Protect The 1st Drives Growing Support for Press Shield Law, Expansion of School Choice, and Giving Religious Liberty Its Day in Court
Protect The 1st looks back on an active year with many achievements in the protection of the First Amendment guarantees for free speech, a free press, and the free exercise of religion.
PRESS FREEDOM & THE PRESS ACT
Protect The 1st joined with more than 50 civil liberties groups in October to protest the FBI raid on the home of Tim Burke, a Tampa Bay journalist. The FBI seized Burke’s computers, hard drives, cellphone, and all the information they contain on sources and stories. We commented: “This raid on a journalist’s home and devices seems to be a flat contradiction of Attorney General Merrick Garland’s revision to the Justice Department’s News Media Policy forbidding the use of compulsory legal processes to obtain the newsgathering records of journalists.”
In late 2022 Protect The 1st went to Capitol Hill to promote the Protect Reporters from Exploitive State Spying (PRESS) Act – which shields journalists and their sources by granting a privilege to protect confidential news sources in federal legal proceedings. The House passed that bill, but it died in the Senate. The PRESS Act has since been reintroduced and Protect The 1st is pushing for another vote on the House floor in 2024. Protect The 1st Senior Policy Advisor Bob Goodlatte, former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said: “Journalism and the right to report on government actions must be better protected. We’ve all seen law enforcement officials under multiple recent administrations issue secret orders to surveil the private communications of journalists. Their freedom to report on government misdeeds is critical to maintaining a free society.”
In our work with parents, what comes through loud and clear is a desire for children to be taught specific values along with quality instruction. Protect The 1st will continue to work to expand school choice and to protect the free expression of religion through those choices. School choice becomes speech when it is a decision to express one’s values across generations.
We thus cheered on a school choice movement that swept the nation like a prairie fire in 2023.
Protect The 1st has also been active nationwide in protecting equal treatment for religious education.
With a strong liberty-minded majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, Protect The 1st is seeing a renewal and strengthening of speech and religious rights. Other courts are doing their part to preserve and expand religious liberty throughout the country.
For such an active year, it was appropriate that in November came the celebration of the 30th birthday of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). RFRA was a landmark bill signed into federal law by President Bill Clinton that ensures religious freedom is protected from government overreach. RFRA has since become a cornerstone of religious freedom, putting statutory muscle behind the promise of the free exercise of religion in the First Amendment. RFRA has since served as a guiding light for the courts in their deliberations on religious freedom. Protect The 1st’s litigation and advocacy rest firmly on the strong basis of this law.
PROTECT THE 1st IN COURT
2023 was a productive year for Protect The 1st in court as well. We filed five amicus briefs on a wide range of issues, two of which centered on religious liberty.
In March, we filed a certiorari petition before the Supreme Court in the case of Keister v. Bell. The University of Alabama – through an agreement with the City of Tuscaloosa – shut down a street preacher, Rodney Keister, who preached on city-owned streets near the school.
We expect more positive developments for the year ahead. We are hopeful Gov. Greg Abbott will succeed in persuading the Texas Legislature to add the Lone Star State to the honor roll of states that have now embraced widespread school choice. We hope to see a positive resolution for the Apache Stronghold in Oak Flat. And we are optimistic that courts will fall in line with the reasoning of the U.S. Supreme Court on granting equal treatment to religious education.
Protect The 1st also looks forward to courts applying the new standard set forth in Groff v. Dejoy. We are determined to give greater care to the claims of minority religions, which are often without the resources to fight for their rights like larger religions and denominations.
Protect The 1st will continue to advocate for the fullest protection of the speech, religious expression and other freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment.