Employment Division, Dept. of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith Case Brief

Summary of Employment Division, Dept. of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990)

Facts: Res, Smith and Black were fired b/c they took peyote during a religious ceremony. When they applied for unemployment benefits they were denied b/c their use was deemed misconduct.

Issue(s): Whether FECl allows a state to include religious use of peyote within its police power and criminally prohibit that use, and deny unemployment benefits to those dismissed b/c of that use?

Holding: Yes. B/c Or can ban use of peyote consistent w/ FEC, OR can deny unemployment benefits for dismissal based on that use. Laws are made for the Govt of actions and those laws cannot interfere with religious beliefs or opinions, but generally applicable laws may interfere with religious practices.

Procedure: Or S. Ct peyote use is irrelevant to issue b/c purpose of misconduct provision was to preserve financial integrity of unemployment system, not enforce criminal law. The purpose did not justify the burden imposed on Res’ religious practice. U.S.S.Ct if state prohibited peyote use by its criminal law w/o affecting FEC, then it may impose relax burden in administrative proceedings. But, OS. Ct. did not decide if religious use was barred by Or law. Vacated judgment and Remand. On Remand O S. Ct held use of peyote was barred by criminal statute, but that prohibition was invalid under FEC: State can not deny unemployment benefits to those who adhere to religious practices.

Rule(s): 1st and 14th

Rationale: If OR bans the religious use, and if that ban is consistent w/ FEC, there is no federal right to engage in that conduct in OR, and OR is free to w/h benefits for engaging in that conduct. Or bans the use of peyote.

Under FEC is that ban permissible?

Under the FEC Govt cannot ban, as the free exercise of religion, conduct simply b/c that conduct is engaged in for religious purposes. But, an individual’s religious beliefs have never been given an absolute excuse to violate an otherwise valid law in an area the state is free to legislate.

The R2Freely exercise does not relieve a person of the duty to comply with an otherwise valid and neutral law that is generally applicable b/c the law bans or requires certain conduct which his religion requires the opposite reaction. FEC bars application of neutral laws, generally applicable to religious action involve FEC and another Const’l provision or right. Here, the claim is only FEC.

Sherbert’s balancing test only applies in a narrow context: Unemployment compensation cases–where state has in place a system of individualized exemptions, it may not refuse to extend that system to religious hardship cases w/o a compelling reason.

Pl’s A: (Res) Religious motive in using peyote is so central to Native American Church that criminalization is an absolute ban on the freedom to exercise a religion. Any claim for religious exemption should be evaluated under the Sherbert balancing test.


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