The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had the last word in our case of Chabad of Irvine, a small Orthodox Jewish congregation in California that has been fighting for their free exercise rights for years. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
We’ve covered practice of Kaporos on this program before. If you’ve forgotten, Kaporos is a sacred religious ceremony performed by Orthodox Jewish congregations for several millennia. In the ceremony, which takes place during the holiest days of the Jewish calendar, the atonement of sins is contemplated through prayer and the kosher and humane killing of a chicken.
But, as we’ve discussed previously, animal rights activists in California sued to force government officials to prohibit the ceremony. First Liberty network attorneys argued that it is not the role of the government to tell religious communities how to peacefully exercise their religious beliefs.
In fact, over the last few years, First Liberty and network attorneys successfully defended the Chabad of Irvine, a small synagogue in Orange County, California, against two lawsuits brought by activists opposed to kaporos. But, of course, the animal rights activists appealed the dismissal of one lawsuit to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9thCircuit.
Well, about a week after oral argument, the Ninth Circuit came out with its decision. It’s conclusion? That the animal rights groups didn’t even have the legal ability to bring the lawsuit in the first place.
While it was decided on procedural grounds, the court’s decision brings a resounding conclusion to several years of harassment by lawsuit of a peaceful religious practice.
To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.
Whether it is in word or deed, senior members of President Trump’s administration are proving to be strong advocates of the importance of religious liberty. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Two public appearances by senior members of the Trump Administration show the Administration’s fundamental commitment to religious liberty. And it’s more than just words.
In answer to a question from a reporter, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pointed out the administration’s foreign policy when it comes to religious freedom. He said, “Because it’s at the heart of all the freedoms that every individual should have, right?”
Former Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker spoke at length about the importance of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act at the Heritage Foundation on Religious Freedom Day. He explained, “RFRA promotes authentic tolerance—because RFRA makes a solemn promise to the people of this nation that we can find a place for them, regardless of who they are, and regardless of their beliefs.”
Both of these agencies have backed those words up with action. The Trump State Department hosted a “Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom” in 2018 and plans are underway for another in 2019. The DOJ has issued guidance on religious liberty to all executive agencies, launched its “place to worship” initiative that protects houses of worship, and been active in litigating violations of religious liberty.
Whether it involves matters of foreign policy or domestic relations, it is good to see an executive branch committed to defending religious liberty in both word and deed.
To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.
The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment was intended to prevent the government from establishing a religion, not keep religion out of the public sphere. First Liberty argued before the Supreme Court and asked the Court to change its perspective. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Many of you have followed First Liberty’s case before the Supreme Court of the United States over the Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial. We hope the case will provide much needed clarity to the interpretation of the First Amendment.
The Framers intended for the Establishment Clause to guard against the government establishing a national church. Read more broadly, it prevents state officials from coercing the religious beliefs and actions of its citizens. Unfortunately, as Justice Clarence Thomas has said, this area of the law is “in hopeless disarray.”
We can lay the blame at the feet of a case from 1971 called,Lemon v. Kurtzman. That decision has led to variety of confusing, court-created tests. Local officials, not knowing what to do, often ban religion. That kind of hostility to religion is something the Founders never intended.
We propose an alternative: that the U.S. Supreme Court replace those tests with an alternative more in keeping with what the Founders had in mind.
Unless the state coerces someone into a religious belief or exercise or enacts laws or policies that purport to actually establish an official religion, there is no violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
Passive displays do nothing to coerce anyone into belief or religious exercise. They just stand there, reminding us of the service and sacrifice of something we would forget if we did not see a visible reminder.
To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.
First Liberty has petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case of Aaron and Melissa Klein, an Oregon family who was forced to shut down their business and fined $135,000 for not baking a same-sex wedding cake. The question now is, will the Court side with Gobitis or Barnette? Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
The right to differ with popular beliefs and opinions has long been an American principle.
Back in the late 1930’s, the Gobitis children had a religious objection to saluting the flag. The Supreme Court upheld their expulsion in Minersville School District v. Gobitis and that’s when the harassment of America’s Jehovah’s Witnesses took off.
Just a few short years later, the Supreme Court revisited its decision in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. Justice Jackson’s majority opinion explained that if the Bill of Rights allows the state to compel one to salute the flag, it also permits “public authorities to compel him to utter what is not in his mind.”
So it is with First Liberty clients, Aaron and Melissa Klein. Can the state compel small business owners to speak a message contrary to their religious beliefs? That’s a question we hope the Supreme Court might soon answer.
And, we hope that answer is consistent with Justice Jackson’s in Barnette when he wrote, “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”
Let’s hope the Supreme Court protects America’s small business owners and their First Amendment right to differ.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.