Religious Liberty Resources

EXPLORE THE HISTORY, LAW, AND THEORY OF RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

Discrimination and Accomodation

Hosanna Tabor v. EEOC (2012)
565 U.S. 171
Roberts Court

Hosanna Tabor v. EEOC (2012)

The Supreme Court considered a case involving a teacher with ministerial capacities at the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School. The teacher, Cheryl Perich, was diagnosed with narcolepsy and was on medical leave of absence for several months. When she returned, the school fired her, and Perich claimed that she was wrongfully terminated under the Disabilities Act. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of Hosanna-Tabor, citing ministerial exception protections for religious groups under the First Amendment. The Court argues that Perich is a minister and that the ministerial exception protects religious groups’ employment decisions regardless of whether or not decisions have a religious purpose.

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

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.

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98 U.S. 145
Waite Court

Reynolds v. United States (1878)

The Court examined whether the federal anti-bigamy statute violated the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause, because plural marriage is part of religious practice. It unanimously upheld the federal law banning polygamy, noting that the Free Exercise Clause forbids government from regulating belief, but does allow government to punish activity judged to be criminal, regardless of an activity’s basis in religious belief.

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310 U.S. 296
Hughes Court

Cantwell v. Connecticut (1940)

The Court considered whether a Connecticut statute requiring a permit to solicit for religious or charitable purposes violated First Amendment Free Speech or Free Exercise rights. It ruled unanimously against the state, noting that although general regulations on solicitation are legitimate, in allowing local officials to determine which causes were religious and which ones were not and to issue and deny permits accordingly, the state of Connecticut took on the role of determining religious truth—which violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The Court also held that the peaceful expression of beliefs is protected by the First Amendment from infringement by not only the federal government, but also by state governments. This was the first time the Court applied the Free Exercise Clause to the states.

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343 U.S. 306
Vinson Court

Zorach v. Clauson (1952)

Zorach v. Clauson was the first clear assertion by the Supreme Court that the government should accommodate the religious beliefs of its citizens. New York City had begun a program in which public school students could be released from the classroom at specific times to attend religious education outside of school. Parents sued the school board, claiming that, as in McCollum v. Board of Education, the district had violated the Establishment Clause by sanctioning religious instruction. The Court ruled that the district had acted constitutionally since it had not spent any taxpayer money on religious activity, nor coerced students to attend it; religious instruction had occurred strictly outside of the public classroom and was completely voluntary. In the majority's opinion, it would be unconstitutional and hostile to religion to not recognize and accommodate religious groups.

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435 U.S. 618
Burger Court

McDaniel v. Paty (1978)

The Court looked at whether a Tennessee law that barred members of the clergy from serving in public office violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The Court ruled unanimously that the statute violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment as applied to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment, because it made the ability to exercise civil rights conditional on the surrender of religious rights.

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Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. Hialeah (1993)
508 U.S. 520
Rehnquist Court

Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. Hialeah (1993)

The Court considered whether ordinances passed by the city of Hialeah, Florida, banning animal sacrifice violated the Free Exercise Clause. The texts of these laws and the way they operated showed that they were not neutral and generally applicable, but instead targeted the Santeria religion, in which animal sacrifice is an important ritual. In a unanimous decision, the Court held that because the ordinances were designed to persecute or oppress a religion or its practices, they violated the Free Exercise Clause.

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Capitol Square Review and Advisory Bd. v. Pinette (1995)
515 U.S. 753
Rehnquist Court

Capitol Square Review and Advisory Bd. v. Pinette (1995)

The Court considered whether the Advisory Board of Columbus, Ohio, violated the free speech rights of the Ku Klux Klan when it used the Establishment Clause to deny them permission to erect an unattended cross on Capitol Square (the state-house square) during the Christmas season. Under Ohio law, Capitol Square is a forum for discussion of public questions and for public activities, and so is a space that is open to all on equal terms. In a 7-2 decision, the Court held that the denial of permission did violate the Ku Klux Klan’s free speech rights. In the opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the display of the cross “was private religious speech that is as fully protected under the Free Speech Clause as secular private expression” and that, because Capitol Square is a traditional public forum, “the Board could regulate the content of the Klan’s expression there only if such a restriction is necessary, and narrowly drawn, to serve a compelling state interest.”

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City of Boerne v. Flores (1997)
521 U.S. 507
Rehnquist Court

City of Boerne v. Flores (1997)

The Supreme Court considered whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 exempts the Archbishop of San Antonio’s diocese from the city of Boerne’s local ordinance forbidding new construction. The Court ruled that Congress exceeded its 14th Amendment powers by determining the particular manner in which local ordinances enforce RFRA. Additionally, there was no evidence that Boerne’s local ordinance discriminated against the Catholic Church.

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