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First Liberty Briefing

First Liberty Briefing is an exclusive podcast hosted by First Liberty Institute’s Deputy General Counsel Jeremy Dys. In about 90-seconds, once a week, Jeremy recalls the stories that have shaped America’s religious liberty, from the founding era to current legal battles and more. It’s an insider’s look at the stories, cases, people, and laws that have made America the world’s leader in protecting religious liberty.
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Aug 24, 2018

The Supreme Court recently rejected the appeal to address a circuit court split over whether county commissioners can open their meetings with prayer, despite the longstanding tradition. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


“This Court’s Establishment Clause jurisprudence is in disarray.” Those are the words of Justice Clarence Thomas, dissenting from the Supreme Court’s decision to reject the appeals of two different county commissions who open their meetings with prayer.

The commissioners in Jackson County, Michigan and Rowan County, North Carolina have followed a longstanding tradition in our country of opening legislative meetings in prayer.  While the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit said that individual commissioners leading prayer is constitutional, the Fourth Circuit disagreed.

We know from past decisions of the Supreme Court that the lawmakers could hire a chaplain to lead the prayers or have a local volunteer pray.  So, why not the lawmakers themselves?  As Justice Thomas observed, the only real difference is “the person leading the prayer.”

For now the conflict between the Fourth and Sixth Circuits remains. Lawmakers may lawfully lead prayers in Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and Michigan, but the Fourth Circuit decision prevents lawmakers in South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, or West Virginia from praying.

We hope other circuits will follow the reasoning of the Sixth Circuit because, as Justice Thomas said in his dissent, “The Fourth Circuit’s decision is both unfaithful to our precedents and ahistorical . . . as long as this country has had legislative prayer, legislators have led it.”

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

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