Employment Division v. Smith (1990)494 U.S. 872 | Rehnquist Court

Resources » Employment Division v. Smith (1990)


The Court examined whether the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment allowed the state of Oregon to deny unemployment benefits to someone fired from a job for smoking peyote as part of a religious ceremony. Peyote is a controlled substance under Oregon law, and its possession is a criminal offense. The Court first determined whether such prohibition is constitutional and found that it is constitutional, because the law is “valid and neutral,” applying to everyone and not specifically aimed at a physical act engaged in for a religious reason. In a 6-3 decision, the Court then held that, because ingestion of peyote was prohibited under Oregon law, and because that prohibition is constitutional, Oregon did not violate the Free Exercise Clause in denying persons unemployment compensation when their dismissal results from use of the drug.