After five years, a group of high school cheerleaders won their case in court after being told they could not put Bible versus on break through football banners. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
It was Friday night and the lights in Texas shone down on the field. The Kountze High School football team was about to smash through a banner and onto the field.
Holding the banner were the Kountze High School cheerleaders. Negative slogans like “Beat the bulldogs” were a thing of the past. These cheerleaders wanted to be positive. So, they looked to the Bible for a positive message they could communicate instead.
But, the school said the new banner message had to go. They had received a complaint and could not afford to take any chances. But, the cheerleaders were not about to give up.
First Liberty Institute stepped in and, for the next 5 years, represented the young women. The school argued that since the banner was on school property, the message—chosen entirely by the students and displayed on paper the student purchased and painted—was government speech and that couldn’t be religious without violating the constitution.
The court disagreed. No reasonable person would conclude that the message—scrawled in student script and held aloft by students—could be an official message of the state. Instead, the student’s message was private speech, entitled to the protections of the First Amendment.
Matthews v. Kountze Independent School District stands for the important principal that schools cannot censor, ban, or claim ownership to the private religious speech of its students.
To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.
Despite most residents being unable to identify their county seal, a federal district court ruled that the county seal of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania is unconstitutional. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
Most residents of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, probably have no idea what their county seal looks like.
It has a cow, factories, a silo, an oil lamp set on two books, a courthouse, flags and bunting, and more. Recently, a federal district court reluctantly declared the seal unconstitutional because, centered in the background of it all, is a cross.
According to the court’s opinion:
“The County has not . . . legally compelled its citizens to practice and conform to Christianity, infringed on freedom of conscience, or created political conflict between the Christian Church and other religious sects. Simply put, the County of Lehigh did not intend to ‘establish’ religion or institute a County religion.”
And, so, the court concluded:
“Lehigh County’s Seal is a passive symbol that does not coerce any citizen to practice or adhere to Christianity, and does not establish a county religion. Thus, the Seal does not violate the plain text of the Establishment Clause. Nor does it establish religion in the way the drafters of the First Amendment imagined. Higher courts, however, have delineated a different mechanism by which the court must determine whether the Seal survives constitutional scrutiny. While the court may not fully agree with the test provided, the court must apply that test.”
Well, we can only hope an appeal will change that test.
To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.
A long standing ban in the Tennessee Constitution prevented ministers from seeking elected office until 1977 despite an entire Civil War being fought to protect the rights of citizenship. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
In 1796, the State of Tennessee banned an entire class of Americans from running for elected office. The state’s founders even enshrined this prohibition in the very constitution of their own state.
Perhaps by 1977, modern society would have come to its senses. After all, an entire civil war had been fought over a state’s denial of the rights of citizenship to human beings. But, evidently the state didn’t pay attention. Some rationalized that, if the state lifted the ban, these people would exercise their powers to promote one group of people over another, violating the rigorous neutrality expected of any lawmaker.
So, given the opportunity, Selma Cash Paty filed a lawsuit to prevent Paul McDaniel from running. Maybe Paty was just trailing in the polls and this was an easy way to win. Or, maybe, it was just the entrenched discrimination made infamous by the Deep South.
Either way, McDaniel, was an ordained minister of the Gospel and his position as pastor of a Baptist church in Chattanooga was enough to disqualify him from office, according to the Tennessee constitution.
But, the justices of the Supreme Court ended the almost two-centuries of discrimination when, in McDaniel v. Paty, the justices held that state constitution’s exclusion of ministers seeking elected office violated McDaniel’s free exercise rights under the First Amendment.
Well, I think we can all say “Amen” to that.
To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.
The practice of opening government meetings with prayer has been a longstanding tradition going back centuries. However, the federal courts of appeal are split over this very practice. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
Can county commissioners open their own meetings with prayer?
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recently prohibited Rowan County’s commissioners from opening their meetings with prayer. But, the federal courts of appeal are split over whether prayers offered by legislators at local government meetings are unconstitutional. In another one of our cases, Bormuth v. County of Jackson, the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit approved of the same practice.
Opening government meetings with prayer is a centuries-old tradition that goes back to before the founding of our nation and continues to this day before Congress, statehouses, and thousands of local governments across the country. It shouldn’t be very controversial.
The Supreme Court previously approved of the long-standing tradition of “legislative prayer” and its role in solemnizing policymaking sessions, encouraging lawmakers to selflessly seek the greater good, and acknowledging the role that faith plays in the lives of millions of Americans. In 1983, in Marsh v. Chambers and then again in Town of Greece v. Galloway, the Supreme Court held that prayers offered by private citizens before government meetings are fully consistent with the Constitution and an important part of America’s history and heritage.
But, what if that citizen is an elected official? That’s the question we hope the Supreme Court will now answer.
When the United Church of Cabot in Vermont asked voters to approve repairs to its historic church building with public funds, they agreed. However, someone raised an objection, but historic church buildings deserve repairs just as much as historic secular buildings. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
In Vermont, the United Church of Cabot needed repairs. Specifically, this historic church asked the voters to consider repairing the steeple, stairwell, along with other minor repairs.
The community uses the building for a variety of meetings and events. The taxpayers were even asked whether public funds—about $10,000—should be used to pay for these repairs. When the voters agreed to the project, someone raised an objection.
A Vermont district court enjoined the repairs, concluding that the state’s constitution categorically prohibits the public funding of houses of worship. But, the Vermont Supreme Court disagreed. In sending the case back to the lower court, it said that the “plaintiffs will have to demonstrate that painting the church building and assessing its sills is more like funding devotional training for future clergy.”
Well, that’s a difficult task. If we have learned anything from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Trinity Lutheran it is that our country’s dedication to separating church and state means neutrality toward religion, rather than hostility. If Vermont expends taxpayer dollars on other historic buildings, it is anything but neutral to refuse funding for an historic church building.
The logic that claims that anything religious must be purged from public participation simply because it is religious is simply wrong, it goes against decades of precedent, and destroys our country’s rich heritage of diversity.
One cook at a Walt Disney resort was fired because he wouldn’t cut off his dreadlocks — a key component of his religious expression as a Rastafarian. Listen at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
America is home to a great diversity of cultural and religious backgrounds. Our commitment to religious liberty protects them all.
The federal government recently filed a lawsuit on behalf of a cook employed at a Walt Disney resort. The cook was fired because he would not conform to Disney’s appearance standards because doing so would require him to violate his religious beliefs.
The cook is a Rastafarian, a religious movement that began in the 1920’s and brought to prominence by singer Bob Marley. Rastafarians wear their hair in the style of dreadlocks; however, Disney doesn’t allow dreadlocks to be worn by cooks—even if those cooks keep their locks under cover while at work.
The same law that protects a Rastafarian from unfair treatment by his employer protects the rights of Jewish men to wear their beards long and Mennonite women to wear their head covering at work. As Justice Scalia explained in the case of EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch: “Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964] does not demand mere neutrality with regard to religious practices…. Rather, it gives [religious employees] favored treatment…Title VII requires otherwise-neutral policies to give way to the need for an accommodation.”
In other words, Religious liberty seeks to respect legitimate business concerns and functions, so long as those goals accommodate a mutual respect for the free exercise of religion.
Do employers have to accommodate their employees’ religious exercise? The answer at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Lois Davis worked as an IT specialist near Houston, Texas. In 2011, her county employer was working to install all new personal computers, network components, and a/v equipment. In order to complete the project, the IT staff would be required to work through the weekend of the Fourth of July.
Davis however, had a short conflict. That Sunday, July 3rd, her church was having a very special service requiring her attendance and participation. She informed her supervisor of the conflict, offered to return to the office as soon as her religious commitment was complete, and even explained that there was a ready and willing volunteer to cover the time that she would be unavailable.
Typically, employers are required to accommodate the exercise of an employee’s religion. However, employers are not required to so accommodate if doing so would cause an “undue hardship” to their business.
And that is exactly what Davis’ employer argued, but the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. The court explained that it may not be an undue hardship for an employer to allow its employee 3 hours to attend a religious service—especially when that employee had arranged for a volunteer substitute to cover her responsibilities while away.
Accommodating the religion of an employee can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. Davis’ case is a good reminder that the goals of an employer need not conflict with the ability of an employee to freely exercise her religion.
When a high school graduating class was told they could not sing a rendition of the Lord’s Prayer, they stood up for their religious freedom and recited it instead. Listen now to hear about this incredible stand for religious freedom at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Every high school graduation has its own traditions. For one East Liverpool, Ohio, high school, the tradition had been for the graduates to sing a rendition of The Lord’s Prayer as part of the ceremony.
But, in 2016, a secular activist group got wind of the decades-old tradition and, for the first time in decades, complained, putting an end to the practice.
The song of the graduates was silenced, by order of the school board, but that’s not the end of the story. Toward the end of the ceremony, the graduates recited the Lord’s Prayer. It started with just a few, then more, until the entire class was on their feet quoting the Lord’s Prayer from memory.
The students were not only technically right (they had only be instructed not to sing the Lord’s Prayer), they were right on the law as well. You might call it an act of civil disobedience, but you cannot argue with the fact that it was, in fact, private speech. That is, it was the speech of the students and not, as the original complaint alleged, the official speech of the government endorsing religion.
Students should be reminded that their speech is the most protected at school and they ought never to be intimidated when speaking about their faith, whether in class or at graduation.
High school student John Raney was told that religious schools were illegal in New York. But the Equal Access Act of 1984 says something different. Find out what at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
John Raney was a student at Ward Melville High School on Long Island, New York. He wanted to start a student club that would do acts of service to the community and encourage fellow students in their faith.
So, he did what the leaders of the chess club the fishing club the Frisbee club had done: he applied to form an extracurricular club at the school. But, the administrators of his high school denied the application, saying that, despite the school having 41 different student clubs, religious clubs were illegal in New York.
First Liberty, along with our volunteer attorneys at McDermott, Will & Emory, sent a demand letter to the school, explaining that the Equal Access Act of 1984 required the school to permit John’s religious club. The school quickly agreed to support John’s club.
You would think that would be the end of it, but a year later, when John went to renew his club’s application for his senior year, he was denied again. Another demand letter did the trick and John’s club was able to continue doing good for their school and for his community.
The Equal Access Act of 1984 says that a school must allow religious clubs at public schools if it offers support to secular extracurricular clubs on campus. Student religious clubs may not be treated differently by public school administrators simply because they are religious in nature.
The Florida Department of Corrections stopped accommodating inmates who kept a kosher diet because it was “too expensive.” Find out what happens at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
Since the 1990’s, the Florida Department of Corrections has offered its inmates various menus, ranging from its regular fare to meatless meals and even vegan offerings. In 2004, inmates began having the option of kosher meals as well, but that stopped three years later.
That is when the Federal government decided to step in to investigate why religious inmates requesting kosher meals were being denied. Following a lengthy investigation, the United States government filed a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Corrections. Incredibly, the Secretary for the Florida prisons argued that the reason Florida denied kosher meals to religious inmates was that such meals were just too expensive.
In July of 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit rejected Florida’s denial of kosher meals to inmates. The Eleventh Circuit grounded its decision in the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, sometimes called “RLUIPA,” and reminded the Florida legislature that it has a duty to ensure that its prison system was adequately funded in order to meet the religious needs of its inmates.
But why so much fuss about the religious liberty of criminals? The reason we bother protecting the religious liberty of inmates is very simple: religious liberty is a right endowed to us by our Creator; it is a right common and connected to our humanity. Though felons forfeit much liberty in the penal system, they do not forfeit their humanity.
Does a sign pointing out directions to a church violate the First Amendment? This court said no. Find out why at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Along the side of the road in the Pennsylvania town of Shickshinny Borough is a small sign. On the sign, appear the words, “Bible Baptist Church Welcomes You…one block” and it features a Bible, a cross, and an arrow pointing in the direction of the church.
The sign has been on the side of the road since 2008 when the city council approved its placement, at the cost of the church, replacing a sign there sign that had been standing nearby since the 1980’s.
The individual complaining about the sign was the lone vote on the city council against its placement when that council approved its placement. She also happens to be able to see the sign from her home. She filed this lawsuit four years after the sign was erected alleging that the sign was a religious sign and, since the city council approved of its placement and permitted it to reside on the side of the road, the town was violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
The court agreed that the sign was a religious sign, but it dismissed the lawsuit anyway. The court said that no reasonable observer could conclude that a sign pointing out the direction to a church building could be the government’s way of establishing a religion in violation of the First Amendment.
Rather, to quote the court, “A reasonable observer would think it is a sign to a church and nothing more.”
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.
A Tennessee Governor has recently signed into law a measure protecting the religious liberty of Tennessee’s student-athletes. Find more about this law at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee has signed into law a measure protecting the religious liberty of Tennessee’s student athletes.
The new law allows parents to opt their students out of participation in an athletic contest “if the event is on an official school holiday, observed day of worship, or religious holiday.” Moreover, it sets the authority aright by explaining that school officials “may not require a student to attend an athletic event” over the parent’s objection.
Some wonder how necessary such a measure is. They argue that schools already respect the religious choices of student-athletes and do not punish those students who, for religious reasons, sit out of scheduled contests.
That, I suppose, is a debate for the ages. Whether athletes should participate on holy days is not a new issue, just watch the classic movie Chariots of Fire as but one example. Nonetheless, it is good to see the State of Tennessee explicitly stating that its school districts should be mindful that there are things to be respected of higher importance than sports.
Athletics can teach students much about life, diligence, and teamwork. But, life-balance is a critical element taught by sports in school as well. Today’s student-athletes are tomorrow’s business leaders who may be required to accommodate the religious practices of employees. Let us hope they learn the delicate balance of freedom well.
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 Post points 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.
The Supreme Court has indicated that it wants to consider whether people of faith who operate a business will be welcomed to the public square or driven from it. Learn more by visiting FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
The Supreme Court has announced that it will hear the appeal of Masterpiece Cakeshop. You are probably familiar with at least the broad outline of the facts. A baker is approached to create a product that communicates a message he has a moral objection to creating. It is, unfortunately an all too familiar refrain these days. It’s threat to religious freedom and the freedom of speech should be obvious.
Our constitution guarantees the rights of free exercise of religion and free speech for every American. By granting review of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Supreme Court of the United States has indicated that it wants to consider whether people of faith who operate a business will be welcomed to the public square or driven from it.
Americans want a diverse public square that tolerates a variety of beliefs and opinions. We hope the Supreme Court will use this opportunity to protect people like First Liberty clients, Aaron and Melissa Klein, who have been forced out of business, penalized $135,000 and even had a gag order issued against them—all because the State of Oregon would not tolerate them operating their business according to their religious conscience.
No one should lose their livelihood because the government disagrees with their religious beliefs. Let’s hope the Supreme Court makes that abundantly clear.
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. Find out why: 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.
When Phelan Moonsong, a 56-year old pagan priest wanted to wear his goat horns in his driver’s license picture the DMV had to accommodate his religious practice. Not all religious liberty accommodations are a like, and if we protect the religious liberty of one, we must protect it for all. Learn more: FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
Phelan Moonsong doesn’t leave the house without his horns on. You heard that right, Moonsong, a 56-year-old pagan priest wears a pair of goat horns wherever he goes.
Aside from the curious looks at the supermarket, Moonsong’s horns didn’t usually present a problem. That is, until he went to the DMV.
Evidently, the folks at the local DMV didn’t recognize Moonsong’s horns as a part of his religious practice. They wouldn’t let him wear them for his driver’s license picture.
“As a practicing Pagan minister and a priest of Pan,” Moonsong told the Washington Post, “I’ve come to feel very attached to the horns, and they’ve become a part of me and part of my spirituality.”
Soon after news of Moonsong’s goat horns reached a DMV supervisor, an exception was found and he was able to have his picture taken—goat horns and all. An exception for goat horns is the same religious exception most DMV’s use for other religious head coverings, whether they be Jewish yarmulkes, Sikh turbans, Mennonite Bonnets, or even pasta strainers sometimes worn by members of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
It may seem strange to accommodate a man’s religious practice of wearing goat horns in his driver’s license photo, but no one ever said religious liberty would be routine.
Father Joseph Lafleur served the Army Air Corps as a chaplain during World War II and helped bring wounded soldiers to safety. For his bravery and service, the Army Air Corp awarded Lafleur the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and Distinguished Service Cross. Learn how Chaplain Lafleur helped other soldiers even under attack at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Father Joseph Lafleur served the Army Air Corps as a chaplain during World War II.
In 1941, Lafleur dashed about Clark Field in the Philippines amidst bombs, and flying shrapnel, pulling wounded soldiers to safety. For such bravery, the Army Air Corp awarded Chaplain Lafleur the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and Distinguished Service Cross.
Later, while imprisoned by the Japanese for three years, he never stopped his ministry of care. He worked to meet the physical needs of his fellow prisoners, often bartering with the guards for food. Once he confronted a fellow prisoner about stealing rations from other prisoners, even landing two holy punches to pacify the unruly and unrepentant soldier.
In 1944, a US submarine torpedoed Lafleur’s prisoner transport ship. Rather than abandon ship or seek to escape Japanese gunfire and grenades lobbed his direction, the chaplain worked to calm his men and help them find an escape passage. Chaplain Lafleur died as he lived: in faithful service to his fellow man.
Motivated by faith to care for their fellow man, chaplains in our nation’s service routinely steady our servicemen and women before, during, and after battle. Military chaplains navigate the evils of war to bring good to our military.
We honor Chaplain Lafleur—and all chaplains—for their dedication to the souls of our armed forces.
A Satanist was imprisoned and fined after defacing a Jewish academy’s religious objects. But he didn’t understand one important truth about religious freedom. Learn more: FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
Welcome to the First Liberty Briefing. I’m Jeremy Dys.
The students and faculty of the Margolin Hebrew Academy were staying overnight at the Doubletree Hotel in Jackson, Mississippi en route to Gatlinburg, Tennesee. While there, they used a meeting room at the hotel to conduct their Sabbath worship service. A Torah, religious books, and musical instruments were left in the meeting room overnight with the intention of continuing with their worship the following morning.
Justin Baker, a self-professed anti-Christian, anti-Semitic Satanist, was a security guard at the hotel that night and he discovered the religious objects. He spat on the Torah and defaced the books with profanity and phrases including “Hail Satan.”
Baker was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison for his religious discrimination and required to pay $9,999.99 in restitution damages. And, I somehow doubt he’s employed today as a security guard.
Baker may have been tempted to use religious liberty in a perverse attempt to justify his wicked actions, suggesting his adherence to the religion of Satanism motivated his actions. He would be wrong. Religious liberty is not a free pass to do what one likes. It is itself restrained for the good of religion as a whole and the dignity of the person. But, the principals of religious liberty never sanction destroying the property of another.
Rather, religious liberty demands that we respect the religions with which we may disagree. When we break that societal, social compact and deny others the freedom to exercise their religion, it is proper for the authorities to enforce the penalties of the law.
In one of the jails in North Carolina, three Jewish inmates requested permission to meet in a private room to pray and study the Torah. However, they were denied because they had less than ten people to participate, even though inmates of other faiths were permitted to meet and study their religious texts. Learn more: FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
The North Carolina Department of Public Safety housed Danny Loren, aka, Israel Ben-Levi, in one of their jails.
In 2012, Ben-Levi requested permission to meet in a private room with two of his fellow inmates for about an hour each week to pray and study the Torah. That request was denied because the jail administration determined that his group was too small. Inmates meeting for worship without a rabbi or volunteer chaplain had to have a quorum of at least 10 prisoners.
Other religious groups of inmates met with fewer then 10 inmates or having a volunteer supervise them. Only the Orthodox Jewish inmates—all three of them—were denied a meeting opportunity without a rabbi.
He filed a federal lawsuit under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. Both the district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit concluded there was no substantial burden placed upon the free exercise of his religion. And the Supreme Court denied review his case.
Justice Alito, however, dissented from that denial. He said that there was no “indication that a Jewish study group is more likely than a Christian or Muslim group to impede order, compromise inmate relationships, or absorb personnel resources.”
Not every claim asserted under RLUIPA is an automatic winner. But, at least this important law protecting religious liberty gave him his day in court.
When a Elementary school started treating the Good News Club, a chapter of Child Evangelism Fellowship, differently from the other after school clubs and programs, the Child Evangelism Fellowship challenged the school’s decision. Learn more: FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
Have you ever been concerned when you heard someone praying? Sandra McDonald was.
She was the new site coordinator for Jenny Lind Elementary school and responsible for the after-school use of the school building by groups from the community.
Child Evangelism Fellowship had a chapter of its Good News Club meeting at the school. McDonald happened by one day and was “concerned about the religious content of the . . . clubs after overhearing a prayer and reference to Jesus Christ during a . . . meeting.” Ultimately, the club was told that it would be removed from the after-school lineup of club offerings. It would still be able to meet, but the school would no longer provide the same transportation and food services that it provided for the Boy and Girl Scouts, Big Brother/Big Sister, and other clubs meeting at the same time.
Child Evangelism Fellowship challenged that decision and, in Child Evangelism Fellowship of MN v. Minneapolis Special Sch. Dist. No. 1, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit concluded that the school had been unlawfully hostile to a religious club, but favorable to similarly situated secular clubs, when it should’ve been neutral toward all clubs.
School districts should not be concerned when religious clubs act like religious clubs. And, it violates the constitution to treat them differently from other clubs.
The Oklahoma Secondary School Athletic Association (OSSAA) regulates high school sports, allowing public schools membership free of charge while requiring private schools to apply. In 1998 and 1999 the Christian Heritage Academy applied for membership and was denied. The school filed a lawsuit alleging a violation of the First Amendment. Learn more: FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
It’s fair to say that the State of Oklahoma takes high schools sports pretty seriously. The Oklahoma Secondary School Athletic Association, or OSSAA, regulates high school sports. Public schools are admitted freely, but private schools must apply for membership.
In 1998, Christian Heritage Academy, known widely for its 8-man football team, applied to be a member of OSSAA, but were denied. They applied again in 1999, but the majority of members rejected them a second time. That was enough for them and the school filed a lawsuit in 2003 alleging that they had been denied the equal protection of the law and deprived of their First Amendment freedoms.
The court concluded that OSSAA’s rules were discriminatory. By stating that a majority of members could simply reject religious schools over secular schools for any reason or none at all, the court found there was no legitimate purpose served. OSSAA members could, the court noted, reject applications for membership “for any reason, including dislike or distrust.”
Of course, the court was willing to allow OSSAA to chart its own membership, but it had to be fair. Creating a system that allowed ample room for members to reject religious schools just because they did not like them was not enough.
The court’s point is clear: the First Amendment requires precision. When the state acts without precision, rights can be quickly abused.
When a lone Jewish Sailor aboard a U.S. Naval vessel reached out and asked for help in celebrating the Jewish High Holy Days in 1956, the Navy and Army made it happen. The celebrating of the Holy Days that year was made possible, high above the artic circle thanks to the United States military. Learn more: FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
It was September 1956 and Elihu Schimmel was cold and lonely. He was stationed aboard a U.S. Naval vessel above the arctic circle. His location would account for his being cold, but he didn’t think there was much to be done about his loneliness.
Rosh Hashanah was set to begin and, aside from another Jewish sailor, Schimmel was several friends short of a minyan, a quorum of 10 Jewish men necessary for services. But, Schimmel knew there were others scattered about the fleet in the coldest theater of the Cold War.
He decided to ask the powers that be if they would help. The Navy, and the Army hitching a ride, enthusiastically agreed. The order went out that those wishing to join Schimmel aboard ship would be transported—by seaplane, launch, or helicopter—for the observance of the Jewish High Holy Days.
When the time came, 10 Jewish service men showed up—exactly enough. The Navy went further, announcing at sunset that the services were about to begin and ordering all aboard to show reverence by putting out their cigarettes.
Schimmel served out his time as a naval medical officer, but he would never forget that celebration, high above the Arctic Circle, made possible courtesy of the United States military.
And, we now won’t forget how the United States military honored the religious liberty of its service members.
To most people, a pay raise suggests the recognition of hard work and appreciation from your company. However, after organizing his fellow law professors into a union, Sheldon Gelman lost committee appointments and soon his wife, Jean Lifter, was fired. Gelman received a raise, but the number caught everyone’s attention. Learn more: FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
You probably have a similar opinion about pay raises that Sheldon Gelman and Jean Lifter did: they’re symbolic. Do a good job, and an increase in pay suggests that the company is grateful for the effort.
Gelman and Lifter were law professors at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. Gelman organized his fellow law professors into a union with the support of Lifter, his wife, and over the objections of management. The next Spring, the faculty, Gelman included, received a pay raise, but Gelman lost some committee appointments and, soon after, Lifter was terminated altogether.
One wouldn’t think much of it, but the dollar amount on the pay increase caught everyone’s attention. It was too intriguing to be coincidental. The newly organized union faculty received a raise of $666. Taken alongside Gelman’s loss of committee influence and Lifter’s termination, the numerals seemed to send a message. Gelman and Lifter sued alleging retaliation against a protected First Amendment freedom.
But, the Unite States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit wasn’t buying it. There were simple explanations for the pay raise amounting to apocalyptic numbers. And, while Gelman’s union organizing was certainly protected by the First Amendment, there were no facts present to suggest the law school retaliated against him for doing so.
The lesson here is clear: if your paycheck shows the supposed “Mark of the Beast,” don’t assume your employer violated the First Amendment.
The ministerial exception is an important tool that protects the rights of religious employers to determine who is fit to perpetuate the mission and message of a religious organization. So when Maria Nolen claimed she had been wrongly fired, the court ruled otherwise, protecting the Catholic Diocese’s right to employ whom they saw fit. Learn More: FirstLiberty.org/Briefing
Maria Nolen and St. Ann Catholic School had a falling out.
Nolen thinks her religious employer fired her from her job as principal of the school for speaking out against what she viewed as racial discrimination. The Diocese of Birmingham, Alabama, that operates St. Ann’s, said that Nolen simply wasn’t the right person to advance their religious mission.
Nolen’s responsibilities were pretty clear. As principal, she was responsible for implementing an educational atmosphere charged with the Catholic beliefs of her employer. That included monitoring lesson plans to make sure the teaching of the church was reflected in the lessons of the classroom, leading school prayers, and organizing religious activities for the students and faculty.
The court quickly determined that there was “little doubt that Nolen’s role as principal . . . falls within the general ambit of the ministerial exception.” Although she lacked the formal title of “minister,” her role clearly conveyed the church’s message and carried out its mission. Therefore, the court could not interfere with what amounts to a decision by a religious body as to who best perpetuates its religious message and mission.
The ministerial exception is an important doctrine that protects the unique aspects of a religious employer, giving relief to religious organizations from the rigors of employment law that may hamper their unique religious mission.