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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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Jun 22, 2020

A newly naturalized citizen, Olga Paule Perrier-Bilbo sued Congress claiming that the phrase “so help me God” in her naturalization ceremony was a violation of the Establishment Clause. However, the courts did not agree. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


America’s newest citizens start their official lives as Americans with the words, “so help me God.”  One new citizen took advantage of her new rights as an American to sue Congress.

Olga Paule Perrier-Bilbo sued Congress claiming that those four little words—"so help me God”—violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S Constitution.  She asked a court to invalidate the phrase and enjoin its use during her naturalization ceremony.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit rejected that request.

The First Circuit concluded that, “Recent developments in Establishment Clause jurisprudence . . . suggest that the mere presence of a historical pattern now carries more weight.” 

One of those “recent developments” was First Liberty’s case at the Supreme Court of the United States: American Legion v. AHA.  Judge Juan Torruella, writing for the First Circuit, concluded that American Legion approves the use of “so help me God” because such words are “a ceremonial, longstanding practice” that lack “a discriminatory intent” and, therefore, bear a presumption of constitutionality.  

Thus, thanks to the American Legion case, and the analysis of Judge Torruella, these four words that have joined the 136 other words to make up this nearly 100-year old oath will be among the first words America’s newest citizens get to say well in to the future.

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

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