First Liberty Briefing



First Liberty Briefing is an exclusive podcast hosted by First Liberty Institutes Senior Counsel Jeremy Dys.In about 90-seconds, three times a week, Jeremy recalls the stories that have shaped Americas religious liberty, from the founding era to current legal battles and more. Its an insiders look at the stories, cases, people, and laws that have made America the worlds leader in protecting religious liberty.


  • Police Ban Blind Women from Local Park

    29/06/2020 Duração: 01min

    Rhode Island Police banned an elderly blind woman from visiting her local park because she was handing out copies of the Gospel of John. Learn more at Gail Blair was a nurse at Johns Hopkins.  But, she walked away from nursing in 1989 and toward an unexpected encounter with the police. A degenerative condition that causes gradual vision loss drove Gail away from nursing.  At just 37 years of age, she could no longer see.  She and her husband moved to a place just about a block away from Wilcox Park and Westerly Public Library.  She learned how to independently navigate the sidewalks that lead to and from her home and sit in the park. As passersby strolled past in this 10-acre park, Gail would engage them in conversation, telling them about Jesus and sharing with them a copy of the Gospel of John.  In 2019, park authorities accused this 63-year old blind woman of “accosting” park goers and blamed her for littering when they found copies of the Gospel of John on the ground.  They ask

  • “So Help Me God” is Constitutional

    22/06/2020 Duração: 01min

    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 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

  • The Supreme Court Weighs In On COVID-19

    15/06/2020 Duração: 01min

    South Bay United Pentecostal Church in California asked the United States Supreme Court to invalidate a state ban on the size of religious gatherings of more than ten people.  Learn more at The COVID-19 pandemic gave the Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court something to think about—and not just washing their hands. In South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom, a church asked the court to invalidate the State of California’s ban on religious gatherings of more than ten people.  On the eve of the Supreme Court’s review of that claim, Governor Gavin Newsom expanded that limitation to 25% of a church’s occupancy or 100 people, whichever is fewer.  Four of the Justices agreed that California’s restrictions treated places of worship less favorably than comparable secular businesses.  Justice Kavanaugh, writing for Justices Thomas and Gorsuch, wondered why churches were required to cap attendance at 100 people or 25% when “factories, offices, supermarkets, restaurants, retail stores, ph

  • If You Can Go to Home Depot, You Can Go to Church

    08/06/2020 Duração: 01min

    Governing public health is an important task, but it is not more important than following the Constitution. If people can practice social distancing and go to Kroger or Home Depot, then they should be allowed to gather in a similar fashion for their weekly religious service. Learn more at “But what of that enduring Constitution in times like these? Does it mean something different because society is desperate for a cure or prescriptions?” Those are among the opening words of Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove, a federal judge of a federal district court in Kentucky, as he issued a temporary restraining order on behalf of Tabernacle Baptist Church.  We filed for a TRO in that case because Kentucky’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak had prevented in-person religious gatherings, but did not restrict other secular gatherings like it.  So, while Kentuckians could visit their local grocery store or hardware store, following proper social distancing measures, they could not employ the same s

  • Governor Allows Grocery Shopping, But Not Church Worship

    01/06/2020 Duração: 01min

    Governor Andy Beshear and others have been preventing in person worship services despite churches’ willingness to adhere to social distancing and appropriate hygiene guidelines while allowing gyms, stores and the like to re-open. Learn more at It seems that some state officials think that Americans who go to church only go to church.  Maybe that’s an overstatement, but it at least appears that Governor Andy Beshear, and others, treat religious Americans differently.  The lockdowns associated with COVID-19 suggest that some officials think that Americans are capable of shopping safely, but religious Americans are incapable of worshipping safely.  In a per curiam decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit wondered at this distinction.  The litigants, church members, simply wanted to be treated equally.  The court said, “They are willing to practice social distancing.  They are willing to follow any hygiene requirements.” And, yet, the Court explained, “The Governor has

  • Lawsuit Immunity for Houses of Worship and Nonprofits

    25/05/2020 Duração: 01min

    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 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 minis

  • The First Amendment Is Not On Hold During a Pandemic

    18/05/2020 Duração: 01min

    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 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 ser

  • Drive-In Church Services Under Fire

    11/05/2020 Duração: 01min

    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 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-i

  • COVID-19 and Religious Freedom

    07/05/2020 Duração: 01min

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

  • Justice of the Peace Who Found a Solution for All Is Still Under Fire

    27/04/2020 Duração: 01min

    Despite doing her best to find a solution that would reconcile her religious beliefs while serving the needs of her community, Justice of the Peace, Dianne Hensley is still under fire for not personally performing a same-sex marriage due to her religious beliefs. Learn more at Dianne Hensley is a Justice of the Peace in Waco, Texas.  Since the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage, she has been looking for a way to reconcile her religious beliefs while serving the needs of her community. She knows that her convictions prevent her from officiating gay weddings, but she understands that many of her gay friends do not share that conviction. If she, like most of the local justices of the peace stopped officiating weddings altogether, those without ready access to low-cost alternatives suffer most. So, she assembled a referral list of wedding officiants, including a walk-in wedding chapel just 3 blocks from the courthouse.  That arrangement worked, until the Texas

  • Espinoza v. Montana Will Determine the Future of the Blaine Amendments

    20/04/2020 Duração: 01min

    Despite long standing amendments like the Blaine Amendment, religious organizations should be just as deserving of participating in public programs as anyone else. Learn more at We have discussed the history of anti-Catholic Blaine Amendments on this program before.  If you recall, it was Senator James Blaine who, in the mid-1800’s, proposed language ultimately adopted within state constitutions that prevents government dollars flowing to religious institutions, even to this day. It’s a curious thing that, in 2020 two organizations, one of whom is charitably motivated because of its secularity and the other by its religious convictions, yet only the secular organization may qualify for participation in public programs. Government officials need not rely upon the overall ability, educational or professional qualifications, financial stability, or facilities of a religious organization to decide whether it may participate. Rather, they may exclude religious organizations because they

  • States Cannot Force Citizens to Violate their Religious Conscience

    13/04/2020 Duração: 01min

    Despite both Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor cases, states like California are continuing to try and subvert the Weldon Amendment, and force citizens to violate their conscience. Learn more at The United States Department of Health and Human Services recently announced through its Office of Civil Rights that HHS is pursuing an enforcement action against the State of California.  You see, something known as the Weldon Amendment guards against states accepting federal dollars to require those using its health insurance to fund abortion services. It seems that the State of California has required The Guadalupanas Sisters, a Catholic order of religious women headquartered in Los Angeles to fund abortion services through the premiums they pay in insurance services. Now, if the State of California fails to provide assurances to HHS that it will end the practice, the federal agency plans to refer the state on for further investigation, if not prosecution. You would think th

  • Words Matter

    06/04/2020 Duração: 01min

    The opinions written by judges are important in all cases, but when it comes to religious freedom cases, the words and manner in which a case is written can either expand religious freedom or lessen it. Learn more at The measure of a federal judge may be what he or she writes.  Or maybe that a judge writes.  Judge James Ho of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit never seems to miss the chance.  And his opinions are worth reading. Take for instance his separate opinion in Horvath v. City of Leander.  While he mostly agreed with the majority’s decision, he raised concerns that the lower court relied upon Employment Division v. Smith, a case often relied on to curtail the First Amendment’s promise of the free exercise of religion. That led him to articulating the importance of words, pushing back against efforts to reduce the promise of the Free Exercise Clause to the mere “freedom of worship.”  Properly understood, Judge Ho helpfully explains, the Founders intended the Fir

  • First Liberty Fights to Defend Religious Liberty in the Military

    30/03/2020 Duração: 01min

    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 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 gro

  • Government Officials Held Personally Liable for Violating Religious Freedoms

    23/03/2020 Duração: 01min

    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 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 h

  • Tax Exemption Helps Religious Freedom

    16/03/2020 Duração: 01min

    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 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

  • The Proper Role of the Establishment Clause in Practice

    09/03/2020 Duração: 02min

    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 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 E

  • 3 Ways the White House is Working to Preserve Religious Freedom

    02/03/2020 Duração: 01min

    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  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 f

  • Orthodox Jewish Community Will Have Their Day In Court

    24/02/2020 Duração: 01min

    After two years since First Liberty filed a lawsuit against the Village of Airmont, New York, the orthodox Jewish community will finally have its day in court. Get the full update and learn more at In 2018, we filed a lawsuit alleging that government officials in the Village of Airmont, New York and the Suffern Central School District had engaged in a deliberate effort to dissuade Orthodox Jewish residents from staying in or moving to the Village of Airmont. Town officials required multiple rounds of permitting and endless inspections, costing tens of thousands of dollars for Orthodox Jewish residents to be able to use their own homes for religious meetings.  They were even threatened with criminal sanctions by the Town of Airmont. Even when presented with the prospect of the United States Department of Justice weighing in against them, town officials would not relent, filing motions to dismiss the legal action.  In January of 2020, Judge Vincent Briccetti issued an opinion, denyin

  • Biased ABA Smears Lawrence VanDyke at Confirmation Hearing

    17/02/2020 Duração: 01min

    No one can deny Lawrence VanDyke’s excellent credentials for the federal court system. Attempting to deface his reputation nonetheless, the ABA and its progressive counterparts in the Senate questioned his impartiality toward LGBTQ litigants due to his faith. Learn more at President Trump and I have a common friend in Lawrence VanDyke.  I know Lawrence from the time he’s spent volunteering with First Liberty Institute and as solicitor general of both Nevada and Montana.  President Trump nominated him to an open seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. As you might guess, he took a few shots during his confirmation hearing.  This time, the real culprit seems to be the American Bar Association.  Somehow, the ABA is perceived to be a neutral evaluator of judicial nominees.  So, rating Lawrence as “not qualified” is a severe blow to his nomination.  When senators inquired if he would be fair toward LGBTQ litigants, Lawrence’s emotions got the better of him.  Choking bac

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