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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: May, 2019
May 27, 2019

New York Timesauthor, Linda Greenhouse reveals how much of the mainstream media really views the fight for the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


It is always interesting to read how the mainstream media views things like the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial. Linda Greenhouse of the New York Timesrecently authored a lengthy commentary.  Her conclusion?  That the folks trying to destroy the memorial are going to lose, but that’s about it for the good news. 

According to Greenhouse, a growing faction of conservative Justices of the Supreme Court that are increasingly committed to interpreting the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause as permitting the display of religious symbols on public property and the Free Exercise Clause as providing, in her words, “robust protection for believers.” 

To Greenhouse, this is not good because, she says, “the heart and soul of a diverse country . . . is going in one direction while the Supreme Court . . . is hurtling in the other, toward a destination fraught with uncertainty and danger.”

But, that is factually untrue.  For one thing, according to recent polling 80% of Americans agree that memorials using religious imagery to remember our war dead is perfectly reasonable.  Those are the real“heart and soul” of this country.

Removing religious imagery from public display does not make us more diverse.  It sends a message contrary to the constitution’s promise that religion in American is to be respected in personal and public life.

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

May 20, 2019

Teachers are supposed to teach freedom of speech and religion, not censor it.  But both teachers and school officials continue to demonstrate their fear of anything resembling an endorsement of religion. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


On Ash Wednesday, it is common to see individuals bearing the mark of the cross on their foreheads, part of a religious tradition reminding the faithful of their own sinfulness and the atoning work of Christ on the cross.

Evidently not everyone understands that. William McLeod, a fourth grader at Valley View Elementary School in Utah, is Catholic. He showed up to school on Wednesday morning with the traditional mark of the cross on his forehead. 

His teacher took him aside, handed him a wet cloth, and instructed him to wash his forehead clean.  He attempted to explain the reason for the mark, but to no avail. William spent the rest of the school day embarrassed and upset.  Later, school administrators responded to complaints by his family and the teacher apologized. 

Students are free to exercise their faith—even at school—so long as doing so does not interfere with the educational mission of the school.  A harmless, silent mark of ash on one’s forehead does nothing to prevent such instruction.  Situations like this show how afraid school officials have become of any display of religion in school.

As one court wisely put it, in situations like these, “The school’s proper response is to educate the audience rather than squelch the speaker.”    

In other words, they should teach, not censor.

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

May 13, 2019

Jack Phillips’ case may be over but the Supreme Court has the opportunity to make a lasting impact through the case of ‘Sweetcakes by Melissa.” Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Jack Phillips’ long ordeal appears to be over.  But, as Justice Kennedy wrote for the majority in Jack’s case, “The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts.” 

That includes First Liberty’s clients, Aaron and Melissa Klein.

The State of Oregon shut down Aaron and Melissa Klein’s “Sweetcakes by Melissa,” penalizing them $135,000 for the simple act of declining to create a custom wedding cake for a same-sex wedding ceremony. Oregon rests all of its actions on a law that theoretically applies generally to everyone and, on its face, treats religious exercise neutrally. 

That position is grounded in the 1990 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court called Employment Division v. Smith.  The product of the late-Justice Antonin Scalia, the majority opinion in Employment Division has been roundly criticized through the years. 

The danger of Employment Divisionis that it allows laws that doburden one of the key provisions of the First Amendment—namely, the free exercise of religion—to escape meaningful judicial review. Aaron and Melissa’s case provides the Court an opportunity to correct that.

Jack Phillips’ case left American business owners wondering whether the government can prescribe what they believe and force them to confess accordingly.  The Constitution prohibits government officials, high or petty, from compelling small business owners to create a message contrary to their religious beliefs. 

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

May 6, 2019

Based on an executive order signed by President Trump in 2017 that promotes free speech and religious liberty, Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education recently announced it would no longer enforce a statute preventing religious organizations from providing education services to students. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


This episode really begins back in May of 2017. That’s when President Donald Trump, just three months into his presidency, walked to the Rose Garden of the White House and signed the Executive Order Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty. 

That Executive Order commissioned a memo offering guidance to the executive branch by the Attorney General of the United States, then Jeff Sessions.  Several months later, the Department of Justice issued that guidance and, about a year later, held a summit on religious liberty at DOJ headquarters, announcing the formation of a religious liberty task force.

That task force provided on-the-ground guidance to executive agencies like the Department of Education, which brings us to the point of this episode. 

Secretary Betsy DeVos recently sent a letter to Congress explaining that the Department of Education would no longer enforce a federal statute prohibiting religious organizations from providing educational services to students.  DeVos noted that the decision by the Supreme Court of the United States in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, as explained by the DOJ in former Attorney General Sessions’ memo, requires federal law to permit religious organizations to participate at the same level as secular organizations.

I agree with Secretary DeVos who said, “Those seeking to provide high-quality educational services to students and teachers should not be discriminated against simply based on the religious character of their organization.”

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

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