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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: May, 2020
May 25, 2020

First Liberty Institute is asking Congress to provide immunity from lawsuits to houses of worship and religious nonprofits during this world-wide pandemic. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


All of us are hopeful for the day everyone is declared immune from the threat of COVID-19.  Recently, hundreds of pastors and religious leaders sent a letter to members of Congress asking for a different kind of immunity: from lawsuits.

As Kelly Shackelford, our firm’s president said in written testimony submitted to the Senate’s Committee on the Judiciary, “Whether Orthodox Jewish synagogues in New York, inner-city churches in Houston, or faith-based non-profits providing spiritual and humanitarian relief from coast to coast, these religious organizations and their leaders are each concerned about a new threat to our nation’s faith communities: a swarm of lawsuits blaming houses of worship and religious ministries for any person who attended a religious gathering or received food or shelter from a charity or ministry and subsequently contracted COVID-19.”

Sure, the lawsuits might ultimately prove meritless, but should churches, synagogues, and others really have to litigate these claims?  That’s why we worked to spearhead a letter signed by nearly 300 religious leaders around the country, asking Congress to include immunity from lawsuit for America’s houses of worship as they reopen. 

Churches, synagogues, and America’s houses of worship have provided critical care, comfort, and calm in the midst of the uncertainty caused by a worldwide pandemic.  They should not be punished for their many kindnesses by a wave of lawsuits when this is all over.

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

May 18, 2020

Judge Justin Walker sides with religious freedom when Mayor Greg Fischer of Louisville, Kentucky targeted religious worship by prohibiting drive-in church services on Easter Sunday. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


Easter is a special day on the Christian calendar.  But for On Fire Church in Louisville, Kentucky in the Spring of 2020, it would be more than special; it would be memorable.

They intended to hold a drive-in Easter service, since the COVID-19 pandemic prevented them from meeting in person. But, Mayor Greg Fischer forbade it.  Actually, the mayor said the police might attend too, but only to write down license plates and force atte­ndees into a 14-day quarantine. 

First Liberty sought a temporary restraining order late on Good Friday.  Less than 24-hours later, Judge Justin Walker granted the TRO, explaining that the mayor’s actions were “violating the Free Exercise Clause ‘beyond all question.’” 

He noted that “Louisville . . . targeted religious worship by prohibiting drive-in church services, while not prohibiting a multitude of other non-religious drive-ins and drive-throughs—including . . . drive-through liquor stores.”  Concluding, “if beer is ‘essential,’ so is Easter.” 

Judge Walker’s opinion recalled the experience of the Pilgrims who, he said, understood that, “No place, not even the unknown, is worse than any place whose state forbids the exercise of your sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Even in times of worldwide pandemic, the First Amendment does not hand in a doctor’s note and take the day off.  Rather, it preserves and defends the first of our freedoms given to us by God himself.

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

May 11, 2020

As large group gatherings have been placed on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic, Pastor Charles Hamilton from Greenville, Mississippi, prepared to preach to his usual Sunday crowd via a drive-in church service. However, the Mayor suspended these gatherings and it took two lawsuits and an intervention for the discrimination to stop. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


It was a warm spring Thursday evening in Greenville, Mississippi.  One would have said it was a perfectly normal evening for King James Bible Baptist Church to host a Bible study, but things were hardly normal.

A highly communicable virus had infected the world.  Everyone was shut down, or so it seemed.  The town’s mayor had even cancelled all gatherings in the town, including religious gatherings.

Still, Pastor Charles Hamilton made adjustments and readied himself to preach to a bunch of cars.  Well, he meant to preach to people, but they were confined to their cars.  That week, the mayor of Greenville had even prohibited so-called drive-in church services where parishioners drove to the church, parked in the lot, and stayed in their cars, listening through the closed doors and windows to hear Pastor Hamilton preach.

It was a strange time.  Nonetheless, Pastor Charles Hamilton was shocked when he walked outside.  The entire police force was there, piling out of their cruisers.  One officer rushed to inform Pastor Hamilton that his rights had been “suspended.” 

Pastor Hamilton thanked the officer, picked up his Bible, and continued to preach anyway. 

We don’t know what the officers thought about the sermon that evening, but we do know this: it took two lawsuits and the intervention of the Attorney General of the United States to get Greenville’s mayor to stop discriminating against Pastor Hamilton. 

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

May 7, 2020

Are the recent restrictions imposed by state officials in response to COVID-19 a violation of your religious freedom? Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


A global pandemic has gripped the nation’s attention in the Spring of 2020 and rightly so.  In response, some state officials are imposing restrictions upon the gathering of large numbers of people in one place at a time. 

Are such restrictions Constitutional? As my law professors used to say: it depends.

Temporary, evenly applied restrictions on religious gatherings may be permissible.  Government may not substantially burden the free exercise of religion unless it has a compelling reason for doing so.  But, even then, government must use the least burdensome approach that achieves that compelling interest.

So, temporary restrictions to reduce the spread of a global pandemic is almost certainly a compelling reason, so long as the government is not treating religious institutions unfairly compared with how it treats other comparable gatherings.

Those restrictions need to be applied evenly and temporarily.  For instance, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s famous threat to shut down synagogues who disobey his orders would almost certainly violate the constitution if he attempted to enforce it. 

Likewise, Mayor Errick Simmons, of Greenville, Mississippi, was wrong and unfair to send the entire police force to surround our clients at King James Bible Baptist Church for having a drive-in church service, but leave the local drive-in hamburger joint alone.

The Constitution knows no exception for a pandemic.  Even in times of a worldwide pandemic, it’s good to know religious liberty is protected.

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


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