Significant Supreme Court Rulings
Reynolds v. United States (1879)
Upheld the successful criminal prosecution of a prominent
Mormon for practicing bigamy in Utah.
Cantwell v. Connecticut (1940)
In overturning a conviction for disturbing the peace,
held that the Free Exercise Clause applies to state as
well as federal actions.
Minersville School District v. Gobitis (1940)
Ruled that the Free Exercise Clause did not give religiously
motivated public school children the right to
opt out of a compulsory flag-salute ceremony.
West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette
Overruled Gobitis and recognized the right not to participate
in a flag-salute ceremony based on the right of
free speech and worship.
U.S. v. Ballard (1944)
In a case involving a faith healer who claimed to
possess supernatural healing powers, ruled that government
cannot question the truth or validity of someone’s
religious beliefs but is free to examine whether
such beliefs are sincerely held.
Braunfeld v. Brown (1961)
Rejected an argument from Jewish businessmen who
observed a Saturday Sabbath and opposed a law that
required businesses to close on Sundays.
Sherbert v. Verner (1963)
Ruled that a South Carolina unemployment policy
forcing an employee to choose between her faith’s
Saturday Sabbath and eligibility for unemployment
benefits violated the Free Exercise Clause.
Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972)
Ruled that the Free Exercise Clause exempted the
adolescent children of the Old Order Amish from
compulsory school attendance laws.
Bob Jones University v. United States (1983)
Rejected a First Amendment challenge to the Internal
Revenue Service’s policy of denying tax-exempt status
to nonprofit educational institutions that had racially
Goldman v. Weinberger (1986)
Ruled that the Free Exercise Clause did not exempt a
Jewish Air Force captain from the rule that forbade the
wearing of any headgear indoors.
O’Lone v. Estate of Shabazz (1987)
Ruled that security considerations provided a reasonable
basis for restricting prison inmate attendance at a
Muslim religious service.
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.
Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah (1993)
Ruled that the city of Hialeah’s ordinances on the
treatment of animals discriminated against the
Santerian faith and its practice of animal sacrifice.
City of Boerne v. Flores (1997)
Ruled that Congress lacks the power to substitute its
judgment for that of the federal judiciary on the
norms of religious liberty that states must obey.
Locke v. Davey (2004)
Ruled that a Washington state higher education subsidy
that excluded those who majored in devotional
religious studies was constitutional.
Cutter v. Wilkinson (2005)
Rejected the argument that the portion of a federal
religious freedom statute that covers prisoners and
other institutionalized persons violates the First
Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal (2006)
Ruled that RFRA protects the right of a small
religious sect to import and use a hallucinogenic
substance in its religious rituals.
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