Info

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.
RSS Feed Subscribe in Apple Podcasts
2019
July
June
May
April
March
February
January


2018
December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January


2017
December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January


2016
December
November
October
September
August
July
June


All Episodes
Archives
Now displaying: Page 2
Feb 27, 2019

Public schools are allowed to release schoolchildren for religious education at the request of their parents in an effort to accommodate the faith and wishes of parents. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


In 1975, residents of Harrisonburg, Virginia sued their school board.  The lawsuit questioned the school’s practice of releasing students from school to receive religious instruction.

The Virginia Council of Churches had been providing religious instruction for Harrisonburg schoolchildren since 1923. In 1963, the classes moved from the public school classroom to off-campus trailers.  For about an hour a week, 27 classes of elementary school children, with the consent of their parents, walked out of class and into the awaiting trailers.  Those who did not opt-into the program, simply stayed behind.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit approved of the release time program for religious instruction. The court explained that the school was merely accommodating the wishes, and religious beliefs, of parents.  Any effect of the city aiding religious instruction was merely incidental to their administration of public education. Parents, the court recognized, had the responsibility for the education of their children, including religious education.  It’s the state’s responsibility to respect and accommodate the parents.

If parents want religious instruction to be a part of that education, the Constitution provides the space for the state to so accommodate.  By releasing children for religious instruction at the request of their parents, public schools show respect for the religious beliefs of their community.

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

Feb 25, 2019

Upon returning a changed man from World War I, Riley Bembry and a number of other returning soldiers erected a simple white cross, dedicating it to all who have fought and died for their country. In 2001, someone sued and a judge ordered the cross to be removed from view. Learn more: firstliberty.org/Briefing.


Riley Bembry returned from World War I a changed man. Upon his return, this former army medic, settled in Los Angeles and became a butcher.  But, the city could not contain him. He headed into the Mojave Desert and became a prospector. 

By the time the Great Depression gripped the nation, other veterans of the Great War had found their way to Bembry’s cabin, each seeking to escape the emotional and physical scars left from the war. Together, in 1934, they erected a simple, seven-foot monument atop a rocky outcropping not far from Bembry’s cabin, but miles and miles from anything else. They chose a common symbol to honor war-dead: a white cross and dedicated it, “To honor the dead of all wars.”

When Bembry died in 1984, Henry Sandoz, Bembry’s close friend, began to care for the Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial Cross. In 2001, someone sued.  A judge would eventually order the memorial hidden from view—literally covered with a padlocked bag—while the case was decided. First Liberty had the privilege of working with Henry Sandoz, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, The American Legion and others to defend that memorial.  Before he was a senator, Ted Cruz volunteered his time as lead counsel on the case.

Because of Henry Sandoz, Ted Cruz, Veterans of Foreign Wars, The American Legion, and First Liberty, that memorial still stands today just where Bembry placed it in honor of “the dead of all wars.” 

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

Feb 22, 2019

The use of cross-shaped memorials has been a long standing tradition in honoring the dead. In 1915 Major John McCrae wrote the famous poem, “In Flanders Fields” and the cross reference is no mistake. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


In May of 1915, Major John McCrae buried his friend.  It is believed that after the burial he penned the now famous poem, “In Flanders Fields.”  This is what he wrote:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

 

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

 

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

 

The reference to crosses was no accident. These were the markers used for temporary gravestones across Europe.  When the graves were made permanent, the world community rejected efforts to convert the temporary, cross-shaped gravestones into rounded tombstones.

That is why today, across America, many veterans memorials are cross-shaped.  And, that is why we defend them.  Today, “the foe” of McCrae’s poem are those wishing to purge the religious from public view, including veterans memorials bearing religious imagery.  But, we will not break faith, with those who died.

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

Feb 20, 2019

Does the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) protect religious acts of protests outside of the Supreme Court? Learn how a U.S. District Court decided the case at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Sometimes the substantial burden on a person’s religious exercise comes literally to the steps of the Supreme Court.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia recently dismissed a lawsuit alleging that preventing anti-war activists from demonstrating outside the Supreme Court violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. 

The activists noted in their complaint that as a “post-denominational Christian” and “Unity Christian,” their religious beliefs compel protests against war.  They insist on living out their spirituality through prayer vigils and peace walks, sometimes on the Supreme Court’s steps. 

Interestingly, the court never questioned the sincerity of their beliefs, no matter how odd they seem.  Nevertheless, the court determined that RFRA did not protect their religious acts of protest.  Why? Because the rule restricts “only one of a multitude of means by which Plaintiffs could engage in their religiously motivated activity.”  According to their own words, the steps of the Supreme Court are not the onlyplace in which to exercise their beliefs; it’s just one ofthe places they exercise their beliefs.  So, while the rules might burden their religious exercise, it’s not a substantial burden since there are many avenues left open to their religious exercise. 

RFRA provides broad protection to those who seek to exercise their religion, even when they attempt to do so in public.This case reminds us that RFRA correctly balances that right against the legitimate needs of government to govern. 

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

Feb 18, 2019

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recently denied review of the court that declared a cross-shaped veterans memorial unconstitutional. A number of judges on the court disagreed with the decision and made their stances known. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


When the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit declined to review a decision of that court that said the cross-shaped Bladensburg World War I Veterans’ Memorial is unconstitutional, not all the judges agreed.

Chief Judge Gregory noted his dissent.  He said, “Nearly a century ago, Maryland citizens, out of deep respect and gratitude, took on the daunting task of erecting a monument to mirror the measure of individual devotion and sacrifice these heroes had so nobly advanced. The panel majority says their effort violates the Constitution the soldiers fought to defend. I, respectfully, think otherwise.”

Judge Niemeyer said with some exasperation, “Until this action was filed by persons who claim to be offended by the presence of the monument, no complaint had been made about its presence . . .”

But, Judge Wilkinson was poetic in his dissent. He wrote, “The dead cannot speak for themselves. But may the living hear their silence. . . This memorial and this cross have stood for almost one full century. Life and change flow by the small park in the form of impatient cars and trucks. That is disturbance enough.”

He concluded simply noting that the park in which the memorial stands, “may not be Arlington National Cemetery, but it is the next thing to it. I would let the cross remain and let those honored rest in peace.”

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

Feb 15, 2019

Memorials are symbols meant to remind the living of the sacrifice of our fallen soldiers and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision to deny an en banc review of the Bladensburg Veterans Memorial could be setting a dangerous precedent. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Veterans’ memorials are symbols meant to remind the living of the service and sacrifice the fallen made for freedom.

That is why Gold Star mothers in 1919 started work on the Bladensburg World War I Veterans’ Memorial.  They did not want the world to forget the sacrifice their sons made.  So, they, along with The American Legion, erected a cross-shaped memorial.  The design mirrored the universally accepted symbol erected over the thousands of graves of men who died in Europe defending freedom.  No one complained for almost 100 years.

Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit refused to overturn an opinion of a panel of that court that would direct a federal district to consider whether the monument should have it’s horizontal arms removed or be razed to the ground completely.

Such a decision sets a dangerous precedent for veterans’ memorials across America. If this decision stands, other memorials will be targeted for destruction as well. We will appeal this case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

I encourage you to go to DontTearMeDown.com and join us in defending this memorial to the 49 men of Prince George’s County, Maryland killed in the line of duty during World War I. 

We forget what we do not see.  Unless the Supreme Court intervenes, the Bladensburg memorial and similar memorials in close by in Arlington National Cemetery may disappear as well.

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

Feb 13, 2019

A recent case out of Fresno regarding our national motto, “In God We Trust,” is proving that American heritage is trying to be resisted by vehement disputants. Learn what this issue entails at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


According to The Fresno Bee, the Fresno City Council is considering adding the national motto, “In God We Trust,” to the wall of the council chambers.  But, at least one local resident opposes the proposal. 

In the mind of one atheist protestor, the delicate balance between church and state is upset entirely by the public display of these four words.  And, despite the fact that the atheist writes, “Atheists like me feel the idea of “God” has little meaning,” he encourages the local community to oppose a word which he believes has “little meaning.”  One wonders how a word with “little meaning” can violate the so-called separation of church and state, but that’s another issue.

Of course, if folks wanted to purchase the article in The Fresno Bee, they would do so with coins bearing the national motto since 1864.  The city council would be in good company with the United States House of Representatives which has the motto emblazoned behind the speaker’s dais. And, on the way to city hall, residents may have to drive by police or sheriff’s cruisers sporting the national motto. 

Throughout America’s history, the national motto has been honored and celebrated as an expression of what it means to be an American. Any effort to prevent its display should be rejected as bald efforts to rewrite our history and destroy our heritage.

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

Feb 11, 2019

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.

Feb 8, 2019

Justice Alito is a proven defender of religious liberty.  You may recall he authored the court’s opinion in Hobby Lobby, protecting the religious consciences of family-owned businesses.  Learn how he’s challenging Americans to protect religious liberty at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito recently gave remarks to a group in New Jersey.  His 45-minute presentation proved to be quite sobering.

Justice Alito is a proven defender of religious liberty.  You may recall he authored the court’s opinion in Hobby Lobby, protecting the religious consciences of family-owned businesses.  In other opinions, he has warned of the impact the sexual revolution may inflict upon the religious liberty of Americans.

In his latest remarks, however, Justice Alito told the audience, “You don’t need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.  A wind is picking up that is hostile to those with traditional moral beliefs.”

But, the good justice ended with a word of caution and challenge.  He said, “We are likely to see pitched battles in courts and Congress, state legislatures and town halls.  But the most important fight is for the hearts and minds of our fellow Americans. It is up to all of us to evangelize our fellow Americans about the issue of religious freedom.”

That’s where you and I come in.  Freedom—and especially religious freedom—is not a given in human history.  It is something each generation must renew for itself.  Telling the story of religious liberty, and its blessings, to one another is part of our responsibility as Americans.  It’s also how we preserve liberty.

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

Feb 6, 2019

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 neutraltoward 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.

Feb 4, 2019

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. Learn more at 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.

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

Jan 4, 2019

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.

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

Jan 2, 2019

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 neutraltoward 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.

Dec 31, 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.

Dec 28, 2018

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act provides a check on government when its actions substantially burden a citizen’s free expression of religion, but it does not provide protection for abuse, neglect, or other violent acts. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


A woman in Indiana has attempted to use that state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act to justify her abusive behavior, but it didn’t work.

Kin Park Thaing was charged with neglect of a dependent and battery on a juvenile after allegedly disciplining her children by beating them with a hanger.  The beating was necessary, she argued to ensure her son would be right with God for his immoral actions. 

Part of Thaing’s defense was rooted in the Indiana RFRA, suggesting that the state was substantially burdening her religious exercise by charging her with abuse and neglect for the way she chose to discipline her children.  Thankfully, RFRA does not sanction abuse, neglect, or other violent acts. 

RFRA provides a check on government when its actions substantially burden the free exercise of religion, demanding that the state demonstrate a compelling justification for its actions.  There can be little that is more compelling than protecting against the abuse and neglect of children.

In other words, RFRA worked.  The state was able to easily demonstrate why they were compelled to charge Thaing for her abusive behavior and Thaing pled guilty to battery. 

The next time someone tries to convince you that RFRA laws can protect child abusers, remind them of Thaing’s story. Show them how effectively RFRA balanced both our commitment to religious liberty and the prevention of abuse.

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

Dec 26, 2018

The rise of hostility to religion in America is Undeniable. Since 2012, First Liberty has been documenting the number of attacks against religious freedom, and it has risen 133 percent between 2012 and 2017. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Since 2012, First Liberty Institute has been investigating the rise in the number and severity of domestic attacks on religion. Each year, that investigation is compiled into our annual survey.

We started that survey because wherever we went, people would tell us that they didn’t think there was a genuine threat to religious liberty in our country.  We call it Undeniable: The Survey of Religious Hostility to Religion in America because it makes such a compelling case.

In the past year, the total number of documented attacks on religious liberty has increased by over 15 percent.  Over the past five years, we have seen an alarming 133 percent increase.  Of the 1,400 cases documented in Undeniable, you will see a myriad of faiths represented: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh among others.  Religious hostility in America does not discriminate.

But, there is hope.  First Liberty is battling for religious freedom in court, but you can join that fight by simply educating yourself, and others, about the rights we each have and how we can preserve them.

If you haven’t yet, I’d encourage you to go to FirstLiberty.org today and download your own copy of the 2017 edition of Undeniable or order a free copy for your friend.

Despite the mounting hostility, First Liberty is prepared to stand against these relentless attacks for as long as it takes.

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

Dec 24, 2018

James Gillespie Blaine proposed amendment to the United States Constitution that would, prevent any government aid to “sectarian schools,” especially Catholic schools.  Learn what Justice Clarence Thomas said about the amendment at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


James Gillespie Blaine had an interesting life. He served as Speaker of the House of Congress and in the United States Senate.  Twice he served as Secretary of State, holding the position under three separate presidents.  He even sought the presidency, losing to Grover Cleveland.

Blaine’s most notorious legacy, however, is an amendment that bears his name. 

Blaine got his idea from a fiery speech delivered by President Grant at the height of a national controversy over the nation’s public schools, and whether religion had any place within them.  In 1875, President Grant declared, “Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the Church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions.  Keep the Church and State forever separate.”

Days later, Blaine introduced a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution that would, prevent any government aid to “sectarian schools,” especially Catholic schools. 

His amendment failed, but various states borrowed his proposal and their constitutions were amended instead.  Today, almost 40 states have a constitutional provision that prevents government aid to religious institutions.  These amendments have empowered states to legally discriminate against religious organizations when they perform the same work secular institutions do.

That prejudice led Justice Thomas to write of Blaine Amendments in the 1999 decision of Mitchell v. Helms, “This doctrine, born of bigotry, should be buried now.”

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

Dec 21, 2018

In 1991 the ACLU sent the Milwaukee police department a letter threatening to sue at Christmas because the police had an informal practice of not serving evictions on Christmas day. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


One of my family’s Christmas traditions is to read the classic Dickens tale, A Christmas Carol.  It’s a beloved classic, telling of the once miserly and miserable Ebenezer Scrooge whose disdain for all things Christmas softened when the spirits of Christmas past, present, and future force him to reconsider his ways.

One poignant scene in the story is of a young couple in great debt to Scrooge, standing on the edge of financial ruin and, perhaps, facing eviction from their home.  It’s Christmas and, while the Ghost of Christmases Yet to Come forces Scrooge to look on, the couple’s worry vanishes as they learn of Scrooge’s death, knowing that anyone other than Scrooge will be more understanding of their plight, especially at Christmas.

Well, maybe the ACLU should read the book.  In 1991, it sent the Milwaukee police a letter threatening a lawsuit at Christmas.  You see, the local government had an informal practice of not serving evictions on Christmas day. The ACLU claimed that this violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

I’m confident that not a single founding father was enough of a Scrooge so as to contemplate that a religion would be established if the police declined to evict tenants on Christmas Day. 

Perhaps the local landlord that complained—and his friends at the ACLU—need a visit from Jacob Marley.

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

Dec 19, 2018

An atheist group has attacked the state senator of Connecticut for using his personal time during the Christmas season to ring the bell outside of a local Walmart for the Salvation Army. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Maybe it’s the relentless ringing, the high-pitched clinging, or just the reminder that there’s something to this season beyond ourselves, but some find the bell ringing a little annoying.  At the end of the day, though, the Salvation Army bell ringers do good work.

That’s probably why Connecticut state senator George Logan rings the bell outside of a Walmart in Naugatuck, Connecticut each year. This would be an otherwise forgettable act of kindness, except that one atheist group took their annoyance to a whole new level.  They sent him an angry Christmas letter.

But, the letter was less concerned about the bell ringing and more upset that he would dare support an ostensibly religious charity.  Rather than support what the group considers a “church denomination,” it strongly argued that Logan should focus his attention exclusivelyon secularcharities.  This, the group suggests, would solve any appearance of promoting religion and “prevent citizens from feeling ostracized by their elected representatives.”

Well, if it’s not clear to you, let me explain that the law does not require any elected official, during his personal time, to serve only secular charities. Indeed, the Constitution protects the right of every citizen, elected or not, to serve the charity or house of worship of his choice.  The galling bigotry that this organization has evidenced toward the free exercise of this citizen is appalling—especially at Christmas.

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

Dec 17, 2018

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 obligation to 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.

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

Dec 14, 2018

With the holiday season upon us, it is important that students and teachers are aware of their religious freedom when celebrating the holidays both in and out of the classroom. To learn more: FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


As the school semester winds down to Christmas break, it’s important to take a look at all the ways students might exercise their religious freedom in celebration of the holidays.

First, schools can celebrate “Christmas” just as easily as they can celebrate “winter.”  Doing so provides an educational perspective of world history and the effect of religion upon culture.

Schools can also deck the halls in Christmas decorations.  Decorations can further the cultural and religious heritage educationally important to the holiday.

Third, schools can include Christmas-themed artistic expressions in school plays.  As long as its presented in an objective manner reflecting the traditions of Christmas, it’s just fine. 

It is fine for students to wish one another “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah” and even hand out gifts significant to their religious tradition.

As they can throughout the year, students can also reference their faith in school assignments, class discussions, and private speeches during the holidays.  The First Amendment is not suspended during the Christmas season. 

And, finally, school employees can discuss their religious, holiday traditions outside of their official roles as educators. This means teachers can attend Christmas parties and religious gatherings outside of work without fearing the loss of their job.

With that, perhaps the best way to conclude is merely to say: Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and best wishes for a happy new year to all our students.

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

Dec 12, 2018

After three years of litigation, Cornerstone Church by the Bay wins their case and can use their own property to minister to the community.  Learn more about how First Liberty defended this church against the south Texas city’s zoning laws by visiting FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


After three years of litigation, Cornerstone Church by the Bay wins their case and can use their own property to minister to the community. 

The south Texas church, and the private school that it runs, purchased property that they hoped would allow them to leave their rented space and continue their ministry on their own property.  But, the city’s zoning laws were confusing.  It allowed non-religious institutions to occupy that part of town, but the zoning rules did not allow churches there.  When the church asked for a special use permit, the town’s Board of Aldermen denied the request, keeping churches from operating in that area.

Left with no other option, Cornerstone turned to First Liberty.  We filed a lawsuit on their behalf alleging that the town’s zoning actions violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act along with the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  Not long after, the court granted our request for a preliminary injunction while the litigation continued. 

But, the town has decided to quit that litigation. In settling with Cornerstone, the Town of Bayview agreed to issue the special use permit the church requested over three years ago. 

Houses of worship have legal rights that must be respected by local government officials.  This church is now free to serve their community, on their own property, as every church should be.

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

Dec 10, 2018

In one of the most famous religious freedom Supreme Court cases, Jonas Yoder, a member of the Old Order Amish, challenged the state of Wisconsin’s law requiring students to attend school through the age of 16. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Jonas Yoder was a member of the Old Order Amish living in the State of Wisconsin.  Yoder and others lived carefully according to their religious tradition, in community with other Amish and away from the influence of the modern world.

After the eighth grade, Old Order Amish schoolchildren do not continue to high school where much is taught in variance with their Amish way of life.  Instead, the children return to the home where they are instilled with the virtues of goodness, wisdom, and community welfare by their family. 

But these families ran into a problem as they sought to live out the religion that had motivated their families since the 16thcentury: the State of Wisconsin required students to attend school through at least the high school age of 16.

Yoder’s case went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States that held that the State of Wisconsin could not compel these Amish families to send their children to high school.  According to the court, “only those interests of the highest order and those not otherwise served can overbalance legitimate claims to the free exercise of religion.”

Wisconsin v. Yoder, was among the first cases that helped articulate an important balancing test that weighed a state’s interest in governing against an individual’s right to the free exercise of religion. 

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

Dec 7, 2018

The Liberty Christian Center in Watertown, New York, asked for permission to use the Watertown High School Cafeteria for its religious services.  The local school board denied the application and use of school property. Learn what the Constitution says about the issue at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


The Liberty Christian Center in Watertown, New York, asked for permission to use the Watertown High School Cafeteria for its religious services. 

As their application stated, the worship services to be conducted in the public school cafeteria would include activities of music, religious instruction, and Christian testimony.  But, the local school board denied the application, stating that, since New York law did not specifically authorize religious organizations to utilize public school buildings, the application had to be denied. 

The court reviewed previous uses of the public school cafeteria.  It found that among other uses, the school had been used to host a “Local Talent Night” which featured religious music, religious instruction, and even Christian testimony.  Since both the worship service and the local talent show shared a religious purpose and context, it was unlawful for the school to permit the talent show, but deny the use of the facility for a worship service.

Some decry the use of a public school by a religious organization as a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  That is simply not true.  The First Amendment demands that a school board be neutral toward religion. Letting a secular organization use school property, but denying a religious organization the same use, is not neutrality, it’s hostility.

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

Dec 5, 2018

The State of Florida has provided a religious exemption for parents who, for religious reasons, object to their children receiving immunizations. One parent invoked his exemption but did so at a private religious school. Learn how a state appellate court decided by listening to FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


The topic of immunizations can be controversial to many.  Some even have a religious objection to having their children immunized as a requirement to attend public schools.

Those objections often fall on deaf ears, but some states have provided for a religious exemption for parents who, for religious reasons, object to their children receiving the needle.  Florida falls into that category. 

So, naturally, when Patrick Flynn informed his Florida school that he was invoking that exemption, he was surprised to hear the school refuse to follow the law.  So, he filed a lawsuit.

Now, there’s an important fact that I haven’t told you yet: the school is a private, Catholic school.  It’s not a public school.  As such, it is itself protected by the First Amendment to make its own policies in keeping with their faith.

A unanimous state appellate court sided with the Catholic Diocese, citing the doctrine of church autonomy.  Siding with Flynn would “further his own religious views at the expense of the Diocese's on the topic of immunizations,” wrote the court. “We are convinced that a secular court should not be making the judgment as to which side's religious view of immunization is to be respected.”

In other words, while Flynn has a right to the protection of his religious beliefs, he may not use the state’s judicial arm to compel a private, religious institution to depart from its religious beliefs.

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

1 « Previous 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Next » 18