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First Liberty Briefing

First Liberty Briefing is an exclusive podcast hosted by First Liberty Institute’s Senior Counsel Jeremy Dys. In about 90-seconds, three times a week, Jeremy recalls the stories that have shaped America’s religious liberty, from the founding era to current legal battles and more. It’s an insider’s look at the stories, cases, people, and laws that have made America the world’s leader in protecting religious liberty.
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Feb 19, 2018

Tucked away in the corner of the United States Constitution is an important phrase that demonstrates our country’s commitment to religious liberty. Learn why the Framers sought to protect religious liberty at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Tucked away in the corner of the United States Constitution is an important phrase that demonstrates our country’s commitment to religious liberty.

Toward the end of the main part of the Constitution we find Article VI, dealing mostly with debts and the supremacy of treaties. But, in the final paragraph, the framers prohibited any “religious test” for constitutional officers.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this Religious Test Clause is that it has been entirely self-executing, probably because no religious test has actually been presented to any federal office holder.

But, the framers had at least two concerns about religious tests. First, if permitted, could religious tests be used by religious groups to exclude individuals from other religions? And, equally important, the framers recognized that a religious test could keep good and wise, but secular, citizens from achieving office.

The framers of the constitution sought a government officially neutral toward religion, one neither hostile toward, nor sympathetic of, the religious beliefs of its federal officers. Inherently, this recognizes the outer limits of government: that government’s job is to govern, rather than demand its people practice religion in the manner prescribed by Congress.

In this way, somewhat unique in history, the United States became a government that permitted its people to pursue their relationship with the Divine without pressure—or punishment—by their government.

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

Feb 16, 2018

Harbor Missionary Church was required by the city of San Buenaventura, California to file for a conditional use permit in order to continue their homeless ministry. The city denied the permit without much of an explanation. Learn more about the case by visiting FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Ministry to the homeless is a difficult, often thankless task for many houses of worship. Some cities tend to make it even harder.

Harbor Missionary Church in the city of San Buenaventura, California had what appeared to be a thriving ministry to the homeless. But San Buenaventura required the church to file for a conditional use permit in order to continue the ministry. They did and were hopeful when the city staff recommended that the permit be issued. But, the city planning commission denied the permit outright and without much of an explanation.

The church filed a lawsuit alleging that the denial violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act or RLUIPA. On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the church argued that the city had substantially burdened their religious exercise. In fact, without help from the Ninth Circuit, the church would be forced to sell its property and raise $1.4 million in order to relocate their homeless ministry. Thankfully, the Ninth Circuit concluded that the city had violated RLUIPA by denying the special use permit.

Zoning laws are important to local government, but they can be used to prevent the free exercise of religion as well. When they do, RLUIPA provides a check on the government’s exercise of authority against a religious organization’s religious liberty.

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

Feb 14, 2018

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 12, 2018

Recent Minneapolis reports reveals that an aspiring female teen boxer has been granted religious accommodation. Learn about this and more sports-related cases that require religious liberty at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


News out of Minneapolis reports of an aspiring teen boxer granted a religious accommodation.

Amaiya Zafar is a 16-year old boxing protégé that, for some time, has had her sights set on representing the United States as a boxer at the 2020 Olympics. But, current rules place her in the position of having to choose between her faith and her sport.

USA Boxing, however, has solved the problem for the St. Paul teenager by accommodating her faith in the ring. As a result, Zafar will be permitted to keep her arms and legs covered with long sleeves and leggings, as her faith requires.

That’s a simple solution and, while I don’t share Zafar’s religious beliefs concerning clothing, I do support efforts by anyone, USA Boxing included, to take reasonable steps to respect the religious beliefs of Americans whenever possible.

Of course, Zafar is not the first boxer to need a religious accommodation. Cassius Clay, better known as Muhammad Ali, famously asserted his religious beliefs as grounds for conscientious objection to the Vietnam War.

In other sports-related cases, we are working to protect the right of Coach Joe Kennedy to pray silently at the 50-yard line when the game is over. Meanwhile, in Florida, we are defending the right of a football team at a Christian school in Florida to be able to pray over the loudspeaker prior to kickoff.

As these stories remind us: religious liberty impacts every area of our life, including sports.

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

Feb 9, 2018

Texas Governor stands for religious freedom by signing a bill that prohibits the government from forcefully demanding ministers’ sermons. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


It’s not every day that the governor of a state finds himself behind the pulpit of a church. But, I guess not every state is Texas.

Greg Abbott, governor of the great state of Texas, joined Pastor Steve Riggle and churchgoers at Grace Community Church, recently to sign a bill into law.

The bill that passed the Texas legislature made it unlawful for the government to force religious leaders to turn over copies of sermons during a civil lawsuit or administrative proceeding.

And, if you don’t think such a law is necessary, recall that the pastor of the church Governor Abbott was in that day was asked by the mayor of Houston to turn over his sermons—even though he wasn’t even a party to the lawsuit.

If that’s not enough, recall that Dr. Eric Walsh, himself a lay minister, was fired by the State of Georgia over something he said in a sermon. And, after he sued the state, Georgia’s attorney general subpoenaed copies of Dr. Walsh’s sermons, sermon notes, and sermon transcripts.

So, the day has come in which we need laws on the books to make it clear that the state is not entitled to review a pastor’s sermons. The pulpit has rightly been called “the sacred desk.” The promise of America has been that he who fills that desk is entitled to speak what his conscience demands.

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

Feb 7, 2018

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feb 5, 2018

Sometimes we think that the judicial system can and will solve all of our disputes. Learn about a recent case from the Court of Appeals that says there are some things a court cannot decide at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Sometimes we think that the judicial system can and will solve all of our disputes. A recent case from the Court of Appeals of Ohio says there are some things even a court cannot decide.

A Roman Catholic institution in Ohio recently dismissed a student studying for the priesthood following an investigation into allegations of moral misconduct. The student, understandably upset, sued the school for breach of contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and other charges.

On appeal, the state court in Ohio explained that courts may only adjudicate those matters involving a subject matter courts are authorized to consider.

Courts are permitted to evaluate secular disputes, but the doctrine of ecclesiastical abstention prevents courts from settling disputes involving purely doctrinal and ecclesiastical matters. Here, the court explained, all of the claims alleged stemmed from a dispute by a religious organization over matters of church doctrine. Any resolution would, necessarily, require the court to evaluate religious doctrine—a task courts are ill-prepared to undertake.

The judicial system has broad jurisdiction over matters ranging from simple misdemeanors to complex commercial transactions. Yet, it is right and proper that courts have limits. The ecclesiastical abstention doctrine highlights those limitations, showcasing along the way the inherent deference courts have for religious bodies to govern their own, religious affairs.

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

Feb 2, 2018

When Tzvi McCloud asked for a religious accommodation at his new job in order to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, a Jewish holy day, he was disciplined and sent home. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Tzvi McCloud was hired to work in customer service for XPO Last Mile, a logistics company out of Maryland. But, he didn’t even make it to his first day of work.

When McCloud’s operations manager called him to let him know he was hired and asked him to report to work on October 3, 2016, McCloud explained there was a problem. McCloud wanted to report to work that day, but it was Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days of the year for him as an Orthodox Jew. He asked if reporting the next day would be permissible.

Initially, the manager agreed, but, later that evening, the market vice president called to inform McCloud that the only days the company observed were federal holidays, not religious ones.

McCloud chose to observe his holy day and showed up for work on October 4. When he did, he was sent home. Now, the EEOC is involved, suing XPO for religious discrimination.

EEOC regional attorney Debra Lawrence said it well, “The freedom to exercise one’s religious beliefs is one of our nation’s fundamental values . . . A one-day postponement of a start date is not an undue hardship.”

In other words, religious liberty and the corporate mission need not be in conflict. Accommodating the religious practices of our employees is good business.

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

Jan 31, 2018

Should courts make decisions on church doctrine or practices? Learn what happened to the Syrian Christian man at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


A case out of Oklahoma mixes the doctrine of church autonomy with the intrigue of a spy novel.

A Syrian man found his way to the First Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. of Tulsa, Oklahoma. There, he converted to Christianity and asked to be baptized. He was and, though he requested confidentiality, the church followed its Book of Church Order, listing the record of his baptism on the church’s website. When the man returned to Syria, he was kidnapped, tortured, and only escaped death by killing his guard and fleeing the country.

After he returned to the United States, he sued the Presbyterian church, alleging that the publication of his baptism led to his kidnap and torture.

But, the Oklahoma Supreme Court declined to review the matter, citing the church autonomy doctrine. According to that doctrine, churches are free from government interference when handling its internal, religious affairs—including baptism. Since it is the practice and custom of the Presbyterian Church to publicly celebrate baptisms, the court could not adjudicate the dispute.

While churches must exercise wisdom in following its customs to avoid unnecessary danger, how a church decides matters of faith and practice is rightly beyond the reach of the judiciary to review. As the US Supreme Court said in 1952, this doctrine, “radiates a spirit of freedom for religious organizations, an independence from secular control or manipulation.”

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

Jan 29, 2018

A small New Jersey congregation rented from a local school building until the rent increased. The twenty-five congregants couldn’t afford the new price and used Reverend Robert Cameron’s house as a new meeting place. Learn how this congregation fought all the way to the State Supreme Court against unfair zoning laws by visiting FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Robert Cameron was a minister without a home. Well, that’s not quite right. Rev. Cameron actually had a home, a house much like any other in Franklin Township, New Jersey.

Actually, Rev. Cameron, and his congregation at the Mount Carmel Reformed Episcopal Church, had no home for their church. They had been renting a local school building, but someone hiked the rent. The twenty-five congregants couldn’t afford the increase. So, they decided to meet in Rev. Cameron’s house until they could find a new meeting place.

You would think that would be uncontroversial, but town officials told him he was violating the town’s zoning laws. A judge agreed and, for the crime of holding a worship service in his home, he was given a $500 fine for every time the church would meet in his home.

Rev. Cameron didn’t give up. He appealed that decision and the Supreme Court of New Jersey acknowledged that the zoning ordinance was vague and its focus on religious activity alone led to unfair and inconsistent results. It had to go.

State v. Cameron was decided in 1981, two decades before Congress would pass the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. Today, RLUIPA provides a critical defense for pastors, churches, and religious organizations against cities and towns that would substantially burden the free exercise of religion in the religious use of their property.

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

Jan 26, 2018

There is an effort in America to restrict chaplains in our military. Have you ever considered the enormous cost this could have on our armed forces? Learn about Chaplain Robert P. Taylor and the sacrifices he made for his unit FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


There is an effort in America to restrict chaplains in our military. Have you ever considered the enormous cost this could have on our armed forces?

After the Battle of Bataan, Chaplain Robert P. Taylor joined some 75,000 soldiers in the Bataan death march. Soldiers were indiscriminately shot, stabbed, and beheaded by their captors. Those who were not killed marched without food or water, driving men to drink from disease-ridden puddles. As they marched, Chaplain Taylor knew his task was to provide spiritual guidance that would increase morale, perhaps making the difference between life and death.

Once the survivors of the death march made it to a prisoner of war camp, Taylor continued his spiritual leadership. Not only did he lead daily religious services and encourage his men to remember the God who gave them strength, he found a way to smuggle much-needed food into the camp. For that, he was rewarded with 14-weeks of debilitating torture that put him in a coma.

Taylor spent 42 months in captivity. He never stopped providing spiritual care for his soldiers, something he continued in peacetime as the Air Force Chief of Chaplains. His spiritual care saved many, many lives.

Some think their cause is righteous when suing the military in hopes of ending a chaplain’s career. But, what if that chaplain is the next Robert Taylor?

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

Jan 24, 2018

A veterans memorial known as the “Big Mountain Jesus” honors World War II soldiers from the Army’s 10th Mountain Division and stands tall atop Big Mountain in the Flathead National Forest. But one group wanted to get rid of the memorial because of its religious nature. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


After World War II, soldiers from the Army’s 10th Mountain Division sought to honor their fallen brothers who were lost while fighting in some of the roughest terrain in Europe.

The memorial is a six-foot tall figure of Jesus in the style of religious shrines they had seen on battlefields in Europe. The Knights of Columbus in Kalispell, Montana erected this veteran’s memorial, known casually as “Big Mountain Jesus.” It stood without complaint for more than 60 years atop Big Mountain in the Flathead National Forest.

One group wanted to knock the memorial down. They sued the U.S. Forest Service for permitting its presence on top of Big Mountain. First Liberty Institute filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the State of Montana and the roughly 2.4 million members of The American Legion. We asked the court to preserve the Tenth Mountain Division Veterans Memorial.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the memorial is constitutional. The court explained that the Constitution does not require the government to purge cultural or historic symbols from the public square merely because they are religious.

Veterans should be given wide latitude in determining how they choose to honor their fallen brothers in arms. And, if these veterans choose religious symbolism as part of their memorials, the government’s response should be one of respectful neutrality.

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

Jan 22, 2018

Peter Manseau was hired as the first curator of religion in over 100 years for the Smithsonian Institution. The curator hopes to tell the story of religion in America’s founding. To learn more about religion’s role in American history, listen at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


The Smithsonian Institution has appointed its first curator of religion in over 100 years.

Peter Manseau, the new curator, explains that, “You can’t tell the story of America without the role of religion in it.”

According to Manseau, among the first exhibits to be displayed will be a church bell crafted by Paul Revere, Thomas Jefferson’s Bible that cut out the portions he did not believe, a manuscript from the Book of Mormon, a Muslim text that once belonged to an African slave, and even a Torah scroll damaged by Hessians during the War of Independence.

Manseau also intends to display a compass used by Roger Williams to find his way to Rhode Island when he was exiled from Massachusetts for his religious beliefs—a display Manseau hopes will help American ponder what religious liberty looked like in the context of the founding of our country.

The new curator is right: you cannot tell the story of America without telling the role religion has played in making our country what it is today. And that includes the role of religious liberty. These artifacts from our history point to the real stories of Americans committed to the historically radical idea that government respect a person’s right to honor his conscience before God.

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

Jan 19, 2018

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reviewed a case involving the Birdville Independent School District after it a humanist group sued them. The humanist group argued students should not be permitted to have an invocation at the school board meeting. Learn how the court ruled at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


In 1997, the Birdville Independent School District welcomed two students to their meetings. One student led the Pledge of Allegiance, while the other student delivered a statement of his own choosing, according to the school’s policy of allowing student remarks. That continued for years, most often in the form of an invocation, during which the board members stood respectfully quiet with bowed head while the student prayed.

That was all well and good, until a humanist group sued, alleging that school boards aren’t legislative bodies and should not be permitted to have an invocation in the same way a state legislature, city council, or county commission does.

Eventually, the case arrived before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, where a three-judge panel upheld the practice, stating, “Legislative prayers are recited for the benefit of legislative officers. It would be nonsensical to permit legislative prayers but bar the legislative officers for whom they are being primarily recited from participating in the prayers in any way.”

The fact that students undertook to lead those invocations was of minimal concern. “Although it is possible to imagine a school-board student-expression practice that offends the Establishment Clause,” the court explained, “this one, under its specific facts, does not.”

This is a routine area of challenge by secularists, but one with limited success, since the long tradition of our country is one of support for prayer at public meetings.

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

Jan 17, 2018

What does the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals say about distributing religious materials in public schools? Find out at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Ed McDaniels was a local pastor in Upshur County, West Virginia. One day, he asked the local school superintendent if he could place Bibles on a table in the local public school. He didn’t want to hand students anything; he just wanted to set out the material as a resource the students could take if they wanted to.

The school had a policy of allowing the local Little League, Boy and Girl Scouts, 4-H Club, and other community organizations to set their materials on a table. Students passing by could take the material or simply ignore it. In a separate policy, the school prevented the distribution of religious and political materials. Local residents sued the school system, claiming that the policy preventing distribution of religious materials also denied McDaniels access to the community information table.

Eventually, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit determined that distributing meant physically handing out materials. In fact, the court explained that, if the school kept the Bibles off of the community information table, it would breach its duty of religious neutrality and, in the words of the court, “evince the hostility toward religious speech that the Establishment Clause does not require and that the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses forbid.”

So, look around at your school. Perhaps there’s a community information table waiting to be stocked with Bibles.

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

Jan 15, 2018

On the First Liberty Briefing this morning: This decorated Air Force Veteran was forcibly removed from a military retirement ceremony because he was going to mention ‘God!’ Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


Oscar Rodriguez is a decorated Air Force Veteran who retired in 2013 after 33 years of service. Oscar was invited by Air Force Master Sergeant Chuck Roberson to give flag-folding speech at a Roberson’s military retirement ceremony—something he has done over 100 times.

Oscar agreed to give his stirring and patriotic speech, but the Air Force Unit Commander at Chuck’s base presented a problem—Oscar’s flag-folding speech included the word “God.”

First, the unit commander tried to prevent Oscar from attending the ceremony. When he was informed that he could not legally prevent his attendance, he told Chuck that Oscar could not give the speech. But like any good Airman, Oscar was not going to abandon his wingman, and he decided to give the speech anyway. And as a private citizen, Oscar is no longer subject to the commander’s authority.

But when Oscar stood to deliver the speech during the retirement ceremony, four senior airmen approached him, assaulted him, and physically dragged him out of the retirement ceremony—before he had a chance to say the word, “God!”

The Air Force broke the law and abused its power, discriminating against Oscar—and servicemembers everywhere—who want to mention God in their private retirement ceremony.

First Liberty Institute represents Oscar because no one should be assaulted for mentioning the name of God.

For more, and to learn how First Liberty is defending religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.

Jan 12, 2018

A writer for the Tampa Bay Times is calling for First Liberty client, Cambridge Christian School to form a league of their own after the FHSAA refused to allow Christian students to pray over the loud speaker. Learn more about the case and how we’re protecting students’ religious rights at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


An editorial penned in the Tampa Bay Times has called for one of our clients to form a league of their own.

The author writes about Cambridge Christian School who earned the chance to play for a state football championship against another Christian school. Both teams asked the Florida High School Athletic Association to pray over the public address system prior to kick off. That request was denied by the FHSAA specifically because the requested speech was religious in nature.

The author supports the FHSAA. He writes: “If Cambridge and similar schools want public community prayer before their state championship games, they should leave the FHSAA and form their own private statewide Christian association and stage their own playoffs.”

Now, we were once told that if you wanted to pray in school, you should go to a private, Christian school. These students did, but now that they are there, this author would have them leave the league entirely.

Well, where does it end? Must religious picnickers form their own, private parks lest they be accused of violating the constitution for saying grace over their meal at a public park?

It was the FHSAA that engaged in religious discrimination against Cambridge Christian School. It would be an even greater offense to the Constitution’s protection of religious liberty to force these students further from public participation.

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

Jan 10, 2018

J.B. Hunt Transport conducts random drug tests for its employees by using a hair sample. However, Sikh applicants were unable to fulfill that request because of their religious beliefs. Learn how the Sikh applicants responded at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Drug testing of employees is always a source of frustration. Nonetheless, it is essential to safety in the workplace. But, does drug testing ever threaten an employee’s religious liberty?

J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc. recently found itself facing that question along with lawyers at the EEOC and The Sikh Coalition. Hunt Transport randomly tests its employees for drug use by using a hair sample. That works in most cases, but not for Sikh employees.

Sikhism requires its followers to neither shave, nor cut their hair. The simple act of plucking a hair from their head would cause Sikhs to violate their religious beliefs.

Sikh applicants to the trucking company explained their predicament, but the company denied their request for an alternative drug testing option. Ultimately, they were not hired and the employees sued alleging religious discrimination. Wisely, the company agreed to settle the matter.

Employers cannot make employment decisions based upon an employee’s religion. Further, companies have a duty to accommodate an employee’s religion so long as that can be done without undue hardship to the organization. In this case, refusing to hire someone because they would not cut their hair for a drug test is unreasonable when multiple alternative tests are at the company’s disposal.

Freedom—and especially religious freedom—demands that we do the hard work of balancing corporate safety against individual liberty.

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

Jan 8, 2018

An Amish group in Western Kentucky is claiming that the City of Auburn is targeting them with a horse manure ordinance. The question is, how should we balance religious liberty and health safety concerns in America. For more, listen at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


In Western Kentucky, Amish residents have filed a lawsuit against the City of Auburn alleging one of its ordinances imposes a burden upon the free exercise of their religion.

The ordinance has been on the books for several years and dozens of Amish have been cited for violating the law. Some have paid the fine that comes with the violation; others have refused in protest.

As you may know, the Amish live simply, refusing most modern conveniences, including motor vehicles, as their religion teaches. Instead, the Amish are known for driving their horse and buggy through town. And, where there are horses, there soon follows horse manure. So, the City of Auburn passed an ordinance requiring that horses travelling through Auburn be fitted with a…well…let’s call it a manure collection system.

The Amish believe that the ordinance is specifically targeting them and is, therefore, religious discrimination.

This will be an interesting case to watch. On the one hand, the ordinance in question has exceptions, so it is probably not a law generally applicable to everyone, which makes it more likely to be found in violation of the Constitution. On the other hand, the city has a compelling justification for the ordinance: not only does manure stink, it takes a long time to degrade and transmits disease.

Either way, it’s an interesting lesson in how we balance religious liberty in America.

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

Jan 5, 2018

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 neutral toward 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.

Jan 3, 2018

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.

Jan 1, 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 29, 2017

After a picture of high school football players praying over their coach landed on the front page of a local newspaper, activists sent the school district an angry letter threatening to sue. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Whether it’s Tim Tebow, Coach Joe Kennedy, or the thousands of players taking a knee together in prayer after a game, prayer seems to be a popular theme around football.

At Reitz High School in Evansville, Indiana, the players value prayer rather highly, it would seem. That became controversial only when a picture of the players gathered in prayer landed on the front page of the local newspaper.

Activists sent the school district an angry letter, threatening a lawsuit should school officials refuse to take action. According to them, the coach was violating the law because the picture showed him surrounded by his football players and everyone appeared to be praying.

But, let’s break down that picture a little closer. Yes, the coach was in the center, surrounded by his players, but it clearly shows the players, with bowed heads and hands laid on the coach, led by one player who’s lips are forming the prayers. The players were praying for their coach.

Activists would have this coach stop up his ears and run screaming from the scene of this religious activity. But, common sense—and the Constitution—would call this hostility to the free exercise of religion by the players. Students have a first amendment right to pray for their coach and the school cannot legally stop their religious expression.

Thankfully, that’s precisely what school officials told the activists.

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

Dec 27, 2017

Before he was the CEO of the Family Research Council, Jerry Boykin was a Major in the U.S. Army. A photo recently surfaced of Boykin leading his group of 100 men in a prayer prior to their efforts to save 100 Americans who were being held hostage in 1980. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


Jerry Boykin has never shied away from a fight. As the CEO of the Family Research Council today, Boykin regularly shares his opinions on a variety of issues from his religious perspective.

But, Boykin hasn’t always been at FRC. A photo recently surfaced of Boykin from 1980. The black and white photo features a youthful Boykin, a Major in the U.S. Army then, with dark hair and matching beard. He’s addressing a group of about 100 Army Delta Force operators. The room is nondescript, cement walls covered with exposed wiring with but one decoration: a poster.

That’s not just any poster. It’s a collage of the pictures of the 100 Americans held hostage in Iran. Boykin’s Delta Force was about to go rescue them. But, Boykin and his men first paused to pray.

Many might second-guess this decision. Some might suggest that it was even illegal for Boykin to use his authority to coerce his men into praying. Others might conclude that the act was little more than civil religion; a meaningless act with no more efficacy than if the operators had gathered together and yelled, “Go team!”

But for the men about to dive into the face of death and danger, prayer is what they wanted and needed. Thankfully, though our servicemembers sacrifice much in the cause of freedom, they do not give up their religious freedom.

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

Dec 25, 2017

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.

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