In addressing the constitutional protection for free exercise of religion, a law that is neutral and of general applicability need not be justified by a compelling governmental interest even if the law has the incidental effect of burdening a particular religious practice. Neutrality and general applicability are interrelated, and failure to satisfy one requirement is a likely indication that the other has not been satisfied. A law failing to satisfy these requirements must be justified by a compelling governmental interest and must be narrowly tailored to advance that interest.
Petitioners, church and its president, applied for and received licensing, inspection and zoning approvals to establish a church including a ritual of animal sacrifice from respondent city. In response, an emergency public session of respondent's city council was held and ordinances were passed which prohibited animal sacrifice. Petitioners filed an action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 alleging that their rights under the Free Exercise Clause, U.S. Const., amend. I, were violated. The trial court ruled for respondent finding no constitutional violations. The appellate court affirmed. The United States Supreme Court reversed the judgment.
Did the statute violate the free exercise of religion clause of the Constitution?
The ordinances were unconstitutional. It found that they were not neutral nor of general application, therefore it applied a strict scrutiny analysis. The Court determined that the governmental interests were not compelling, the ordinances were not drawn in narrow terms, and were both overbroad and underinclusive in substantial respects.