First Amendment Freedom of Religion Truth

The Peace Cross And Restoring Religious Freedom

by Julio Gonzalez, M.D., J.D.

Once again, the U.S. Supreme Court is being tasked with tackling the most significant of societal issues: our freedom to worship.

This time, the argument is embodied in The American Legion v. American Humanist Association. Familiarly enough, the legal action pits the American people’s abilities to have a longstanding religious symbol remain in the public square against those of secular activists to have them forcibly removed.

The present controversy involves a cross that sits at the center of an intersection in Bladensburg, Maryland dating back to 1922 when local residents set out to build a structure honoring 49 local soldiers who died serving the United States in World War I.  The plan called for the construction of a 40-foot tall cross as homage to the fallen heroes.

The Peace Cross, as it eventually came to be known, was completed in 1925, where it has stood as a symbol of the city’s reverence and respect for those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our great country. As the nation’s history progressed and America suffered through other conflicts, the Cross served as a natural gathering place to honor the fallen heroes from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and Gulf Storm, among other conflicts.

As things progressed, Bladensburg grew, and the property upon which the Peace Cross stood came to rest at the intersection of multiple growing thoroughfares. Eventually, the state bought the land upon which the Cross stood in 1961, instantly transforming it into the public domain.

Despite the change in the Peace Cross’s status, there was still no objection to its continued presence; that is until the American Humanitarian Association came along.

The Association is made up of a group of individuals who claim to be offended by the Cross’s presence and want it removed. Its argument is that the Cross represents an unconstitutional intermingling between church and state, since, according to the Association, its presence on public land represents the adoption or approval of religion by the government.

In keeping with its strong objection to the Peace Cross, the Association, along with a group of local residents, brought an action against the Maryland National Park And Planning Commission to have the cross removed. The Planning Commission fought back and was eventually granted summary judgment by the district court and told that the Cross could remain. The case was subsequently appealed to the Fourth Circuit, which disagreed and ordered that the Cross be removed. The case is now being argued before the Supreme Court.

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The Peace Cross case is a manifestation of the many problems of American jurisprudence in the way it handles cases of religious freedom.

The issue of public worship and respect for our religious freedoms is of elemental importance to all Americans. Religious liberty is at the very root of the nation’s foundation, and its scope and ramifications are fundamental to what it means to be human. Without the direct relationship between our Creator and each one of us, there is no limit to the intrusion government can theoretically have upon the individual. In fact, the only factor placing a limit upon government’s authority over each person is the individual’s greater allegiance to God. Absent this, government may logically run rampant over man.

It is for this reason that the acknowledgment of man’s divinity is so important in a democratic society as it is a constant reminder that both government and man are limited in their scope and power by a greater being, our Creator. Conversely, removing such reminders, like the Cross, serve to diminish the role of religion and worship in people’s daily lives and makes it that much easier for government to intrude upon our freedoms.

Sadly, whereas symbols like the Peace Cross were rarely disturbed during the nineteenth century, beginning in the middle of the twentieth century, they were openly assaulted, not only culturally, but by jurists and advocates.

One of the defining moments of the assault came in a case called Lemon v. Kurtzman involving a state’s ability to apply tax money in support of private schools, many of them religious. Here, the Court prohibited such an association as an intrusion upon the wall of separation between church and state. More importantly, the Court created a three-pronged test it would apply in order to determine whether an action or a law offended the Constitution. In short, the Court said that in order to have a law stand constitutional scrutiny related to religious freedom, the government would have to show three things: 1) a secular purpose; 2) that the law or act did not act principally to advance or inhibit religion; and 3) it did not create an “excessive entanglement with religion.”

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Under these requirements, secularists have met with great success in attacking public expressions of worship, religious symbols, and prayer.  Since the Lemon test, secularists have been able to force courts to order the removal of crosses and Ten Commandment tablets from public lands, prevent prayer in schools, keep people from praying at commencement ceremonies, and erase Christmas symbols from municipal seasonal celebrations. If your city no longer calls its December tree a Christmas tree, or now calls its Christmas parade a Holiday parade, there is a big chance it is due to the fear of the Lemon test.

But the Lemon test has not escaped criticism. Many, including renowned law professors and jurists have argued that the test allows absurd outcomes and does not properly reflect the wishes of the American people. Some have even called for the test to be displaced. In fact, in a case questioning whether the Ten Commandments should be removed from the Texas Capitol, Justice Stephen Breyer opted not to use the test. In upholding the ability of the tablets to remain, Breyer suggested an approach different from the one used in Lemon. Breyer acknowledged that the Ten Commandments were openly religious, but despite that, he maintained that the tablets should remain because it was “part of what is a broader moral and historical message reflective of a cultural heritage.”

The fact is that if Breyer had employed the Lemon test, his conclusion would likely have been opposite of what he felt was the more correct posture, and we would have witnessed yet another situation where religion and religious freedom would have been beaten down.

Enter the 2018 conservative Supreme Court. It is interesting that the Supreme Court decided to hear the Peace Cross case. Indeed, the lower court applied the Lemon test and arrived at the conventional position. The Supreme Court could have passed on this case and let it stand. But it did not.

The fact that the Court opted to hear this case is an opportunity for it to enter the arena of religious freedom and religious worship. What the Court actually does with this case, of course, remains to be seen. In the end, it could use the Lemon test and provide further clarification on its application.

It could, on the other hand, do something truly innovative. It could review the assault that has taken place upon religious freedom with the Lemon sword and take the future of the First Amendment in a more permissive direction.

For our posterity’s sake, let’s hope that it does the latter.

Dr. Julio Gonzalez is an orthopaedic surgeon and lawyer living in Venice, Florida. He is the author of The Federalist Pages and cohost of Right Talk America With Julio and Rod. Dr. Gonzalez is presently serving in the Florida House of Representatives. He can be reached through to arrange a lecture or book signing.

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Dramatic Display Of Bipartisan, Racial Unity Over “In God We Trust” Law

Rod Thomson

For everyone wringing their hands about the lack of unity in our country, there was a shocking display of it this year — largely ignored by the media — on an issue of critical importance going forward: Exposing school children to our religious heritage

Back in March, in the waning days of the Florida Legislative session, black, female Democrat Rep. Kimberly Daniels stood to make the final pitch on a bill she co-sponsored with another black Democrat.

The bill: Require that all Florida public schools display “In God We Trust” prominently in their buildings, in a place where students will see it and perhaps want to talk about it.

In an unheard of display of unity between right and left, Republican and Democrat, male and female, black and white, Daniels rose on the House floor to speak and one by one Republican lawmakers (all of them white, male and female) went and stood behind her in support.

“Few would disagree with me that God is positive,” said Daniels. “He’s not a Republican, and he’s not a Democrat. He’s not black, and he’s not white. He is the light. And our schools need light in them like never before.”

Daniels went on, as more legislators stood behind her in support. She pointed out how we must “remind our children of the foundation of this country, which was founded on people who came for religious liberty.”

It was a powerful moment with whites and blacks, Republicans and Democrats standing together. When she concluded her remarks, she received a long standing ovation on the floor. And then the bill passed the House 97-10 vote.

And that moment got zero media coverage in a state smothered in major media outlets covering the legislative session. The law’s passage got some coverage, but not much. In fact, it was so ignored that I had to take a screenshot from the state’s C-SPAN equivalent taping the session to use with this story.

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Secular leftists have long been trying to erase America’s religious heritage, and religion itself, as part of our exceptional nation. And they have had a depressing amount of success in the past 70 years. These battles have often been focusing on the public schools, because that is where the next generation is won over.

But what happened in Florida this past year represents a sharp counterattack in this anti-religion war. While Florida is the tip of the spear, five other states — Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas and Arizona — have passed laws mandating or allowing “In God We Trust” to be placed prominently in public schools. This all comes 56 years after the U.S. Supreme Court banned prayer in schools, beginning the long, deleterious march of squeezing all religious references from public education.

This move has flown under the radar largely because the media hyper-focuses on every breath of President Trump every day, and every leak and fake story regarding this or that alleged corruption or chaos, or every tell-all book. After all that nonsense coverage, there’s not much time left for actual news. And that, actually, can be a plus because we all know how this issue would generally be covered by the CNNs and New York Times of the media world.

In Florida, “In God We Trust” is also the state’s motto and is on the state seal. Of course, it’s on the nation’s currency.

Daniels’ law, passed during the Spring legislative session, has already gone into effect this school year. All of the schools have the signs up.

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Of course the ACLU is not pleased and sees it as a separation of state and church issue. But they also have not been successful in other cases involving the phrase in public places. They are “monitoring” the public schools law in Florida, which means that they probably will challenge it at some point when the right case comes. Likely, atheist parents will use their child to go to the ACLU to get the courts to overturn what is obviously a very popular move. Status quo there.

What’s worth noting here is that this is not the least bit controversial with most Floridians, or probably in other states. Just with the elitist left. The Florida House 97-10 vote came during an election year for all of those representatives. That pretty clearly shows that politicians in both parties not only support it, but expect that their voters support it.

There are some attempts to gin up outrage and opposition, but they don’t have much umph behind them. The only hope for the leftists who want to control everything is the courts. That’s where they’ve had all of their success — not from the approval of the American people. That will certainly be tried and the media will undoubtedly be all over it at that point.

But right now, a battle has been won and convincingly. “In God We Trust” signs are up in all of Florida’s 4,269 public schools, and 2.7 million school children will see them and maybe start having discussions that have not been happening in our schools for generations.

Rod Thomson is an author, TV talking head and former journalist, and is Founder of The Revolutionary Act. Rod is co-host of Right Talk America With Julio and Rod on the Salem Radio Network.

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Protecting Beautiful Freedoms For Even Ugly Actions On This Fourth Of July

Rod Thomson

On the Fourth of July, we celebrate American independence from a distant tyrannical king in 1776. But it wasn’t just a break from, it was a break to — to the beautiful freedoms encompassed in the First Amendment and supported throughout the Constitution, a break unheard of in history but one heard around the world.

As we stand 242 years later, it is not hyperbole to say that those beautiful essential freedoms are under attack perhaps like never before, because now the attack is on whether they are even proper and right — heretofore the American assumption. The two bedrocks underscoring our liberties are freedom of religion and freedom of speech, the first two in the First Amendment. They are supported by the concept of equally applied law and order. There has been a chipping away at those from college campuses to judicial opinions to state and federal laws.

But something different is happening now, at this moment, in real time: Ideas and actions fiercely antithetical to these essential American liberties are popping into the mainstream, winning some elections, and one of the two major political parties in the country is rapidly embracing the destructive ideas and actions. This is complicated by an untrustworthy media that leaves Americans increasingly in different information camps.

The good news is that, at this moment, on this particularly Fourth of July, it does not appear a majority of the American people are embracing this counter-American Revolution. And it may backfire on the Democratic Party that is accepting it — at least in the short term. The problem is the trend, and the speed at which this change is occurring, and thinking it will go away on its own is akin to thinking the British would have just left on their own. Trends such as this will gain momentum and adherents unless they are pushed back against, fought — beautiful ideas fighting ugly ideas.

And this is the call of our day to all freedom-loving Americans. We follow in the steps of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, every signatory to the Declaration of Independence, every debater of the Constitution, every Minuteman and Colonial soldier in the field of battle. These were all willing to sacrifice their lives, their fortunes and their futures for the essential liberties that generations of Americans — including millions upon millions of future immigrants — would thrive under for nearly two and a half centuries.

Those who believe it is right for people to be forced by government to create products for what violates their religion, must be defeated. Those who believe that access to free contraceptives is not only a right but more important than the religious liberties of those who do not want to provide those, must be defeated. Freedom of religion must be defended.

Those who would force people through coercion to say what they do not believe, and who would deny freedom of speech to those they disagree with, must be defeated. Those who would deny any speech that offends or hurts the feelings of someone else, must be defeated. Freedom of speech must be defended.

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We must keep the wall of tyranny far on the other side of the beautiful freedoms. Ugly speech by Nazis, Fascists, Communists, racists, white supremacists, black supremacists, anti-Semites, fake news providers, and the rest must be protected by the beautiful freedoms. As long as the worst and most hateful speech is protected, then we know that all speech is secured.

Growing parts of the country, including those dominating higher education, would seek to block all of what they determine to be ugly speech. No. There is no place to stop. It’s all free with the few exceptions for incitement to riot (and those very cautiously) or its not free at all.

We free Americans, who know history and understand the world, have a duty on this Fourth of July to not just remember and celebrate, but to be redouble our vigilance on behalf of the beautiful freedoms. We stand shoulder to shoulder with the founding fathers and our following forefathers who protected freedoms with pen and paper, soapbox, microphone and ballot box and, when necessary on the fields of Gettysburg, the trenches of France, the shores of Normandy and Iwo Jima, the mountains of Korea, the jungles of Vietnam and the sands of Iraq.

We can do no less.

Rod Thomson is an author, former journalist and current TV talking head, and is Founder of The Revolutionary Act. Rod is co-host of Right Talk America With Julio and Rod on the Salem Radio Network.

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Supreme Court’s Christian Baker Opinion Is No Win For Freedom Of Religion

By KrisAnne Hall, JD

The U.S. Supreme Court rendered its opinion on a highly anticipated case regarding the right of a baker to refuse to design and create a wedding cake for a gay marriage ceremony based upon his religious convictions. However, for the SCOTUS, this appears not to be a case of religious freedom, but one of unjust government discrimination.  

Jack Phillips, a practicing Christian, often refused to design and create baked goods based upon his religious beliefs. His store was closed on Sundays and other Christian holidays, he refused to create or design desserts for Halloween, and he refused to make desserts that contained alcohol. Phillips did not refuse to serve the same-sex couple who later filed a complaint. He only refused to design and create a cake for their wedding. He remarked that he would be happy to design and create cookies, birthday cakes, shower cakes, or brownies — just not a wedding cake due to religious objections.

The same-sex couple filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and the commission, after several hearings, decided that Phillips violated Colorado’s public accommodation laws by refusing to create and design this wedding cake for the same-sex couple. The Colorado commission did not accept Phillip’s defense of religious conviction.

Members of the commission, on record and as justification for their decision, mocked Phillip’s beliefs and compared his religious convictions to slavery and to the Holocaust. The Supreme Court found in favor of Phillips in a 7-2 opinion, based particularly on the statements of the Colorado commissioners.

There are some very significant points that must be made to clarify this carefully written opinion.  Because of the great public anticipation over this case, there will be a tendency to make more of what was said than was actually said, and mischaracterize the magnitude of this decision.


  1.  Not a Matter of Freedom of Religion

The court did not render its opinion on the basis of religious freedom. They did not declare that private business owners are free to discriminate based upon religious beliefs. As a matter of fact, they said the opposite.

“It is the general rule that [religious and philosophical] objections do not allow business owners and other actors in the economy and in society to deny protected persons equal access to goods and public services under a neutral and generally applicable public accommodations law.” (Page 9)

“Colorado law can protect gay persons, just as it can protect other classes of individuals, in acquiring whatever products and services they choose on the same terms and conditions as are offered to other members of the public.” (Page 10)

Phillips made multiple statements asserting his refusal to make the cake was based upon religious conviction. However, it seems the Court only references these objections for the purpose of condemning the Colorado commissioners’ apparent discriminatory statements voiced against Phillips. This Court never asserted that Phillips was justified in his refusal based upon his right to religious freedom.

It is not clear that this is an overall victory for private business owners or Christians to publicly maintain their convictions.

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  1.  Clergy Cannot be Compelled

The court took time to clarify that it should be “assumed” that “when it comes to weddings”, “a member of the clergy who objects to gay marriage on moral and religious grounds could not be compelled to perform that ceremony without denial of his or her right to the free exercise of religion.”  (Page 10)

It’s interesting that the Court feels that it should be obvious and therefore not questioned that a professional clergy maintains full right to expression of their freedom of religion, but a baker does not. It would seem that the court sees the possession and expression of fundamental rights like freedom of religion as inherent in a profession rather inherent to all persons.


  1.  It’s Not Freedom of Religion, It’s Freedom from Discrimination

This Court did not declare that Phillips’ personal objections justified his refusal to bake this cake. Instead they took a safer and more politically correct approach by finding that the Colorado commissioners’ statements applied the Colorado public accommodation law in a discriminating and biased manner.

The Court says “the baker, in his capacity as the owner of a business serving the public, might have his right to the free exercise of religion limited by generally applicable laws.” (Page 3) However, the government cannot use Phillips’ religious beliefs as the basis for the application of their laws.

Justice Kennedy points out that when commissioners on the Colorado commission made statements describing Phillips’ faith as “one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use,” and equating his refusal to design and create a wedding cake for a same-sex marriage to the acts of slavery and the holocaust, they began down the path of discriminating against him. In addition to these condemning statements, the Colorado commission had, at the same time, determined that three other bakers could refuse to bake cakes critical of gay marriage, contrary to their secular convictions, making clear their bias and discriminatory application of this otherwise “neutral” law.

The majority opinion determined that it was this discriminatory act by the Colorado commission that required the court to overturn this case. Again, for the majority opinion, this appears not to be a case of religious freedom of expression, but one of unjust government discrimination.

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  1.  Gay Marriage Was Not Legal Yet

The Court, almost in passing, also mentioned that Phillips’ may have been justified in his refusal to design and create this wedding cake, because Colorado had not legalized gay marriage yet. His refusal, at that time, was not only in compliance with State law, but also a refusal to participate in an illegal activity.  Perhaps Kennedy added this point of fact as a way of publicly saying to business owners in States who have legalized gay marriage, you have no argument to withhold your services if State law compels service.


  1.  What About Freedom of Speech?

There is one aspect of personal rights the majority opinion mentions but strangely never fleshes out: the matter of freedom of speech.

The majority court introduces the question: Is the government’s law forcing Phillips to design and create a cake contrary to his personal message, a violation of freedom of speech? But then, in what seems to be a lapse of concentration, the majority opinion never answers this question definitively. It isn’t until we get to Justice Thomas’ concurrence that we find a truly worthy discussion of this important element.

Thomas’ opinion on the matter of freedom of speech is so thorough and so supported by precedent it makes one wonder why the majority court refused to give this topic its due consideration. Justice Thomas points out that it is well within the history of the Supreme Court to support the expression of offensive beliefs in the name of freedom of speech. After all, he reminds us, if the burning of a flag or a 25-foot cross (Virginia v. Black), or designing and creating “a film featuring Klan members brandishing weapons and threatening to ‘Bury the niggers,’ (Brandenburg v. Ohio) are all protected speech, then surely designing and creating a cake ought to fit these categories as well.

By the terms laid out by Justice Thomas, this case should have absolutely been decided in favor of Phillips on the merits of freedom of speech. Why the majority court would introduce this element, and then not complete its thought on the matter is puzzling. Why the majority court would choose a single justification for their opinion when they could have had two compelling arguments is equally puzzling.


  1. The Dissent

One final matter worth discussing is the dissent written by Justice Ginsburg, joined by Justice Sotomayor. Not surprisingly, Ginsburg feels that this case should have been decided in favor of the same-sex couple.  However, her argument against the majority opinion is so weak it makes clear her bias.

She does not address the fact that gay marriage was illegal at the time Phillips refused to design and create the cake. She does not even broach the freedom of speech aspect. Instead she asserts that the biased statements of a few commissioners against Phillips, during a government hearing in judgment of Phillips, do not rise to the level of “hostility” toward Phillips and therefore cannot be the justification for overturning this case.

Apparently, Ginsburg believes in a lower standard of discrimination for government than private citizens by claiming that these clear and impermissible words of hostility placed on the record by members of the commission and used as justification for their decision were not an exercise of content discrimination, yet the baker refusing to make a wedding cake for a gay marriage, that was currently against the law, and violated his religious beliefs, was discrimination.

KrisAnne Hall is a former biochemist, Russian linguist for the U.S. Army, and former prosecutor for the State of Florida. KrisAnne also practiced First Amendment Law for a prominent Florida non-profit Law firm. KrisAnne now travels the country teaching the foundational principles of Liberty and our Constitutional Republic. She is the author of 6 books on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and has an internationally popular radio and television show. Her books and classes have been featured on C-SPAN TV. KrisAnne can be found at Get the book “Sovereign Duty” to learn what the designers of our Constitution wanted Americans to do when their federal government became bloated and out of control. Find this book on Amazon, Barns & Noble, Wal-Mart, and many other merchants.

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