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Employment division v. Smith 1990: an example of Free Exercise Clause case.

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Employment Division V. Smith 1990 : an example of Free Exercise Clause case

Reminding :

The 1st A. establishes religious rights and freedoms in addition to public freedoms and is made up of 2 religion clauses :

- the Establishment Clause : involves government neutrality in relation to religion (no state ____religion or acts which support a religion)

the Free Exercise Clause : no government interference in anyone’s religious beliefs and practices

I - Facts

In this case :

2 Native Americans Alfred Smith and Galen Black lost their job at a drug rehabilitation center because they used peyote, a hallucinogen forbidden by an Oregon law, at a religious ceremony of the Native American Church and were tested positive. Using Peyote is a common practice in Native American tribes for centuries

The employment division decided to deny them unemployment benefits on the ground that they had been fired for « work-related misconduct »

The Oregon Court of Appeals reversed the Employment division’s decision : denying them unemployment benefits for their religious use of peyote violated their right to exercise they religion.

The Oregon Supreme Court agreed with this ruling.

The State appealed to the USSC

- the respondents based their claim for relief (application for damages) on 3 previous cases : Sherbet v. Verner 1963, Thomas v. Review Board of Indiana Employment security Division (1981) and Hobbie v. Unemployment Appeals Comm’n of Florida (1987). In these cases the SC ruled that a state conditions to provide unemployment benefits couldn’t lead and individual to forgo conduct required by his religion and that a State’s refusal to provide this insurance can only be justified by a compelling government interest.

Sherbet v. Verner 1963 : a seventh day adventist was denied unemployment benefits because she refused to work on Saturdays in application of her religion. The Cout ruled in her favor

Thomas v. Review Bd. Of Indiana Employment security division 1981 : a Jehovah’s witness refused to produce weapons at work because of his religion and wad denied the unemployment compensation benefits.

Hobbie v. Unemployment Appeals Comm’n of Florida 1981 : the SC reversed the commission’s refusal to provide unemployment benefits to a woman who refused to work during her Sabbath

To this claim, the SC changed rule and for the first time in the history of Free Exercise Clause cases put a limit to the religious exemption : indeed, the behavior in this case was prohibited by law, which makes all the difference.


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