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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: January, 2020
Jan 27, 2020

Upon receiving a Gospel tract in the mail, New York resident Annmarie Trombetta sued the sender for causing “severe emotional distress” due to “extreme and outrageous         conduct.” Thankfully, a New York trial court concluded that sharing God’s Word isn’t intentionally harmful. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


You will be pleased to know that a New York trial court has declared that proselytizing someone does not rise to the level of the intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Back in 2015, Lauren Kruse mailed a religious pamphlet to Annmarie Trombetta.  The pamphlet, also known as a ‘tract,’ featured a cartoon depiction of someone who is sent into the "lake of fire" to "burn in hell" because they did not follow the version of Christianity promoted by the pamphlet which is evangelical Baptist.

Eventually, she learned that Lauren had sent her the tracts. Lauren explained that she was concerned for Annmarie’s eternal soul, along with many others to whom she had sent the tract. 

Annmarie sued Lauren, including a claim for the intentional affliction of emotional distress, which requires a showing of (i) extreme and outrageous conduct; (ii) intent to cause severe emotional distress; (iii) a causal connection between the conduct and injury; and (iv) severe emotional distress. 

Ultimately, the court noted that the “First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the courts of this State from evaluating the religious beliefs of a church or individual,” and, further, “While the court understands why the plaintiff found the tract and email disturbing, the court does not find that the conduct rose to the level of intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

And, for the majority of Americans, that’s a good thing.

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

Jan 20, 2020

Religious exemptions to the Contraceptive Mandate are under attack once again. After several states filed lawsuits against the Trump administration for protecting the rights of religious objectors, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that        RFRA does not permit a broad religious exemption from this very mandate. The case now heads to The U.S. Supreme Court. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


You would think that, in light of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision a few years ago and the Trump administration’s efforts to undo the so-called contraceptive mandate, the fight over forcing religious adherents to compromise their religious convictions would be over. 

You would be wrong.  First Liberty recently filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, urging them to review yet another Little Sisters of the Poor case.  This case stems from lawsuits filed by several states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey, against the Trump administration for providing religious exemptions to the contraceptive mandate. 

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled against religious objectors, concluding that RFRA does not permit a broad religious exemption from the Contraception Mandate, jeopardizing the exemptions granted to the nuns and others. The Little Sisters appealed that decision to the Supreme Court.

We argue in our brief that this decision ignores binding precedent and forces the courts to evaluate the sincerity of an employees’ religious convictions—which is against the law.  Left alone, the Third Circuit’s decision threatens religious freedom by allowing courts to assess which religious convictions are reasonable.

As my colleague, Keisha Russell said when we filed the case, “Enough is enough. The Supreme Court of the United States needs to finally protect Little Sisters of the Poor and all other religious objectors from government-forced violations of their faith.”

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

Jan 13, 2020

Along with many of her peers, Skylar Carson, a student within the Steamboat Springs (CO) School District, was forced to read and analyze explicit lyrics in her “Music   Literature” class. In doing so, her teacher had broken school policy (requiring parental      consent to teach controversial material). No student should have to undergo such treatment—and neither teacher nor school district should get away with it. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Skylar Cason started her school day like any other, by attending her “Music Literature” class.  She left with feelings of guilt and shame no student should be forced to endure while at school.

Steamboat Springs School District teacher Ryan Ayala decided to required students to fill-in-the-blanks in which a district-approved textbook had censored out much of the lewd and vulgar language of the infamous poem, “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg—words mostly used by pornographers. 

Then, he assigned students to analyze the song, “Teenagers take off your clo” which seems to normalize sexting and ends by the singer noting his power over now nude teenagers as he holds their clothes.

None of this came with a warning—not to Skylar, nor to her parents.  School policy permits teachers to instruct on controversial materials, but they are required by that policy to obtain parental permission before they do.  No one at Steamboat Springs School District told Skylar’s parents and, therefore, they could not request an alternative assignment or exercise the option to opt-out in order to protect her religious conscience.

We sent a letter to the superintendent, asking that the teacher be required to apologize for the lack of forewarning and that the entire district undergo several hours of sensitivity training. 

No student should feel guilt or shame—much less have their religious conscience violated by the actions of a teacher.   

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


Jan 6, 2020

While elementary students in Knoxville, Tennessee, can legally opt for Bible study time during their school days, complaints have recently arisen regarding this practice. Critics should recall that The Supreme Court of the United States approved and even commended this tradition in Zorach v. Clauson. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Is it possible for public school students to go to a church or synagogue to receive religious education during the school day?  In fact, yes it is.

Release time education is one such example.  Instruction provided by release time education is not and cannot be provided by the school, and no school support or participation of any kind is allowed—including transportation. No student is required to participate, and no student can participate without specific parental consent and it cannot be held on school property.

In Tennessee, for example, students from Sterchi Elementary School are released during the school day to travel to the Church at Sterchi Hills.  There, some 70 students spend about an hour of time receiving a Bible lesson.

Some will raise complaints about the religious instruction received during release time, but those are entirely unfounded. The Supreme Court of the United States approved the idea almost 70 years ago in a case called Zorach v. Clauson. The Justices recognized that “[w]e are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being” and went on to not only uphold release time programs as perfectly lawful, but further explained that “[w]hen the State encourages religious instruction or cooperates with religious authorities by adjusting the schedule of public events to sectarian needs, it then follows the best of our traditions.” 

So according to the Supreme Court, Bible release time is not merely lawful — it exemplifies what it means to be an American. 

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


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