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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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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.

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