the time to codify what the courts have determined the First Amendment requires, it’s a good thing for religious liberty.

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

Mar 11, 2019

In April of 2017, the Indiana General Assembly passed, and its governor quickly signed, a measure providing students with the chance to take an elective surveying the worlds religions, Learn more about this law at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


The Hoosier state has taken steps to codify important religious liberty protections for Indiana’s students. 

In April of 2017, the Indiana General Assembly passed, and its governor quickly signed, a measure providing students with the chance to take an elective surveying the worlds religions, while outlining the civil liberties afforded to its students in Indiana’s public schools.

The new law provides each local school district the freedom to offer an elective course that will study the historical, cultural, and literary contributions of the world’s major religions. 

At the same time, some of the critical civil liberties protected by the law include protecting a student’s right to express their religious beliefs in class and class assignments, the right to pray before, during, and after the school day, and the right to access a school’s facilities in the same manner that secular groups do.

Of course, many of these protections are found in policies issued by the United States Department of Education.  Nonetheless, it is encouraging to see a state dedicate significant legislative effort to religious liberty.  Students should not be required to hide their faith at school, nor should they be punished for daring to discuss their religious beliefs while at school.

Religious liberty should be our national priority.  It’s good to see that, at least for one state, it’s a clear priority for their students.

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

Mar 8, 2019

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 all Americans. 

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. Weinberger examining 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 loss of 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.

Mar 6, 2019

While the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) often provide protection for a citizen’s religious freedom, it is not always a guarantee. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Two new cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point do not want to wear the tar bucket.

If you’re not familiar with the uniform of West Point cadets, when on parade, cadets wear a plumed shako hat or, as they are commonly called, a “tar bucket.”  The cadets object to wearing the hat because it would force them to remove their turban.  That is a problem chiefly because the cadets are Sikh and the turban is a religious observance for the men. 

So, while the United States Army has provided accommodation for Sikh soldiers in the past, this new lawsuit questions whether that accommodation need extend to the parade grounds.  And, it is an interesting question.  Clearly, forcing the cadets to remove their turban would be, in the words of the cadets, “blasphemous.”  Yet, there is something to the tradition and uniformity found in the military dress of our nation’s military academies. 

Congress, thankfully, has helped provide guidance in the settling of such matters.  In the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Congress insists that the government identify its compelling interest and restrict the free exercise of religion in the least restrictive manner possible whenever a citizen alleges a substantial burden to his free exercise of religion.  RFRA does not guarantee an outcome in any case. But, it does make the government justify its behavior.

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

Mar 4, 2019

Donna Dunbar and her husband have served their community faithfully for many years. In doing so, Donna hosts a Bible study in the social room of her condominium, that is until the condo association board adopted a new resolution, without warning, forbidding all religious activities in the room. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Donna Dunbar and her husband Clarence love to serve their community in Port Charlotte, Florida.  They founded a soup kitchen, at which they donated over 4,000 volunteer service hours—an act that won them the President’s Volunteer Service Award.

But, things aren’t has rosy at their condominium. Donna is a lay minister in the Seventh Day Adventist tradition.  She welcomes a few of her friends to the social room at her condo each week for a Bible study. The room is used by lots of people. Some play games there, there’s a weekly poker game, and even a regular movie night for all to attend. 

Until recently, Donna’s Bible study was no big deal. But, without any announcement or warning, the condo association board adopted a resolution putting an end to the use of the common areas of the condo for religious purposes, including Donna’s Bible study.  Someone even put a sign on the organ in the room that said, “Any and all Christian music is banned!”

First Liberty Institute filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development alleging that Donna’s condo broke the law with such a discriminatory policy and asking Secretary Ben Carson to undertake an investigation into this matter.

After all, such unequal treatment of citizens shows hostility to religion and violates federal law and the First Amendment.

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

Mar 1, 2019

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.

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