A Fluid Boundary: The Free Exercise Clause and the Legislative and Executive Branches
Significant Supreme Court Rulings
Invalidated an Illinois program allowing students to be released from regular secular instruction so that the students could receive religion instruction on school premises.
Zorach v. Clauson (1952)
Upheld a New York program allowing students to be released from regular secular instruction so that the students could receive religious instruction off school premises.
Walz v. Tax Commission (1970)
Upheld a New York state tax exemption for property owned by non-profit organizations, including houses of worship, because the exemption extended to all charitable organizations, not just religious ones.
Larkin v. Grendel’s Den (1982)
Invalidated a Massachusetts law giving churches and schools the authority to stop nearby restaurants from obtaining liquor licenses because the law transferred governmental power to religious entities.
Estate of Thornton v. Caldor, Inc. (1985)
Invalidated a Connecticut law that provided Sabbath observers with an absolute right not to work on their Sabbath because the law imposed unreasonable costs on employers and other employees.
Corporation of Presiding Bishops v. Amos (1987)
Upheld an exemption for religious organizations from a federal law prohibiting religious discrimination in the workplace because the law had imposed a burden on religious organizations that it did not impose on secular ones.
Employment Division v. Smith (1990)
Upheld the denial of unemployment compensation to two Native American drug rehabilitation counselors who had been dismissed because they had ingested the hallucinogen peyote as part of a religious ritual.
Board of Education of Kiryas Joel v. Grumet (1994)
Invalidated New York’s creation of a special public-school district for a village populated primarily by an Orthodox Jewish community.
City of Boerne v. Flores (1997)
Held that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act could not constitutionally apply to state and local governments.
Cutter v. Wilkinson (2005)
Upheld the institutionalized-persons provision of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act because the provision eased the difficulties prisoners and others confined to institutions have in exercising their religious rights.
Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao Do Vegetal (2006)
Held that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects the right of a small religious group to import and use hoasca tea, a hallucinogenic substance used in the group’s religious rituals.
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