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Free Exercise Clause Protects Beliefs, Not Conduct


In Employment Division, Oregon Department of Human Resources v. Smith, the U.S. Supreme Court rules against two American Indians fired from their jobs at a private drug rehabilitation organization because they used the illegal hallucinogenic drug peyote in religious rituals. The State of Oregon denied their unemployment claims because they were fired for work-related “misconduct.” The Court says that it has never held that an individual’s religious beliefs excuse him or her from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct the government is free to regulate.