494 U.S.872 PDF

Not a Lexis Advance subscriber? Try it out for free. The right of free exercise does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a valid and neutral law of general applicability on the ground that the law proscribes or prescribe conduct that his religion prescribes or proscribes. Respondent employees were fired by a drug rehabilitation organization after ingesting peyote for sacramental purposes.

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Alfred L. SMITH et al. See U. Respondents Smith and Black were fired by a private drug rehabilitation organization because they ingested peyote, a hallucinogenic drug, for sacramental purposes at a ceremony of their Native American Church. Their applications for unemployment compensation were denied by the State of Oregon under a state law disqualifying employees discharged for work-related "misconduct.

The State Supreme Court affirmed, but this Court vacated the judgment and remanded for a determination whether sacramental peyote use is proscribed by the State's controlled substance law, which makes it a felony to knowingly or intentionally possess the drug. Pending that determination, the Court refused to decide whether such use is protected by the Constitution. On remand, the State Supreme Court held that sacramental peyote use violated, and was not excepted from, the state-law prohibition, but concluded that that prohibition was invalid under the Free Exercise Clause.

Held: The Free Exercise Clause permits the State to prohibit sacramental peyote use and thus to deny unemployment benefits to persons discharged for such use. See, e. United States, 98 U. The only decisions in which this Court has held that the First Amendment bars application of a neutral, generally applicable law to religiously motivated action are distinguished on the ground that they involved not the Free Exercise Clause alone, but that Clause in conjunction with otherconstitutional protections.

Connecticut, U. Yoder, U. Verner, U. The test is inapplicable to an across-the-board criminal prohibition on a particular form of conduct. A holding to the contrary would create an extraordinary right to ignore generally applicable laws that are not supported by "compelling governmental interest" on the basis of religious belief. Nor could such a right be limited to situations in which the conduct prohibited is "central" to the individual's religion, since that would enmesh judges in an impermissible inquiry into the centrality of particular beliefs or practices to a faith.

Hernandez v. Commissioner, U. Thus, although it is constitutionally permissible to exempt sacramental peyote use from the operation of drug laws, it is not constitutionally required. This case requires us to decide whether the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment permits the State of Oregon to include religiously inspired peyote use within the reach of its general criminal prohibition on use of that drug, and thus permits the State to deny unemployment benefits to persons dismissed from their jobs because of such religiously inspired use.

Persons who violate this provision by possessing a controlled substance listed on Schedule I are "guilty of a Class B felony. Rule 3 s Respondents Alfred Smith and Galen Black hereinafter respondents were fired from their jobs with a private drug rehabilitation organization because they ingested peyote for sacramental purposes at a ceremony of the Native American Church, of which both are members. When respondents applied to petitioner Employment Division hereinafter petitioner for unemployment compensation, they were determined to be ineligible for benefits because they had been discharged for work-related "misconduct.

On appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court, petitioner argued that the denial of benefits was permissible because respondents' consumption of peyote was a crime under Oregon law. The Oregon Supreme Court reasoned, however, that the criminality of respondents' peyote use was irrelevant to resolution of their constitutional claim—since the purpose of the "misconduct" provision under which respondents had been disqualified was not to enforce the State's criminal laws but to preserve the financial integrity of the compensation fund, and since that purpose was inadequate to justify the burden that disqualification imposed on respondents' religious practice.

Citing our decisions in Sherbert v. Review Bd. Smith v. Employment Div. We granted certiorari. Before this Court in , petitioner continued to maintain that the illegality of respondents' peyote consumption was relevant to their constitutional claim.

We agreed, concluding that "if a State has prohibited through its criminal laws certain kinds of religiously motivated conduct without violating the First Amendment , it certainly follows that it may impose the lesser burden of denying unemployment compensation benefits to persons who engage in that conduct. Smith, U. We noted, however, that the Oregon Supreme Court had not decided whether respondents' sacramental use of peyote was in fact proscribed by Oregon's controlled substance law, and that this issue was a matter of dispute between the parties.

Being "uncertain about the legality of the religious use of peyote in Oregon," we determined that it would not be "appropriate for us to decide whether the practice is protected by the Federal Constitution. Accordingly, we vacated the judgment of the Oregon Supreme Court and remanded for further proceedings. On remand, the Oregon Supreme Court held that respondents' religiously inspired use of peyote fell within the prohibition of the Oregon statute, which "makes no exception for the sacramental use" of the drug.

It then considered whether that prohibition was valid under the Free Exercise Clause, and concluded that it was not. The court therefore reaffirmed its previous ruling that the State could not deny unemployment benefits to respondents for having engaged in that practice.

We again granted certiorari. Respondents' claim for relief rests on our decisions in Sherbert v. Verner, supra, Thomas v. Unemployment Appeals Comm'n of Florida, U. As we observed in Smith I, however, the conduct at issue in those cases was not prohibited by law. We held that distinction to be critical, for "if Oregon does prohibit the religious use of peyote, and if that prohibition is consistent with the Federal Constitution, there is no federal right to engage in that conduct in Oregon," and "the State is free to withhold unemployment compensation from respondents for engaging in work-related misconduct, despite its religious motivation.

Now that the Oregon Supreme Court has confirmed that Oregon does prohibit the religious use of peyote, we proceed to consider whether that prohibition is permissible under the Free Exercise Clause. The free exercise of religion means, first and foremost, the right to believe and profess whatever religious doctrine one desires. Thus, the First Amendment obviously excludes all "governmental regulation of religious beliefs as such.

Verner, supra, U. The government may not compel affirmation of religious belief, see Torcaso v. Watkins, U. Ballard, U. Paty, U. Rhode Island, U. Larson v. Valente, U. Nicholas Cathedral, U. Milivojevich, U. But the "exercise of religion" often involves not only belief and profession but the performance of or abstention from physical acts: assembling with others for a worship service, participating in sacramental use of bread and wine, proselytizing, abstaining from certain foods or certain modes of transportation.

It would be true, we think though no case of ours has involved the point , that a State would be "prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]" if it sought to ban such acts or abstentions only when they are engaged in for religious reasons, or only because of the religious belief that they display.

It would doubtless be unconstitutional, for example, to ban the casting of "statues that are to be used for worship purposes," or to prohibit bowing down before a golden calf. Respondents in the present case, however, seek to carry the meaning of "prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]" one large step further. They contend that their religious motivation for using peyote places them beyond the reach of a criminal law that is not specifically directed at their religious practice, and that is concededly constitutional as applied to those who use the drug for other reasons.

They assert, in other words, that "prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]" includes requiring any individual to observe a generally applicable law that requires or forbids the performance of an act that his religious belief forbids or requires.

As a textual matter, we do not think the words must be given that meaning. It is no more necessary to regard the collection of a general tax, for example, as "prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]" by those citizens who believe support of organized government to be sinful, than it is to regard the same tax as "abridging the freedom.

It is a permissible reading of the text, in the one case as in the other, to say that if prohibiting the exercise of religion or burdening the activity of printing is not the object of the tax but merely the incidental effect of a generally applicable and otherwise valid provision, the First Amendment has not been offended. Compare Citizen Publishing Co. United States, U. American Press Co. Minnesota Comm'r of Revenue, U. Our decisions reveal that the latter reading is the correct one.

We have never held that an individual's religious beliefs excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that the State is free to regulate. On the contrary, the record of more than a century of our free exercise jurisprudence contradicts that proposition.

Gobitis, U. The mere possession of religious convictions which contradict the relevant concerns of a political society does not relieve the citizen from the discharge of political responsibilities footnote omitted. Can a man excuse his practices to the contrary because of his religious belief?

To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself. Subsequent decisions have consistently held that the right of free exercise does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a "valid and neutral law of general applicability on the ground that the law proscribes or prescribes conduct that his religion prescribes or proscribes.

Lee, U. Gobitis, supra, U. In Prince v. Massachusetts, U. We found no constitutional infirmity in "excluding [these children] from doing there what no other children may do. In Braunfeld v. Brown, U. In Gillette v. Our most recent decision involving a neutral, generally applicable regulatory law that compelled activity forbidden by an individual's religion was United States v. There, an Amish employer, on behalf of himself and his employees, sought exemption from collection and payment of Social Security taxes on the ground that the Amish faith prohibited participation in governmental support programs.

We rejected the claim that an exemption was constitutionally required. There would be no way, we observed, to distinguish the Amish believer's objection to Social Security taxes from the religious objections that others might have to the collection or use of other taxes.

The tax system could not function if denominations were allowed to challenge the tax system because tax payments were spent in a manner that violates their religious belief. The only decisions in which we have held that the First Amendment bars application of a neutral, generally applicable law to religiously motivated action have involved not the Free Exercise Clause alone, but the Free Exercise Clause in conjunction with other constitutional protections, such as freedom of speech and of the press, see Cantwell v.

Pennsylvania, U. McCormick, U. Society of Sisters, U.


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Smith , U. Although states have the power to accommodate otherwise illegal acts performed in pursuit of religious beliefs, they are not required to do so. They were fired because they had ingested peyote , a powerful entheogen , as part of their religious ceremonies as members of the Native American Church. At the time, intentional possession of peyote was a crime under Oregon law without an affirmative defense for religious use. The counselors filed a claim for unemployment compensation with the state, but the claim was denied because the reason for their dismissal was deemed work-related "misconduct. The Oregon Supreme Court agreed, although it relied not on the fact that peyote use was a crime but on the fact that the state's justification for withholding the benefits—preserving the "financial integrity" of the workers' compensation fund—was outweighed by the burden imposed on the employees' exercise of their religion.


Employment Div. v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990)

Alfred L. SMITH et al. See U. Respondents Smith and Black were fired by a private drug rehabilitation organization because they ingested peyote, a hallucinogenic drug, for sacramental purposes at a ceremony of their Native American Church.


Emp't Div. v. Smith - 494 U.S. 872, 110 S. Ct. 1595 (1990)




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