Right to Religion

Right to Religion

Lemos, Jared
Poli Sci 13
Case Brief

Employment Division of Oregon v. Smith
494 U.S 872 (1990)

Case Facts- The respondents Galen Black and Alfred Smith were members of a Native American Church and employees of a Drug Rehabilitation company. Both the respondents were terminated by their place of employment due to the fact that they ingested a type of hallucinogen called peyote, to engage in a religious ceremony for their church. That being said the Oregon law prohibits the use or possession of peyote and therefore both the respondents committed a crime. In addition, the respondents filed a claim to gain unemployment benefits and they were both denied because the company stated some type of work “misconduct”. Furthermore, the Oregon Courts of Appeals reversed that very decision, stating that refusing to give them their unemployment compensation due to the fact that they used peyote was in fact a violation to their right of religion. On a higher level the Oregon Supreme Court agreed as well with the court of appeals but on different grounds. Then the state appealed to the U.S Supreme Court stating that the respondents were not owed compensation because they committed a crime by using or possessing the drug peyote. The U.S Supreme Court agreed to review it after they sent it back to Oregon Supreme court for better clarification.

Question- Can a state deny unemployment benefits to workers who are fired from their jobs because they ingested the psychoactive plant peyote in religious rituals of the Native American Church, of which they were members, in violation of a state law that classified peyote as a “controlled substance” and made its use unlawful?

The Holding-
Yes, the state can deny unemployment benefits to workers who are fired because a drug that ingested is prohibited under state law, because it’s a crime, even though it was used for religious ceremony.

The Rationale- U.S Supreme Court sates-Since the respondents ingested...

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