Emp't Div. v. Smith

494 U.S. 872, 110 S. Ct. 1595 (1990)



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. The Employment Division denied them unemployment compensation because peyote use was criminal under Oregon law, making their discharge work-related "misconduct."


Can the state of Oregon to penalize religious practices that are against applicable laws?




On certiorari, the United States Supreme Court held that (1) the free exercise of religion clause permits a state to include religiously inspired use of peyote within the reach of the state's general criminal prohibition on use of that drug, where there is no contention that the state's drug law represents an attempt to regulate religious beliefs, the communication of religious beliefs, or the raising of one's children in those beliefs; (2) the free exercise of religion clause thus permitted Oregon to deny unemployment benefits to persons dismissed from their jobs because of such religiously inspired use; and (3) generally applicable, religion-neutral criminal laws that have the effect of burdening a particular religious practice need not be justified, under the free exercise of religion clause, by a compelling governmental interest.

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