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Category Archives: First Amendment

Danbury Pastor Goes Online To Battle Coronavirus, And Wins – Danbury, CT Patch

Posted: April 11, 2020 at 7:21 pm

DANBURY, CT In the week before the holiest day on the Christian calendar, some pastors have been defiantly flouting the social distancing recommendations of public health officials by continuing to hold services. In some states, where recent laws passed in the wake of the new coronavirus limit the size of assemblies, this has resulted in arrests.

Joe Vassak, pastor of Northeast Baptist Church in Danbury, is having none of that. Vassak says that he started "paying attention" to the threat of the new coronavirus around the end of February, and mandated his congregation stop shaking hands during services then.

"I don't have the answers for all of society or even for the City of Danbury," Vassak said. "But my responsibility is to the group of people who call me 'pastor.' I encouraged them to stay home."

The following week, as the virus quickly spread, the pastor mandated a total "no contact" rule, and stopped activities like Sunday School classes where large groups met inside. About three weeks ago, the church stopped meeting for public Sunday services completely.

"I took everything we did in all three weekly services and put it on video and loaded it up on YouTube, and requested that everybody (in the congregation) watch it at the same time," the pastor told Patch. He had hoped to livestream all the services, but discovered that his Wi-Fi lacked sufficient bandwidth. He said he had made arrangements for an IT services company to fix that right before the State put travel restrictions on non-essential services.

Vassak, who celebrated his 25th year as pastor at NBC last year, also hosts a radio show on WLAD Sunday mornings from 7-7:30. His weekly podcasts are distributed by Apple and iHeartMedia. He's no stranger to technology. But just like the operator of any small brick-and-mortar business forced to "go virtual" in the Age of COVID-19, he had concerns he might lose some of his regulars at 101 East Pembroke Road when he went brought everything onto the internet.

God, as it turns out, provides.

"We actually get twice as many views of the videos as people who used to show up!" the pastor said.

Vassak says he shares the same "concerns over the First Amendment" that are leading to jail time for some of his colleagues, and he is following the debate very closely.

"If circumstances don't line up with what they're asking us to do at some point, then I'm prepared to do what I have to do to make sure nobody's pulling a fast one on us," Vassak said. "But I don't think that's what's going on now."

In the meantime, he says he remains focused on leading his flock to the other side of the pandemic healthy, alive and connected. And the absolute only way out of this, Vassak says, is prayerfully. He says he and his congregation are investing extra time and effort to prayer since the start of the outbreak.

"That's my message: Pray. Trust the Lord," Vassak said. "As far as our country goes, pray for our leaders, pray for the protection and healing of our people, and for the Lord to turn our hearts towards Him."

There's a fine art to this age-old cooking technique. Here's how to get perfect hard-boiled eggs this Easter.

By Megan VerHelst, Patch Staff

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NWS: High wind watches issued for the area – Salina Post

Posted: at 7:21 pm

Lata Nott


Our COVID-19 crisis has been escalating quickly and with it, the potential collision with the First Amendment over issues involving religious liberty and the right of assembly.

Last month, we thought that stopping the spread of the virus was a matter of washing our hands thoroughly and avoiding touching our faces.

Now, were unable to assemble in groups and many of us are confined to our homes.

Three weeks ago,President Trumpdreamed of packed churches on Easter Sunday. At the time, many medical experts found that overly optimistic (or as one put it,not rooted in reality.) Now, with theU.S. approaching 430,000 cases and the death toll nearing 15,000, it seems like an impossibility. Or at least, it should.

But as recently as this past Saturday, President Trump wasfloating the possibilityof making a special allowance for churches to have Easter services. Hes not the only politician to contemplate loosening the reins for the holidays. South CarolinaGov. Henry McMasterrecently issued a stay-at-home orderbut still recommended that Easter services continue. Kansas, Michigan and New Mexico currently exempt worship services from their orders prohibiting gatherings in large groups.

The fact that some government officials think this is worth the risk reflects the push back weve seen from some religious leaders ever since state and local governments started prohibiting large gatherings and shutting down non-essential businesses, including churches, synagogues and other houses of worship. For example, Louisiana pastorTony Spellhascontinued to lead in-person services, calling the closure of his Life Tabernacle Church religious persecution andquestioning whyretailers were deemed essential but churches not. We hold our religious rights dear and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says,Spell said in an interview.

But while Spell is framing the states order as a violation of his First Amendment rights, thats not actually the case. Along with being rooted in the publics best interest, its also important to note that the orders restricting the size of gatherings and shutting down non-essential businesses are, at this time, the least restrictive options available to protect public health. In short, this means theyre almost certainly constitutional but granting an exemption to one of these orders for houses of worship may not be.

The First Amendments Establishment Clause requires that the government treat secular and religious organizations equally, without favoring one over the other. AsRachel Laser, president and chief executive officer of Americans United for Separation of Church and State,put it, [W]hen health experts and public officials determine that large gatherings must be cancelled for the public good, we must follow their lead and apply these guidelines to secular and religious gatherings equally. The Constitution not only permits it, butdemandsit. Such restrictions do not violate religious freedom; they ensure religious freedom is not misused in ways that risk peoples lives.

This week I had the pleasure of moderating a (virtual) Freedom Forum panel onreligious freedom in the time of COVID-19and discussing these issues and more with legal expertsRichard FoltinandMaggie Garrett, atheist thought leaderMandisa Thomasand seminary-trained religious liberty advocateCharles Watson Jr.One question from the audience that stood out to me was from an attendee who wondered if there was more to the conversation than just religious freedom versus public health. Did these two values have to be on opposing sides? Werent there things that religious communities could proactively do in service of public health starting with asking their members to stay at home, of course, but going beyond that to encourage them to volunteer their time and monetary resources, donate blood and generally provide assistance to the most vulnerable members of our population? You can find thefull webinaron the Freedom Forums YouTube channel.

It was a reminder to me of the crucial charitable function that religious organizations have often served in crisis situations. As Baylor University professorsByron JohnsonandThomas Kiddpoint out,When it comes to confronting contemporary social turmoil, communities of faith have always played an important role in working toward solutions. Many religious organizations are doing this right now. Leaders from the National Association of Evangelicals andChristianity Todaypublished a joint statementreminding people that God cannot be consigned to a place. They added: It is one thing to risk your own life in order to worship together in person; it is quite another to risk the lives of countless others, when so many churches are finding creative and compelling ways to carry on in worship and community from a distance. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saintssuspended all services worldwide on March 12(a lifetime ago in the COVID-19 timeline). Houses of worship have been providing crucial material and social support to those who suddenly find themselves in need of it.

As the pandemic continues, my hope is that these narratives become more common and stories of church leaders risking the lives of their congregants seem like a distant memory.

Lata Nott is a Freedom Forum Fellow. Contact her via email at[emailprotected], or follow her on Twitter at@LataNott.

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NWS: High wind watches issued for the area - Salina Post

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‘Free Speech’ Supporter Jerry Falwell Jr. Thinks It’s Criminal To Report On His Dumb And Dangerous Response To The Pandemic – Techdirt

Posted: at 7:21 pm

from the that-ain't-free-speech,-champ dept

Jerry Falwell Jr., the nepotistic hire to be President of the religious extremist Liberty University, has long pretended to be an avid free speech supporter, especially on the campus for his University, where he has declared:

There have been sensational stories written about Liberty and censorship, rumors that we do not allow opposing views or First Amendment rights. But that is far from true. We uphold freedom and put its ideals into practice.

Apparently, that commitment to freedom and First Amendment rights gets completely thrown into the garbage the second some reporters write stories about Falwell's ridiculously dangerous decisions in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. A few weeks back, when most of the rest of the country was, smartly, moving into lockdown mode, Falwell, reopened school and told Liberty University students to come back to campus after spring break -- a move that local officials described as "reckless."

Soon after that, both the NY Times and ProPublica ran stories talking to students on campus who were scared and nervous about everything. If you read both of the stories, they're both more than fair to Falwell, and provide plenty of clarity in why he made the decision and the various steps that Liberty University had taken to try to keep campus open while keeping social distancing rules (though, they both show that not everyone was following them). To be clear, I wouldn't say that either of the articles paint Falwell in a particularly bad light, beyond reminding everyone how frequently and vehemently Falwell played down the threat of COVID-19 in the earlier weeks.

Falwell seemed particularly angry at the NY Times piece though the story seems to keep changing as to why. There were claims that the Times quoted a doctor who claimed to run health services at the University, but that the University then released a press release saying he had no role at the University -- but in looking at that press release as I type this, I no longer see the claim that he had no role, only that he was misquoted. Similarly, the NY Times piece appears to be quoting Eppes accurately, and it's the Liberty press release that (at least as of right now) misrepresents what the Times piece claimed.

Either way, apparently, Falwell really doesn't care much at all about the First Amendment that he claims to support on campus, because earlier this week, he somehow convinced a magistrate judge to issue arrest warrants for two of the reporters: Alec MacGillis, who wrote the ProPublica story, and Julia Rendleman, a freelance photographer, who took photos included in the NY Times report. Some reports claimed that Falwell also sought, but was unable to get, an arrest warrant for the NY Times reporter who wrote the NY Times piece. When this first came out -- via former Fox News host Todd Starnes (who left Fox News after having on a guest who claimed that Democrats worship a pagan god who "allowed for child sacrifice") -- it was described as Falwell issuing warrants, and that's just not how warrants work at all.

Later clarifications showed that Falwell complained to local officials that the reporters were trespassing, and that's how a local magistrate agreed to issue misdemeanor arrest warrants. And, those warrants do exist, incredibly:

Falwell is, laughably, claiming that this is about protecting his students (the same ones he's now put at risk), rather than retaliation:

Falwell cast his decision to seek a case against the journalists as a move to protect his students, asserting that the journalists had probably come from coronavirus hot spots such as Washington, D.C., or New York, and that by being on campus they had put remaining Liberty students at risk. He also complained that Liberty was being singled out because of its status as a religious school.

This is obviously nonsense. It is clear that that this was retaliating against negative press over his own decisions. I imagine both the NY Times and Propublica will have strong arguments for why these warrants are ridiculous. The NY Times has already made it clear that this was not trespassing, and that the reporter had been invited to campus by a student.

David McCraw, in-house counsel for the Times, said in a statement, Julia was engaged in the most routine form of news gathering: taking an outdoors picture of a person who was interviewed for a news story. McCraw said Rendleman had been invited to campus by one of the students interviewed for the article.

We are disappointed that Liberty University would decide to make that into a criminal case and go after a freelance journalist because its officials were unhappy with press coverage of the universitys decision to convene classes in the midst of the pandemic, he added.

Meanwhile, Falwell is also threatening a defamation civil suit against the reporters if corrections aren't issued -- which seems to only highlight how all of this is retaliatory and about suppressing speech, rather than protecting students.

Filed Under: 1st amendment, alec macgillis, arrest warrants, covid-19, free speech, jerry falwell jr., julia rendleman, reporting, retaliation, trespassingCompanies: liberty university, ny times, propublica

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'Free Speech' Supporter Jerry Falwell Jr. Thinks It's Criminal To Report On His Dumb And Dangerous Response To The Pandemic - Techdirt

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Rep. Ted Lieu responds to being called an ‘agent of China’ – NBC News

Posted: at 7:21 pm

Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., fired back on Twitter Friday after a social media user accused him of being an agent of China.

Lieu, who served in the Air Force and is currently in the reserve, had a sharp response after being accused of spreading Chinese propaganda. The Twitter user also called for Lieu to be charged with treason.

I served on active duty in the United States military to defend your right to say stupid, racist s--t about me, he tweeted.

The Twitter user had responded to Lieu's previous tweet that criticized those who still believe COVID-19 is "just like the flu." Lieu, whose known to be a vocal member of the House, told NBC Asian America that speaking up comes with a fair share of racist replies. He explained that his duty to defending the Constitution and calling out racism are not mutually exclusive concepts.

When I served in the Air Force, and as a Member of Congress, I took an oath to defend the Constitution, he said. The First Amendment allows for people to make racist statements. At the same time, we need to stand up to racists. The First Amendment allows for that, too."

The racist social media post comes during a time when Asian Americans have been confronting a rise in racist attacks and hate violence tied the coronavirus pandemic. Reporting forum Stop AAPI Hate has received more than 1,110 self-reported incidents of hate, including assault and vandalism, from March 19 to April 1. Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Mazie K. Hirono of Hawaii spearheaded a letter to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Friday, calling for the issuance of official guidance to federal agencies on preventing and addressing anti-Asian racism and xenophobia.

Kimmy Yam is a reporter for NBC Asian America.

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As Easter nears, see which of the 50 states are banning religious gatherings in response to the coronavirus –

Posted: at 7:21 pm

CLEVELAND, Ohio As one of the most important holidays of the Christian faith nears, states continue to take uneven approaches in determining whether places of worship can stay open during the coronavirus pandemic.

The concern remains high, as outbreaks of the virus have been tracked in several states to religious services, including a Pentecostal church in California where more than 70 people tested positive after attending religious gatherings.

While most states operate under some stay-at-home order, telling people to leave only for essential jobs and services, a few do not. But even such sweeping rules are not guarantees that state officials are telling people they cant go to their local church, synagogue, mosque, or other institution.

Several do. California, Illinois, Oregon and Vermont issued orders that do not exempt houses of worship from orders.

But many dont.

In Ohio, for example, Gov. Mike DeWines administration has put in place a sweeping stay-at-home order, punishable by a misdemeanor or a civil court action. However, it specifically carves out an exception for religious institutions and says they are exempt from rules banning gatherings of 10 people or more.

DeWine, a devout Catholic, has said he does not want to infringe on peoples First Amendment rights, and made similar statements during a televised news conference Thursday about a group of protesters gathered outside the Statehouse.

Instead, the Ohio governor has let stern cautionary warnings suffice, trying to caution people from gathering and for church leaders to do everything they can to allow congregations to worship from home.

Were not going to interfere with your First Amendment rights to practice your religion, DeWine said during a Wednesday news conference, in talking about the upcoming Easter holiday for most Christians and the start of Passover for people of the Jewish faith.

But I dont know any religion that teaches that you should do things that endanger, seriously endanger, other people. I dont know any religion that says that its just OK not to worry about your neighbor.

DeWine is not alone. Other governors have cited the First Amendment as a reason to not ban church gatherings, even while also dissuading them in public statements.

Some religious conservatives have also taken the same tact when it gives guidance to affiliated churches.

In Ohio, Citizens for Community Values President Aaron Baer said the organization has encouraged churches to broadcast their services online while also pushing DeWine not to explicitly disallow in-person religious services in any of his coronavirus-related orders.

Its better for people to act responsibility, Baer said. Some freedoms that are so vital to society and the core of who we are as Americans that we shouldnt have a government order violating that freedom.

At least in Ohio, leaders in many faiths have taken their services online or done them by phone. Most Catholic churches across the country, for example, have canceled in-person services for the foreseeable future.

Baer said he hasnt heard stories of churches meeting gathering for services in Ohio outside of Solid Rock Church outside of Cincinnati. The church, famous for what many refer to as its Touchdown Jesus statue visible off Interstate 75, has continued to hold services, attracting media attention in the region.

Government officials said that appears to be the outlier. A spokeswoman for the state Department of Health said she had not heard of issues surrounding in-person religious services.

In Cuyahoga County, Board of Health spokesman Kevin Brennan said this week that officials had not received any complaints about large religious gatherings, though had received one call from a church on precautions it could take should it decide to hold one.

Brennan said staff told them to make sure the facility was clean and that they practice social distancing measures.

DeWine, however, has noted that he has heard from mayors that there are stories still holding services. And in other states, services have caused the coronavirus to spread.

Aside from the Pentecostal church in California, a deacon of the First Assemblies of God Church told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock that 34 people in attendance during a childrens event later tested positive for the virus.

Even with the First Amendment, some legal scholars say orders limiting mass gatherings that also include bans on in-person religious services may be able to pass muster with the court, as long as its not discriminating against a particular religion.

In other words, it might not be a problem if everyone is equally affected.

Its like fire codes, said Eric Segall, a law professor at Georgia State University. Who would exclude churches from fire code?

Segall, along with University of Texas Law Professor Sanford Levison, wrote a piece published Monday that argues that restrictions on large gatherings should apply to houses of worship, as they are not immune to the potential for an outbreak of the virus.

When religion and speech are implicated, we should be careful, but my understanding is its very dangerous to breathe and cough near each other, Segall said. has put together a list of restrictions. While most states are enforcing some sort of stay-at-home order, some are not, yet still may restrict large gatherings with churches included through other orders.


Residents may leave their home for a religious worship service, wedding or funeral if the event involves 10 people or less and the people there remain at least six feet away from each other. They may also attend drive-in services, provided worshippers stay in their cars, and those in each car live with each other.


A state order bars private and public gatherings of people who do not live together, and the order does not exclude worship services. However, the state made accommodations for live-streamed services, saying no groups larger than 10 are allowed for the broadcast. Those involved must stay at least six feet apart, and at least 10 feet apart if there is singing or projected voices.

It also created accommodations for drive-in services and groups who plan to assemble and distribute Easter baskets.


Arizonas order says people may leave their homes to exercise their right to religion and free speech, provided the event gives ample opportunity for people to maintain a safe distance from each other to the extent feasible.


Places of worship can remain open in Arkansas, but staff must limit the number of people who can enter to worshippers who can stay at least six feet away from others. They must also provide hand sanitizer or soap and water near the entrance and other areas. Staff must also regularly disinfect surfaces that are frequently touched.

They also must post a sign at the entrance that tells everyone entering that they should avoid the place if they are ill, maintain a safe distance from others, sneeze and cough into ones elbow and not shake hands or make unnecessary physical contact.


The states stay-at-home order does not exclude places of worship.


The state allows houses of worship to stay open but they are encouraged to do services online if at all possible, or to conduct smaller services of 10 people or less to adhere to social distancing requirements.


The state has a stay-at-home order but deems religious services as essential, provided places of worship adhere to a previous order limiting gatherings to 50 people or less.


The state exempted houses of worship from orders closing businesses, provided they can adhere to social distancing and other guidelines.


The state lists attending religious services as an essential activity.


The states order says that no businesses, non-profits or local government bodies should allow more than 10 people to be gathered in one place if it requires people to stand within six feet of anybody else. That includes houses of worship.


Places of worship holding services are not exempt from the states stay at home order.


Religious institutions are not exempt from Idahos order. However, the state says churches can livestream as long as five or fewer people are involved in the broadcast, and they follow social distancing requirements. Drive-in church services are also allowed.


Places of worship are not exempt from Illinois order.


Religious gatherings are prohibited unless 10 or fewer people participate while social distancing and other sanitation measures are followed.


The state doesnt have a stay-at-home order, but religious gatherings of 10 or more people are prohibited.


Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, issued an executive order Tuesday that said religious institutions must follow an order limiting public gatherings to 10 or fewer people. However, a council of members of the Republican-controlled legislature voted 5-2 to overturn the order the following day. The state attorney general, also a Republican, said it likely violates the state constitution, according to The Associated Press.


Mass gatherings are prohibited in Kentucky, and faith-based events are included in an order.


Gov. John Bel Edwards banned gatherings of 10 people or more in his stay-at-home order, but also said going to a place of worship is an essential activity. Effectively that limits large services at places of worship.


Maine does not exempt places of worship from its restrictive orders.


Religious gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited.


The state bars gatherings of more than 10 people, and faith-based events are not exempt.


Services held at places of worship are not subject to Gov. Gretchen Whitmers order that says violations of rules banning gatherings are criminal misdemeanors.


While the states stay-at-home order does not allow for people to worship outside their homes together, it says faith leaders and workers are essential and also includes people necessary to broadcast services online.


Religious entities and facilities may remain open, provided they adhere to state and federal guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus.

Gov. Tate Reeves emphasized that the state does not have the power to shut down a church or stop a service, but asked that churches not do it in-person, according to WHBQ-TV in Memphis.


Missourians can go to their places of worship, provided that there are no more than 10 people there, and people are at least six feet apart.


Services at places of worship are not exempted from the states stay-at-home order.


The state does not have a stay-at-home order but encourages residents to do so. A directed health measure bans gatherings of more than 10 people, and houses of worship are included.


Places of worship in Nevada cannot hold services in person where 10 or more people will attend. That includes drive-in services.

New Hampshire

Gov. Chris Sununu exempted houses of worship from closing, provided they can keep events to 10 or fewer people.

New Jersey

The states order says gatherings of individuals are canceled, which would presumably mean religious services. The order, however, also permits leaving the home for an educational, religious, or political reason.

New Mexico

While the southwestern states order bans mass gatherings of five or more people, it also exempts people from getting together in a church, synagogue, mosque, or other place of worship.

New York

In New York, non-essential gatherings of any size are banned, and that includes in-person services at houses of worship. Facilities may only be used by people when they can maintain proper social distancing, and the state encourages religious leaders to broadcast services electronically.

North Carolina

Religious entities are considered essential businesses, but they must adhere to the rules banning mass gatherings of more than 10 people in a single space.

North Dakota

North Dakota has not issued an order barring services at houses of worship.


The states stay-at-home order, which also bans gatherings of 10 or more people, excludes religious institutions.

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Reporters Committee urges Congress to protect court access during COVID-19 – Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Posted: at 7:20 pm

In a letter sent Wednesday afternoon, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press urged both House and Senate leadership to ensure public and press access to judicial proceedings during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Because [t]he outbreak has changed the daily operations of federal courts across the country, the letter reads, Congress should include measures to preserve and promote press and public access to court records and proceedings in its next pandemic response bill.

The Reporters Committee asked Congress to provide funding in the next pandemic response bill to encourage: remote access to oral arguments and similar proceedings; media access to court teleconferences; a suspension of fees for PACER, the federal courts online document repository; and prompt notice of postponement of proceedings.

As courts have closed to public access, remote access to oral arguments and similar proceedings is increasingly important. Congressional funding could ensure that courts can provide live video, or, at a minimum, live audio access to, for instance, appellate arguments.

Additionally, the Judicial Conference last week authorized federal judges to permit press and public access to court proceedings via videoconference or teleconference during the COVID-19 crisis. Congress should provide funding to make it easy for courts to provide this access and earmark pandemic relief funds to ensure that recordings and transcripts of these conferences be made electronically available to the public as soon as proceedings end.

Congress should provide funds to allow for the suspension of PACER fees. Normally, members of the public could view court records for free through access terminals at now-closed courthouses. PACER is now the only way for the public to view these documents, and access to it should be free.

Finally, as courts postpone proceedings as a result of COVID-19, Congress should make sure they have the financial resources to provide prompt notification of these postponements and continuances to the public and news media.

The Reporters Committee continues to monitor developments in the governments response to the pandemic and may make recommendations for additional congressional action in future legislation. These four funding earmarks, however, would help courts provide meaningful public access as their operations change due to the pandemic.

Please see our comprehensive set of COVID-19 resources here.

The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.

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Religious freedom and the promise of Easter –

Posted: at 7:20 pm

Easter celebrates the Resurrection of our Savior, Jesus the Christ, and his victory over sin and deathwhich is the confirmation of our victory in Him. Amidst all of the panic and uncertainty in the world right now, we pause to reflect and renew that faith with our families and friends.

While the ongoing pandemic has limited our ability to gather in person, it will not diminish our ability to receive blessings and joy on this special day.

Passover and the Easter weekend this year come during a time of unease for many people, as the pandemic upends our lives in strange and unforeseen ways. As Christians, Mary and I are immensely grateful for the promise of Easterfor the reality that God is with us, and that we can endure and triumph over trials.

We are so grateful to live in a country where our Constitution protects our right to worship freely. In fact, our very form of government and society is inextricably linked to our Founding Fathers resolute faith in God. As John Adams wrote in 1798, Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

The Judeo-Christian belief that we live in a created and ordered universe and that there is an objective truth, which is to be sought and obeyed, has been fundamental to our great nation.

Our first president, George Washington, called for a national day of prayer.

Martin Luther King Jr.s movement for civil rights was rooted in his faith. As he described it, Each individual has certain basic rights that are neither derived from nor conferred by the statethey are gifts from the hands of the Almighty God.

And every day that the United States Senate is in session, it opens in prayer to God.

Today, there are those who are determined to erase God from our nation, and who wrongfully attack constitutionally-protected public expressions of faith.

Just this week, an extreme anti-religious group based in Wisconsin, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, sent a letter threatening my friend, Governor Kay Ivey, because she cited the book of Isaiah in a news conference, and invited a pastor to offer a prayer for Alabama during these trying times.

It is stunning that anyone would take issue with a leader like Governor Ivey seeking to reassure the people of Alabama during a time when many are anxious, but this group attacked her nonetheless.

This is part of a broader cultural war on Christianity and religious freedom in the United States. Ignoring our constitutional protections, these radical groups have attempted to weaponize the government to harass and persecute Christians in all areas, including the football players at Reeltown High School who were voluntarily baptized at their schools stadium last year, or even nuns, artists, bakers, and florists who have stood firm in their beliefs when society tried to force them to break.

I understand that you cannot have freedom without protecting faith. In my lifetime of service, I have championed religious freedom. As United States Attorney General, I made sure that our government started protecting the First Amendment again. We reversed the radically secularist positions of the Obama administration, which had sued the Little Sisters of the Poor to force nuns to provide abortion pills. We fought at the Supreme Court for their right to their beliefs, and we won.

The radical left tried to punish Colorado Christian cake baker Jack Phillips for declining to participate in wedding ceremonies that were contrary to his beliefs. We stepped in and argued in Jacks favor at the Supreme Court. And again, we won.

Under my leadership, the Justice Department also issued instructions to federal agencies that required them under the law to protect religious liberties and stop persecuting Americans for their faith. And to make sure those agencies complied, I established the Religious Liberty Task Force to hold them accountable.

The Constitution guarantees every American, from public officials like Governor Ivey to private citizens like Jack Phillips, the right to freely exercise their faith.

Every day across America and Alabama, people of faith feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, educate our young people, provide care for the sick and needy, and provide comfort and wisdom to millions in times of troubles and joy. The government has no idea this is even happening.

This Easter weekend, I invite you to join Mary and me in giving thanks to God for the joy of the Resurrection and its promise of ultimate victory. And I hope you will join me in giving thanks to God that we live in a country where we can freely worship without fear. It is a right that we cherish, and it is a right that we must resolutely defend.

Sessions is a former U.S. Senator and U.S Attorney General.

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Lobbying frenzy connected to stimulus sparks backlash | TheHill – The Hill

Posted: March 26, 2020 at 6:06 am

The frenzy on K Street over the coronavirus stimulus bill is sparking a new backlash.

Watchdog groups have seized on the activity as major industries push for financial relief and other assistance from Washington. K Streets critics say the lobbying boom highlights the need for tougher controls on the influence industry and accuse businesses of using the coronavirus crisis to push through long-standing priorities they say go beyond immediate economic relief.

Those frustrations have also found expression in the $2.1 trillion House Democratic stimulus proposal, which includes a lobbying ban for companies that receive government aid until the funds are repaid. It would also ban corporations that receive a loan for coronavirus relief from giving bonuses to executives, buying back their own stock, and paying out dividends to shareholders.

The stimulus deal being worked out in the Senate is likely to include restrictions on corporate compensation and stock buybacks but not a lobbying ban. But lobbying watchdogs say the House language highlights their growing concerns with K Street, which is one of the few industries enjoying a boom amid the crisis.

The COVID crisis is shaking up Washington, and since more stimulus packages are likely to be on the table, we expect K Street to continue to ratchet up their attention and spending, Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs at Public Citizen, told The Hill. With that backdrop, putting limits on the corporations that receive taxpayer dollars in bailouts is just common sense.

Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization, supports language that would require companies that receive government help to forego lobbying.

Corporations that receive our taxpayer dollars to stay afloat need clear checks on their ability to engage in influence peddling, Gilbert said.

The coronavirus outbreak has sparked a scramble in Washington as major industries and companies are pressing for aid to weather the economic downturn.

The airline industry last week initially requested $50 billion in aid, while Boeing requested $60 billion for itself and aerospace suppliers. The aggressive lobbying has included a wide range of groups: Child care companies, the candy industry, alcohol beverage producers, tourism and travel companies, and manufacturers are just some of the businesses that have sought relief from Washington.

Thats alarmed progressive and consumer groups who worry the stimulus package will be a boon to big business.

We cannot allow corruption at the highest levels of our government to infect our response to this virus, said Kyle Herrig, president of Accountable.US, a nonpartisan watchdog. Washington has a choice stand with Americans who are already sick and those living in fear, or stand with the powerful special interests that have filled their campaign coffers and are now looking to cash in.

The House language on a lobbying ban is only the latest effort from Democratic lawmakers to rein in K Street.

Democrats have ramped up calls for lobbying bans, and presidential candidate Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - Senators clinch deal on T stimulus package Lobbying frenzy connected to stimulus sparks backlash Sanders plans to participate in April DNC debate MORE (I-Vt.) has included similar provisions in his platform, calling for a ban on corporate funding for conventions as well as a lobbying ban on former members of Congress and senior staffers.

But those efforts and the latest Democratic proposal to ban lobbying by businesses that receive federal help has rankled K Street lobbyists and those from business groups.

This proposal smacks of a lack of seriousness. The lobbying thats going on right now are folks helping lawmakers understand whats actually happening out beyond the beltway, in the real world, with thousands of employers and small businesses, Neil Bradley, Chamber executive vice president and chief policy officer, told The Hill. Blocking that information from lawmakers, all thats going to do is make this crisis even worse.

The Chamber has been one of the most active groups pushing for protections for businesses and calling on President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe pandemic is bad, we need the capability to measure just how bad Florida governor wants federal disaster area declaration Amash calls stimulus package 'a raw deal' for 'those who need the most help' MORE to designate essential businesses and services during the crisis.

The scrutiny on K Street during a crisis is also not new. Similar proposals on lobbying were floated during the 2008 financial crisis: Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinLobbying frenzy connected to stimulus sparks backlash House bill would ban stock trading by members of Congress Loeffler under fire for stock trades amid coronavirus outbreak MORE (D-Calif.) proposed that any financial institution that receives help from the Treasury Department be banned from lobbying with that money, The Wall Street Journal reported at the time.

But K Street groups are pushing back hard.

It seems both unconstitutional and shortsighted to remove the First Amendment right to petition the government from the very companies who need to be working with the government right now. Its unclear how this idea helps workers, their families, the economy, or anyone, really, said Stephen Worley, the International Franchise Association (IFA) senior director of communications. The IFA is asking Washington for a $300 billion fund to provide liquidity to business owners.

I think a lobbying ban is a bad idea. The First Amendment is the first amendment for a reason and limiting the ability to petition the government is a slippery slope that needs to be avoided, lobbyist headhunter Ivan Adler told The Hill.

Public Affairs Council, a nonpartisan association for public affairs professionals, also said such a ban would violate the constitution.

The courts would likely throw out this proposal because it would clearly violate the First Amendment right to petition the government, Doug Pinkham, the associations president, said. Companies lobby for things like protecting domestic jobs, increasing critical health care research and many other policies that help our countrys economy move forward.

Corporations often assist our lawmakers in crafting sound public policy, and taking away a companys ability to do so during this complicated time is incredibly shortsighted, he added.

But as the coronavirus outbreak plays out and as the government and businesses look to save the economy, the scrutiny on K Street is unlikely to lift.

Bradley, from the Chamber, called the Democratic response disappointing.

Its disappointing because all across America, small businesses are wondering when Washington will get this phase three bill done because they are literally counting the days until they wont be able to make payroll for their employees, he said.

Watchdog groups hope that the stimulus debate will help move the needle on lobbying reform.

Anything that represents long-term corporate reform, not just short-term conditions, is great, said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

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Judge rules lawsuit alleging Trump threatened free press can move forward | TheHill – The Hill

Posted: at 6:06 am

A federal judge on Tuesday ruled that some of the claims in a literary advocacy group's lawsuit against President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe pandemic is bad, we need the capability to measure just how bad Florida governor wants federal disaster area declaration Amash calls stimulus package 'a raw deal' for 'those who need the most help' MORE overhis threats to retaliate against critical media coverage can proceed.

U.S. District Judge Lorna Schofield wrote in a 24-pageopinionthat PEN America had a "constitutional standing" to pursue claims for declaratory relief against Trump's practice of "selectively barring access" to the White House press corps, including by "revoking or threatening to revoke press credentials due to hostility to the reporters speech."

Schofield also ruled that the case could proceed on allegations that Trump revoked or threatened to revoke security clearances for government officials he dislikes.

The court granted Trump's motion to dismiss claims thathe initiated government actions against certain media companies, threatened to revoke broadcast licenses and interfered in White House press access.

Schofield noted that PEN America's claims against Trump had merit, given that the White House has a history of barring press access and that it revoked CNN White House correspondent Jim AcostaJames (Jim) AcostaSean Spicer takes seat at White House press briefing CNN's Acosta: Trump referring to coronavirus as 'foreign virus' in Oval Office address 'smacked of xenophobia' Chris Wallace 'horrified' by CNN's Acosta's conduct: 'It's not our job to one-up presidents' MORE'scredentials inNovember 2018. Acosta's press pass was later reinstated, though the development caused former White House press secretary Sarah HuckabeeSarah Elizabeth SandersFox News's Hume rips Alexander over 'gotcha' question to Trump NBC's Alexander: I gave Trump 'a softball' question as opportunity to 'reassure' Americans Coronavirus puts new use to White House press briefing room MORE Sanders to release new guidelines for reporters.

The press secretary indeed e-mailed the entire press corps to inform them of new rules of conduct and to warn of further consequences, citing the incident involving Mr. Acosta, Schofield noted. These facts plausibly allege that a motivation for defendants actions is controlling and punishing speech he dislikes.

Acosta's credentials were temporarily stripped after a contentious exchangewith the president at a press conference. A federal judgegranted CNN's request to restore the pass, ruling that Acosta and his employer were likely to succeed in arguments that theirFifth Amendment rights to due process were violated by the White House.

PEN America filed a lawsuit in 2018 against Trump in an attempt to gain an order declaring that Trump's threats violated the First Amendment. The group also sought an injunction to block Trump fromtaking actions against journalists he doesn't like.

Schofield wrote on Tuesday that "issuing an injunction to the president would impede his discretionary authority in these realms, and more generally, risk improper judicial encroachment on the executive branch."

The case will now move into the discovery phase, and PEN America will be allowed to obtain documents from the government to help substantiate its claims, the group said.

PEN America is profoundly grateful for the courts timely decision," the group's president, Jennifer Egan, said in a statement. "Though we filed our lawsuit more than a year ago, the Trump administrations punitive stance toward the press has continued unabated, with corrosive results for truth, fact, our democracy, andmost recentlypublic health."

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Relist Watch: 100 years of solitude – SCOTUSblog

Posted: at 6:06 am

John Elwood briefly reviews Mondays relists.

Wow. Its been a long week. As if the coronavirus werent enough all on its own, theres fresh news of other disasters. By which I mean parents everywhere realizing their wish they could spend more time with their families might actually be coming true.

My forecast last week that well be seeing opinions in some of th[e relisted cases] soon turned out to be correct. The Supreme Court summarily reversed in Davis v. United States, 19-5421, invalidating the unique rule of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit holding that factual error is categorically immune from plain error review. It took the court just two paragraphs of analysis to dispatch it. The court then GVRd (granted, vacated and remanded) in two cases raising the same issue, Bazan v. United States, 19-6113, and Bazan v. United States, 19-6431. You arent having some quarantine-induced mental breakdown: Both cases involve the same defendant. Finally, the court denied review in Avery v. United States, 19-633, involving a similarly atextual rule. Section 2244(b)(1) of Title 28 creates a rule covering applications by state prisoners for habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. 2254. Yet six courts of appeals have interpreted the statute to cover applications filed not just by state prisoners under Section 2254, but also by federal prisoners under Section 2255, which the statute does not mention. Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote an opinion respecting denial to emphasize that the Government now disagrees with the rulings of the six Courts of Appeals that had previously decided the issue in the Governments favor, and essentially warned the Justice Department to start confessing error now, writing [i]n a future case, I would grant certiorari to resolve the circuit split.

There are three new relists this week, but the first two grow out of a single incident. There are a lot of moving parts in Brownback v. King, 19-546, and King v. Brownback, 19-718, so pay as much attention as your squalling children and blaring smoke detector permit. Douglas Brownback was an FBI special agent; Todd Allen was a detective with the Grand Rapids, Michigan, police department. Both worked for an FBI-directed fugitive task force. James King, who is of broadly the same height (within a five-inch range), build (thin) and age (within five years) as a known fugitive, had the misfortune to buy a soda from a particular gas station during the same two-hour period when the fugitive usually did so. Brownback and Allen, wearing plain clothes but with badges on lanyards, stopped King and had him put his hands on his head. They removed a pocketknife from his pocket, but when they also removed his wallet, King asked, Are you mugging me? and began running. What apparently followed was some tackling (of King), some biting (by King), and a whole lot of punching (by a bitten Allen). Michigan charged King with assault with intent to do great bodily harm, aggravated assault of a police officer and resisting arrest, but a jury acquitted him.

King then sued the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which is a limited waiver of sovereign immunity allowing claimants to sue the federal government for negligent or wrongful act[s] or omission[s] if a private person would have been liable under those circumstances under state law. King also sued the federal government for constitutional violations on individual-capacity claims against the agents under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics and under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court entered judgment for the federal government on the FTCA claims because the actions were taken within the scope of the agents authority in good faith, denied the Section 1983 claims on the ground that the statute applies only to state officials and the FBI was running the show here (even for the state agents), and denied the Bivens claim on the merits on the ground that the police had not violated Kings constitutional rights.

King did not appeal his FTCA claims only his Bivens and Section 1983 claims against the individual officers. The officers argued (through their government lawyers) that the claims were barred by the acts judgment bar, which provides that the judgment in an action under [the FTCA] shall constitute a complete bar to any action by the claimant, by reason of the same subject matter, against the employee of the government whose act or omission gave rise to the claim. A majority of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit concluded that because King had not adequately pleaded all the elements of an FTCA claim in district court, that court never had jurisdiction over the claim, and, as a non-merits disposition, the district courts decision did not trigger the judgment bar. The majority then concluded that the claim was properly brought under Bivens and not Section 1983 because the conduct was fairly attributable to the FBI and not the state of Michigan. The court also determined that the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity under Bivens. Judge John Rogers (who apparently ties judge Jeffrey Sutton as the 6th Circuits most prolific judge) dissented on the grounds that the Bivens claims were precluded by the FTCAs judgment bar.

Are you still here? I guess people really are hard-up for entertainment during the quarantine. In any event, the federal government sought review, and King filed a conditional cross-petition. The government argues that the final judgment in favor of the United States under the FTCA should bar the Bivens claims. King argues that Allens membership in a joint state-federal task force does not preclude him from acting under color of state law for purposes of being liable under Section1983.

The third relist requires way less wind-up. Priscilla Daydee Valdez put an acquaintance in Mexico in touch with someone she knew in Tucson, Arizona, to buy ammunition. Valdez transferred money between the two and then traveled to the store, where her Tucson acquaintance bought 10,000 rounds of ammunition in a transaction Im confident the clerk thought was completely above-board. They then drove to a spot near the Mexican border and left the car for a time, returning to an empty car after receiving a call that the car was ready. Valdez pleaded guilty to charges of attempting to export ammunition, which included a forfeiture count. Although the relevant firearm statute, 18 U.S.C. 924, provides only for forfeiture of ammunition used in a federal offense, other statutes, namely 21 U.S.C. 853(a) and 2461(c), provide for the forfeiture of any other property of the defendant if, as a result of any act or omission of the defendant, the forfeitable property is unavailable. The district court ordered Valdez, who is indigent, to forfeit money of her own because the forfeitable ammunition had disappeared, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit affirmed.

Valdez seeks review, arguing that the government can require her to forfeit substitute property only if the original forfeitable property was also hers, and the ammunition here was not. If we have learned anything from the relists and opinions in Davis and Avery, and for that matter the relist in Brownback, its that the justices take the wording of provisions seriously. Theyre undoubtedly taking a very close look at the forfeiture statutes here.

Thats all this week. Everyone enjoy your family time!

New Relists

Brownback v. King, 19-546

Issue: Whether a final judgment in favor of the United States in an action brought underSection 1346(b)(1)of the Federal Tort Claims Act, on the ground that a private person would not be liable to the claimant under state tort law for the injuries alleged, bars a claim underBivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcoticsthat is brought by the same claimant, based on the same injuries, and against the same governmental employees whose acts gave rise to the claimants FTCA claim.

(relisted after the March 20 conference)

King v. Brownback, 19-718

Issue: Whether a law enforcement officers membership in a joint state-federal police task force managed, in part, by a federal agency precludes him or her from acting under color of state law for purposes of 42 U.S.C. 1983.

(relisted after the March 20 conference)

Valdez v. United States, 19-6062

Issues: (1) Whether a defendant may be required to forfeit substitute property in lieu of the firearms and ammunition subject to forfeiture under18 U.S.C. 924(d); and (2) whether, if the substitute-asset provision of21 U.S.C. 853(p)is applied to a forfeiture imposed under any statute via28 U.S.C. 2461, the limitations of 21 U.S.C. 853(a)which are explicitly incorporated by Section 853(p)must be applied as well; in other words, whether, if substitute-asset forfeiture is imposed via 28 U.S.C. 2461(c), it is limited to situations in which a defendant transfers or conceals her own property.

(relisted after the March 20 conference)

Returning Relists

Andrus v. Texas, 18-9674

Issue: Whether the standard for assessing ineffective assistance of counsel claims, announced inStrickland v. Washington, fails to protect the Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial and the 14th Amendment right to due process when, in death-penalty cases involving flagrantly deficient performance, courts can deny relief following a truncated no prejudice analysis that does not account for the evidence amassed in a habeas proceeding and relies on a trial record shaped by trial counsels ineffective representation.

(rescheduled before the November 1, 2019, and November 8, 2019, conferences; relisted after the November 15, 2019, November 22, 2019, December 6, 2019, December 13, 2019, January 10, January 17, January 24, February 21, February 28, March 6 and March 20 conferences)

Cannon v. Seay, 19-311

Issues: (1) Whether, in review of a state decision under28 U.S.C. 2241, when a federal appellate court must determine if double-jeopardy protection bars retrial after a mistrial is granted over a defendants objection based upon the absence of a critical prosecution witness, the required strict scrutiny applied to the legal determination of manifest necessity constrains in equal or greater measure the deference universally accorded a trial courts fact-finding; and (2) whether, in granting relief under 28 U.S.C. 2241, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit egregiously failed to apply clearly established federal law as determined by the Supreme Court inArizona v. Washingtonand accord deference to the state courts ruling finding manifest necessity for mistrial when it resolved that omission of a reference to consideration of alternatives in the courts oral ruling made the ruling fatally insufficient, even though the record shows the state court did not act rashly in granting a mistrial, but pursued a cautious approach that included suspending the trial to allow a search for the missing witness prior to considering and granting the states mistrial motion.

(relisted after the January 10, January 17, January 24, February 21, February 28, March 6 and March 20 conferences)

The Rams Football Company, LLC v. St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority, 19-672

Issue: Whether the Federal Arbitration Act permits a court to refuse to enforce the terms of an arbitration agreement assigning questions of arbitrability to the arbitrator if those terms would be enforceable under ordinary state-law contract principles in a non-arbitration context.

(relisted after the January 24 January 24, February 21, February 28, March 6 and March 20 conferences)

VF Jeanswear LP v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 19-446

Issues: (1) Whether Title VII authorizes the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to continue investigating a charge of discrimination after the commission issues the charging party a right-to-sue notice and after the charging party pursues private litigation; and (2) whether the EEOC can rely on a charge of discrimination to demand information from an employer about acts or practices not affecting the charging party.

(relisted after the February 21, February 28, March 6 and March 20 conferences)

Halprin v. Davis, 19-6156

Issue: Whether Randy Halprins second federal petition raising a judicial bias claim is second or successive under28 U.S.C. 2244(b)(2)if the judge concealed his bias by failing to recuse himself, and the public exposure of his bigotry after the conclusion of Halprins initial habeas proceedings in the district court created Halprins first fair opportunity to present his claim.

(relisted after the February 21, February 28, March 6 and March 20 conferences)

Archdiocese of Washington v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, 18-1455

Issues: (1) Whether the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authoritys policy of refusing to accept advertisements that promote or oppose religion or reflect a religious perspective violates the First Amendment; and (2) whether that discrimination against religious speech violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

(relisted after the March 6 and March 20 conferences)

United States v. California, 19-532

Issue: Whether provisions of California law that, with certain limited exceptions, prohibit state law-enforcement officials from providing federal immigration authorities with release dates and other information about individuals subject to federal immigration enforcement, and restrict the transfer of aliens in state custody to federal immigration custody, are preempted by federal law or barred by intergovernmental immunity.

(relisted after the March 6 and March 20 conferences)

Posted in Archdiocese of Washington v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, U.S. v. California, Brownback v. King, Andrus v. Texas, King v. Brownback, Cannon v. Seay, The Rams Football Company, LLC v. St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority, VF Jeanswear LP v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Halprin v. Davis, Valdez v. U.S., Featured, Cases in the Pipeline

Recommended Citation: John Elwood, Relist Watch: 100 years of solitude, SCOTUSblog (Mar. 25, 2020, 1:41 PM),

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