1990 April 17

Religious Use of Peyote Not Constitutionally Protected


The case of Employment Division v. Smith, decided on this day, was a major Free Exercise of Religion case. The Supreme Court upheld the denial of unemployment benefits to Alfred Smith because he used peyote, even though the use of peyote was part of a Native American religious ritual. The Court held that while states could accommodate such religious rituals if they chose to, they were not required to by the Constitution. The decision sparked outrage among a broad spectrum of religious groups across the country, and their response led to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), signed into law on November 16, 1993.

The Supreme Court, however, declared the RFRA unconstitutional with respect to its application to the states as an impermissible extension of Congress’ enforcement powers in Boerne v. Flores on June 25, 1997.

The law remained in effect with regard to the federal government, and it was a major factor in the important Supreme Court decision regarding the Affordable Care Act and the religious freedom challenge in Burwell. Hobby Lobby, June 30, 2014.

Read: Carolyn Long, Religious Freedom and Indian Rights: the Case of Oregon v. Smith (2000)

Learn more about the Free Exercise Clause: http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/category/religion

Read: Omer Stewart, Peyote Religion: A History (1987)

Learn more about the history of peyote: http://www.peyote.org/

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