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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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Now displaying: March, 2020
Mar 30, 2020

The religious freedom rights of our men and women in the U.S. military is constantly coming under attack, and First Liberty is fighting back each and every time. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


You have heard me refer to Mikey Weinstein and his deceptively-named Military Religious Freedom Foundation on this program more than once. 

Over the last couple of months, this group of anti-faith activists has certainly shown a dogged resolve to brazenly attack the right of our service members to live out their faith.

After the MRFF sent a legal demand to the Department of Defense regarding our client, Shields of Strength, a Christian company that graciously provides replica dog tags with inspirational Bible verses to active-duty service members, veterans and their families who want them, we had to take action.  We’ve now sent two demand letters on the topic—one to the Army and another to the Navy—insisting the DOD respect our client’s religious liberty.

But that’s not all.  Before Christmas of 2019, the group complained about an inflatable Santa Claus on an Army base, claiming that the display was unconstitutional because it stood wearing military camouflage, a lapel reading “Christmas Force” and held a small sign with the phrase, “God Bless America.”  Not only that, they also called out the Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, CO for selling Jesus-themed candy canes.

These may sound silly, but we can’t risk not taking them seriously.  Just as our service members never give up when fighting for our freedoms, First Liberty will never give up on our mission to fight for their First Freedom.

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

Mar 23, 2020

All school organizations should be treated the same. When school officials at the University of Iowa exempted non-religious school organizations from its human rights policy and not groups like InterVarsity, they were held personally liable. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Holding government officials personally liable for violating an organizations religious liberty seems harsh, but is an important—and difficult—job of the federal courts.

At the University of Iowa, university officials exempted a number of groups from their human rights policy.  Sports clubs could distinguish by gender.  The military dental club restricted membership by military members.  Even acapella groups meeting on campus were allowed to restrict membership by gender.

But, the university told the InterVaristy Christian Fellowship chapter that requiring its leadership to adhere to historic religious convictions on human sexuality was wrong and resulted in the club being deregistered.

The club sued the university and the court held that not only did the University violate the law, but the university officials who investigated the student group were to be held personally liable for the constitutional violation.  In civil rights litigation, if a plaintiff demonstrates that a state official acting under color of law deprives a citizen of any of the rights and privileges found in our Constitution, courts may hold them personally liable. 

Holding university or government entities liable is one thing, but when the full weight of federal law lands on the backs of individual bad actors, it has a deterring effect.  Moreover, reminding state officials that they have a responsibility to protect the religious liberty rights of Americans makes them all the more cautious to come close to violating our first freedoms.

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

Mar 16, 2020

Despite an article in Christianity Today claiming tax exemptions are leading churches to be more parasitical than independent, tax exemptions help to protect and promote the autonomy of churches. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


The January 2020 edition of Christianity Today features the headline, “The Hidden Cost of Tax Exemption.”  The author makes his case for why American churches may be better off for refusing what he calls the “government largesse” of tax exemptions.

The article portrays churches in America as “basically parasitical” with pastors feeding on the benefits their churches drain from their host community without returning much noticeable benefit. The story contends that the appeal of the tax exemption is rooted in a historical desire to propagate racism and further discrimination against the LGBTQ community.

The story ends with these words, “It might not be such a bad thing to lose tax-exempt status . . . The true church of God, after all, is not reliant on its special status in the tax code. We can walk by faith and not by government largesse.”

In truth, rather than make churches more ideologically faithful, the loss of tax exemption for churches would invade upon church autonomy and curb religious liberty. 

The “true church of God” is less a target to be taxed or a parasite to be crushed and more a quiet blessing upon a world in need of the peace they preach and acts of service they humbly perform. A local gathering of religious believers should be viewed as a human right of religious association and free exercise worthy of protection, rather than a potential stream of revenue.

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

Mar 9, 2020

Judge Thomas Griffith’s ruling in Duquesne University of the Holy Spirit v. NLRB is a great example of what the Establishment Clause is supposed to do, limit the role of government in the affairs of religious groups. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


The reach of the First Amendment is extensive in securing the religious liberty of individuals and organizations, including colleges and universities. 

Recently, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued its decision in Duquesne University of the Holy Spirit v. NLRB.  When Duquesne, a Catholic university, refused to bargain with a group of adjunct faculty seeking to unionize, the National Labor Relations Board stepped in, recommending that the union be certified. But, the D.C. Circuit Court rejected the NLRB’s jurisdiction over the Catholic university. 

Judge Thomas Griffith, authoring the opinion, notes that our Constitution restrains government agencies from excessive involvement with religious organizations. “The Establishment Clause,” he writes “limits governmental involvement in the affairs of religious groups, and the Free Exercise Clause safeguards the freedom to practice religion, whether as an individual or as part of a group.”

That is critical, he said, because it means religious institutions retain the independence required to pursue religious activity, inculcate its religious identity, and teach according to its religious tradition. After all, the Constitution is meant to restrain government, not empower its creep into every aspect of our lives.

The importance of this decision cannot be understated. Its immediate impact should be welcomed by religious colleges and universities around the country. Furthering the autonomy of religious institutions to be unapologetically religious and free from government intrusion is an unambiguous goal of the First Amendment.

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

Mar 2, 2020

On Religious Freedom Day 2020, President Trump announced new initiatives that his administration is taking to preserve religious freedom in America. Learn more about these three key initiatives at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


On Religious Freedom Day 2020, we celebrated a major victory for the rights of students, teachers, coaches, public employees, and religious organizations who want to freely live out their faith in school, at work, and in ministry.

Two of our clients, Coach Joe Kennedy and Hannah Allen, joined our president, Kelly Shackelford, in the Oval Office of the White House while President Trump announced new initiatives aimed at preserving religious freedom.

First, the U.S. Department of Education issued updated guidelines on prayer and religious expression in public schools. The updated guidelines expand upon previous guidelines and will help students freely live out their faith, without as much interference by school officials.  No student should fear discrimination for simply expressing their faith while at school.

Second, the White House announced that nine federal agencies proposed new administrative rules to ensure that religious organizations and their secular counterparts are treated equally by the federal government. Religious organizations deserve to be treated just like secular organizations.

Finally, the Office of Management and Budget issued new guidance requiring that the administration of federal grants is consistent with the 2017 Supreme Court case of Trinity Lutheran.  Religious organizations should never be disqualified from federal grants just because they are religious.

These actions by the Trump administration are an important step in helping end religious discrimination, while ensuring people of faith will be treated equally when they seek to partner with federal or state governments to provide services to communities nationwide.

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

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