Employment Division, Oregon Department of Human Resources v. Smith


Respondents Alfred Smith and Galen Black were fired from their job because they consumed the drug peyote for religious reasons at a ceremony for their church. They were also denied unemployment compensation because they were terminated for “misconduct”.


Can the state of Oregon deny unemployment benefits to the respondents because they were fired for using illegal drugs for religious purposes?


Yes, the state can deny unemployment benefits because the use of the drug is prohibited under Oregon law and this prohibition is constitutional.



The court stated that “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 prescribes) conduct that his religion prescribes (or proscribes).”

The U.S. Supreme Court lists some cases that they have ruled the same in because the court is going by precedent. Then, the court distinguishes this case from others where they have ruled the opposite of this rule. These other cases involved the Free Exercise Clause with other “constitutional protections”. The case the court is hearing now only involves the Free Exercise Clause, by itself.


The respondents are asking for the court to require religious exemptions from “civic obligations” of nearly every possible kind. The court cannot grant such favors. The respondents are asking for something that the court cannot do. This matter would be up to the legislative body to decide whether or not each law should be able to have a religious exception. The court refers to Reynolds v. U.S., where they stated that permitting an individual’s obligations to obey a law depending on this individual’s religious beliefs would make religious doctrines supreme to the Constitution. Every man would become a law unto himself. The Constitution would only be applicable by name, not by practice. The court says that the same circumstance is happening in this current case at hand. The court ends with saying that they agree to leave this matter up to the legislature because a system in which judges weigh the “social importance” of each law against the significance of all

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