Brief Fact Summary. The Respondents, Yoder and other members of a Wisconsin Amish community (Respondents) took issue with the State’s compulsory education law, maintaining that keeping children in school until the age of sixteen was against their religious principals, in violation of the Free Exercise Clause.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. When a true religious interest exists, a state cannot enforce a law, which abrogates that interest, provided the public interest in enforcing the law is not otherwise burdened.
Issue. This case considers whether members of a religious community can be compelled to follow a compulsory education scheme, which could be detrimental to their own religious teachings.
After applying a balancing test and determining that the interests of the state in compelling attendance were secondary to the Amish community in preserving its traditions of informal vocational education, the Supreme Court upheld the ruling of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Dissent. Justice William Douglas (J. Douglas) dissented, noting that the claims brought herein were by parents and may not have necessarily been the viewpoints of their high-school-age children.
Concurrence. Justice Potter Stewart (J. Stewart) and Justice Byron White (J. White) concurred in the judgment of the Supreme Court.
Discussion. While there are valid governmental interests to be upheld by compulsory education schemes, these interests do not necessarily outweigh the Free Exercise of religion as mandated by the First Amendment of the Constitution.
Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith
Citation. 494 U.S. 872 (1990).
Brief Fact Summary. The Respondents, Smith and others (Respondents), were discharged from their employment for ingesting peyote in furtherance of their Native American religious beliefs.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. While the Free Exercise Clause holds great weight when considering State laws, it does not mandate the allowance and acceptance of activities that would otherwise be seen as criminal.
Issue. This case considers whether the Free Exercise Clause may be used to allow an activity that is otherwise illegal and in derogation of the public interest.
The Court disagreed that a religious motivation for the use of peyote invalidated the criminal conduct associated with that use. The Supreme Court weighed the interests of the Petitioner, the Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon (Petitioner) and the Respondents and found that the public policy against drug use was to be afforded greater latitude than the ingestion of peyote under the guise of religious practice. Regardless of how the ingestion occurred, there was still a danger both to the individual and secondary dangers to society when drug usage was sustained.
Dissent. Justice Harry Blackmun (J. Blackmun) dissented, holding the converse of the Supreme Court’s ruling to be true: that the Petitioner’s interest in enforcing its drug laws against religious use of peyote is not sufficient to outweigh the Respondents right to freely exercise their religion.
Concurrence. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (J. O’Connor) concurred, noting that granting a selective exemption for religious use of a drug would impair a compelling state interest in prohibiting the use of peyote by its citizens.
Discussion. This case stands for the proposition that the Free Exercise Clause cannot be used as an excuse to condone an activity that would normally be seen as a serious derogation from public policy.
Constitutional Law Keyed to Stone, Seidman, Sunstein & Tushnet (Fourth Edition)