This case requires us to decide whether the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment permits the State of Oregon to include religiously inspired peyote use within the reach of its general criminal prohibition on use of that drug, and thus permits the State to deny unemployment benefits to persons dismissed from their jobs because of such religiously inspired use.
Oregon law prohibits the knowing or intentional possession of a "controlled substance" unless the substance has been prescribed by a medical practitioner. Ore. Rev. Stat. § 475.992(4) (1987). The law defines "controlled substance" as a drug classified in Schedules I through V of the Federal Controlled Substances Act, 21 U. S. C. §§ 811-812, as modified by the State Board of Pharmacy. Ore. Rev. Stat. § 475.005(6) (1987). Persons who violate this provision by possessing a controlled substance listed on Schedule I are "guilty of a Class B felony." § 475.992(4)(a). As compiled by the State Board of Pharmacy under its statutory authority, see § 475.035, Schedule I contains the drug peyote, a hallucinogen derived from the plant Lophophora williamsii Lemaire. Ore. Admin. Rule 855-80-021(3)(s) (1988).
Respondents Alfred Smith and Galen Black (hereinafter respondents) were fired from their jobs with a private drug rehabilitation organization because they ingested peyote for sacramental purposes at a ceremony of the Native American Church, of which both are members. When respondents applied to petitioner Employment Division (hereinafter petitioner) for unemployment compensation, they were determined to be ineligible for benefits because they had been discharged for work-related "misconduct." The Oregon Court of Appeals reversed that determination, holding that the denial of benefits violated respondents' free exercise rights under the First Amendment.
Before this Court in 1987, petitioner continued to maintain that the illegality of respondents' peyote consumption was relevant to their constitutional claim. We agreed, concluding that "if a State has prohibited through its criminal laws certain kinds of religiously motivated conduct without violating the First Amendment, it certainly follows that it may impose the lesser burden of denying unemployment compensation benefits to persons who engage in that conduct." Employment Div., Dept. of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith, 485 U.S. 660, 670 (1988) (Smith I). We noted, however, that the Oregon Supreme Court had not decided whether respondents' sacramental use of peyote was in fact proscribed by Oregon's controlled substance law, and that this issue was a matter of dispute between the parties. Being "uncertain about the legality of the religious use of peyote in Oregon," we determined that it would not be "appropriate for us to decide whether the practice is protected by the Federal Constitution." Id., at 673. Accordingly, we
On remand, the Oregon Supreme Court held that respondents' religiously inspired use of peyote fell within the prohibition of the Oregon statute, which "makes no exception for the sacramental use" of the drug. 307 Or. 68, 72-73, 763 P.2d 146, 148 (1988). It then considered whether that prohibition was valid under the Free Exercise Clause, and concluded that it was not. The court therefore reaffirmed its previous ruling that the State could not deny unemployment benefits to respondents for having engaged in that practice.
We again granted certiorari. 489 U.S. 1077 (1989).
Respondents' claim for relief rests on our decisions in Sherbert v. Verner, supra, Thomas v. Review Bd. of Indiana Employment Security Div., supra, and Hobbie v. Unemployment Appeals Comm'n of Florida, 480 U.S. 136 (1987), in which we held that a State could not condition the availability of unemployment insurance on an individual's willingness to forgo conduct required by his religion. As we observed in Smith I, however, the conduct at issue in those cases was not prohibited by law. We held that distinction to be critical, for "if Oregon does prohibit the religious use of peyote, and if that prohibition is consistent with the Federal Constitution, there is no federal right to engage in that conduct in Oregon," and "the State is free to withhold unemployment compensation from respondents for engaging in work-related misconduct, despite its religious motivation." 485 U. S., at 672. Now that the Oregon Supreme Court has confirmed that Oregon does prohibit the religious use of peyote, we proceed to consider whether that prohibition is permissible under the Free Exercise Clause.
The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, which has been made applicable to the States by incorporation into
But the "exercise of religion" often involves not only belief and profession but the performance of (or abstention from) physical acts: assembling with others for a worship service, participating in sacramental use of bread and wine, proselytizing, abstaining from certain foods or certain modes of transportation. It would be true, we think (though no case of ours has involved the point), that a State would be "prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]" if it sought to ban such acts or abstentions only when they are engaged in for religious reasons, or only because of the religious belief that they display. It would doubtless be unconstitutional, for example, to ban the casting of "statues that are to be used
Respondents in the present case, however, seek to carry the meaning of "prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]" one large step further. They contend that their religious motivation for using peyote places them beyond the reach of a criminal law that is not specifically directed at their religious practice, and that is concededly constitutional as applied to those who use the drug for other reasons. They assert, in other words, that "prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]" includes requiring any individual to observe a generally applicable law that requires (or forbids) the performance of an act that his religious belief forbids (or requires). As a textual matter, we do not think the words must be given that meaning. It is no more necessary to regard the collection of a general tax, for example, as "prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]" by those citizens who believe support of organized government to be sinful, than it is to regard the same tax as "abridging the freedom . . . of the press" of those publishing companies that must pay the tax as a condition of staying in business. It is a permissible reading of the text, in the one case as in the other, to say that if prohibiting the exercise of religion (or burdening the activity of printing) is not the object of the tax but merely the incidental effect of a generally applicable and otherwise valid provision, the First Amendment has not been offended. Compare Citizen Publishing Co. v. United States, 394 U.S. 131, 139 (1969) (upholding application of antitrust laws to press), with Grosjean v. American Press Co., 297 U.S. 233, 250-251 (1936) (striking down license tax applied only to newspapers with weekly circulation above a specified level); see generally Minneapolis Star & Tribune Co. v. Minnesota Comm'r of Revenue, 460 U.S. 575, 581 (1983).
Our decisions reveal that the latter reading is the correct one. We have never held that an individual's religious beliefs
Subsequent decisions have consistently held that the right of free exercise does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a "valid and neutral law of general applicability on the ground that the law proscribes (or prescribes) conduct that his religion prescribes (or proscribes)." United States v. Lee, 455 U.S. 252, 263, n. 3 (1982) (STEVENS, J., concurring in judgment); see Minersville School Dist. Bd. of Ed. v. Gobitis, supra, at 595 (collecting cases). In Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158 (1944), we held that a mother could be prosecuted under the child labor laws
Our most recent decision involving a neutral, generally applicable regulatory law that compelled activity forbidden by an individual's religion was United States v. Lee, 455 U. S., at 258-261. There, an Amish employer, on behalf of himself and his employees, sought exemption from collection and payment of Social Security taxes on the ground that the Amish faith prohibited participation in governmental support programs. We rejected the claim that an exemption was constitutionally required. There would be no way, we observed, to distinguish the Amish believer's objection to Social Security taxes from the religious objections that others might have to the collection or use of other taxes. "If, for example, a religious adherent believes war is a sin, and if a certain percentage of the federal budget can be identified as devoted to war-related activities, such individuals would have a similarly valid claim to be exempt from paying that percentage of the income tax. The tax system could not function if denominations were allowed to challenge the tax system because tax payments were spent in a manner that violates their religious belief." Id., at 260. Cf. Hernandez v. Commissioner, 490 U.S. 680 (1989) (rejecting free exercise challenge to payment of income taxes alleged to make religious activities more difficult).
The present case does not present such a hybrid situation, but a free exercise claim unconnected with any communicative activity or parental right. Respondents urge us to hold, quite simply, that when otherwise prohibitable conduct is accompanied by religious convictions, not only the convictions but the conduct itself must be free from governmental regulation. We have never held that, and decline to do so now. There being no contention that Oregon's drug law represents an attempt to regulate religious beliefs, the communication of religious beliefs, or the raising of one's children in those beliefs, the rule to which we have adhered ever since Reynolds plainly controls. "Our cases do not at their farthest reach support the proposition that a stance of conscientious opposition relieves an objector from any colliding duty fixed by a democratic government." Gillette v. United States, supra, at 461.
Respondents argue that even though exemption from generally applicable criminal laws need not automatically be extended to religiously motivated actors, at least the claim for a
Even if we were inclined to breathe into Sherbert some life beyond the unemployment compensation field, we would not apply it to require exemptions from a generally applicable criminal law. The Sherbert test, it must be recalled, was developed in a context that lent itself to individualized governmental assessment of the reasons for the relevant conduct. As a plurality of the Court noted in Roy, a distinctive feature of unemployment compensation programs is that their eligibility criteria invite consideration of the particular circumstances behind an applicant's unemployment: "The statutory conditions [in Sherbert and Thomas] provided that a person was not eligible for unemployment compensation benefits if, `without good cause,' he had quit work or refused available work. The `good cause' standard created a mechanism for individualized exemptions." Bowen v. Roy, supra, at 708 (opinion of Burger, C. J., joined by Powell and REHNQUIST, JJ.). See also Sherbert, supra, at 401, n. 4 (reading state unemployment compensation law as allowing benefits for unemployment caused by at least some "personal reasons"). As the plurality pointed out in Roy, our decisions in the unemployment cases stand for the proposition that where the State has in place a system of individual exemptions, it may not refuse to extend that system to cases of "religious hardship" without compelling reason. Bowen v. Roy, supra, at 708.
Whether or not the decisions are that limited, they at least have nothing to do with an across-the-board criminal prohibition on a particular form of conduct. Although, as noted earlier, we have sometimes used the Sherbert test to analyze free exercise challenges to such laws, see United States v.
The "compelling government interest" requirement seems benign, because it is familiar from other fields. But using it as the standard that must be met before the government may accord different treatment on the basis of race, see, e. g.,
Nor is it possible to limit the impact of respondents' proposal by requiring a "compelling state interest" only when the conduct prohibited is "central" to the individual's religion. Cf. Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Assn., 485 U. S., at 474-476 (BRENNAN, J., dissenting). It is no
* * *
Because respondents' ingestion of peyote was prohibited under Oregon law, and because that prohibition is constitutional, Oregon may, consistent with the Free Exercise Clause, deny respondents unemployment compensation when their dismissal results from use of the drug. The decision of the Oregon Supreme Court is accordingly reversed.
It is so ordered.
Although I agree with the result the Court reaches in this case, I cannot join its opinion. In my view, today's holding dramatically departs from well-settled First Amendment jurisprudence, appears unnecessary to resolve the question presented, and is incompatible with our Nation's fundamental commitment to individual religious liberty.
At the outset, I note that I agree with the Court's implicit determination that the constitutional question upon which we granted review — whether the Free Exercise Clause protects a person's religiously motivated use of peyote from the reach of a State's general criminal law prohibition — is properly presented in this case. As the Court recounts, respondents Alfred Smith and Galen Black (hereinafter respondents) were denied unemployment compensation benefits because their sacramental use of peyote constituted work-related "misconduct," not because they violated Oregon's general criminal prohibition against possession of peyote. We held, however, in Employment Div., Dept. of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith, 485 U.S. 660 (1988) (Smith I), that whether a State may, consistent with federal law, deny unemployment compensation benefits to persons for their religious use of peyote depends on whether the State, as a matter of state law, has criminalized the underlying conduct. See id., at 670-672. The Oregon Supreme Court, on remand from this Court, concluded that "the Oregon statute against possession of controlled substances, which include peyote, makes no exception for the sacramental use of peyote." 307 Or. 68, 72-73, 763 P.2d 146, 148 (1988) (footnote omitted).
The Court today extracts from our long history of free exercise precedents the single categorical rule that "if prohibiting the exercise of religion . . . is . . . merely the incidental effect of a generally applicable and otherwise valid provision, the First Amendment has not been offended." Ante, at 878 (citations omitted). Indeed, the Court holds that where the law is a generally applicable criminal prohibition, our usual free exercise jurisprudence does not even apply. Ante, at 884. To reach this sweeping result, however, the Court must not only give a strained reading of the First Amendment but must also disregard our consistent application of free exercise doctrine to cases involving generally applicable regulations that burden religious conduct.
The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment commands that "Congress shall make no law . . . prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]." In Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296 (1940), we held that this prohibition applies to the States by incorporation into the Fourteenth Amendment and that it categorically forbids government regulation of religious beliefs. Id., at 303. As the Court recognizes, however, the "free exercise" of religion often, if not invariably, requires the performance of (or abstention from) certain acts. Ante, at 877; cf. 3 A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles 401-402 (J. Murray ed. 1897) (defining "exercise" to include "[t]he practice and performance of rites and ceremonies, worship, etc.; the right or permission to celebrate the observances (of a religion)" and religious observances such as acts of public and private worship, preaching, and prophesying). "[B]elief and action cannot be neatly confined in logic-tight compartments." Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 220 (1972). Because the First Amendment does not distinguish between religious belief and religious conduct, conduct motivated by sincere religious belief, like the belief itself, must be at least presumptively protected by the Free Exercise Clause.
The Court today, however, interprets the Clause to permit the government to prohibit, without justification, conduct mandated by an individual's religious beliefs, so long as that prohibition is generally applicable. Ante, at 878. But a law that prohibits certain conduct — conduct that happens to be an act of worship for someone — manifestly does prohibit that person's free exercise of his religion. A person who is barred from engaging in religiously motivated conduct is barred from freely exercising his religion. Moreover, that person is barred from freely exercising his religion regardless of whether the law prohibits the conduct only when engaged in for religious reasons, only by members of that religion, or by all persons. It is difficult to deny that a law that prohibits
The Court responds that generally applicable laws are "one large step" removed from laws aimed at specific religious practices. Ibid. The First Amendment, however, does not distinguish between laws that are generally applicable and laws that target particular religious practices. Indeed, few States would be so naive as to enact a law directly prohibiting or burdening a religious practice as such. Our free exercise cases have all concerned generally applicable laws that had the effect of significantly burdening a religious practice. If the First Amendment is to have any vitality, it ought not be construed to cover only the extreme and hypothetical situation in which a State directly targets a religious practice. As we have noted in a slightly different context, " `[s]uch a test has no basis in precedent and relegates a serious First Amendment value to the barest level of minimum scrutiny that the Equal Protection Clause already provides.' " Hobbie v. Unemployment Appeals Comm'n of Florida, 480 U.S. 136, 141-142 (1987) (quoting Bowen v. Roy, 476 U.S. 693, 727 (1986) (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part)).
To say that a person's right to free exercise has been burdened, of course, does not mean that he has an absolute right to engage in the conduct. Under our established First Amendment jurisprudence, we have recognized that the freedom to act, unlike the freedom to believe, cannot be absolute. See, e. g., Cantwell, supra, at 304; Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145, 161-167 (1879). Instead, we have respected both the First Amendment's express textual mandate and the governmental interest in regulation of conduct by requiring the government to justify any substantial burden on religiously motivated conduct by a compelling state interest and by means narrowly tailored to achieve that interest. See Hernandez v. Commissioner, 490 U.S. 680, 699
The Court attempts to support its narrow reading of the Clause by claiming that "[w]e have never held that an individual's religious beliefs excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that the State is free to regulate." Ante, at 878-879. But as the Court later notes, as it must, in cases such as Cantwell and Yoder we have in fact interpreted the Free Exercise Clause to forbid application of a generally applicable prohibition to religiously motivated conduct. See Cantwell, supra, at 304-307; Yoder, 406 U. S., at 214-234. Indeed, in Yoder we expressly rejected the interpretation the Court now adopts:
The Court endeavors to escape from our decisions in Cantwell and Yoder by labeling them "hybrid" decisions, ante, at 892, but there is no denying that both cases expressly relied on the Free Exercise Clause, see Cantwell, 310 U. S., at 303-307; Yoder, supra, at 219-229, and that we have consistently regarded those cases as part of the mainstream of our free exercise jurisprudence. Moreover, in each of the other cases cited by the Court to support its categorical rule, ante, at 879-880, we rejected the particular constitutional claims before us only after carefully weighing the competing interests. See Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, 168-170 (1944) (state interest in regulating children's activities justifies denial of religious exemption from child labor laws); Braunfeld v. Brown, 366 U.S. 599, 608-609 (1961) (plurality opinion) (state interest in uniform day of rest justifies denial of religious exemption from Sunday closing law); Gillette, supra, at 462 (state interest in military affairs justifies denial of religious exemption from conscription laws); Lee, supra, at 258-259 (state interest in comprehensive Social Security system justifies denial of religious exemption from mandatory participation requirement). That we rejected the free exercise
Respondents, of course, do not contend that their conduct is automatically immune from all governmental regulation simply because it is motivated by their sincere religious beliefs. The Court's rejection of that argument, ante, at 882, might therefore be regarded as merely harmless dictum. Rather, respondents invoke our traditional compelling interest test to argue that the Free Exercise Clause requires the State to grant them a limited exemption from its general criminal prohibition against the possession of peyote. The Court today, however, denies them even the opportunity to make that argument, concluding that "the sounder approach, and the approach in accord with the vast majority of our precedents, is to hold the [compelling interest] test inapplicable to" challenges to general criminal prohibitions. Ante, at 885.
In my view, however, the essence of a free exercise claim is relief from a burden imposed by government on religious practices or beliefs, whether the burden is imposed directly through laws that prohibit or compel specific religious practices, or indirectly through laws that, in effect, make abandonment of one's own religion or conformity to the religious beliefs of others the price of an equal place in the civil community. As we explained in Thomas:
Indeed, we have never distinguished between cases in which a State conditions receipt of a benefit on conduct prohibited by religious beliefs and cases in which a State affirmatively prohibits such conduct. The Sherbert compelling interest test applies in both kinds of cases. See, e. g., Lee, 455 U. S., at 257-260 (applying Sherbert to uphold Social Security tax liability); Gillette, 401 U. S., at 462 (applying Sherbert to uphold military conscription requirement); Yoder, 406 U. S., at 215-234 (applying Sherbert to strike down criminal convictions for violation of compulsory school attendance law). As I noted in Bowen v. Roy:
See also Hobbie, supra, at 141-142; Sherbert, 374 U. S., at 404. I would reaffirm that principle today: A neutral criminal law prohibiting conduct that a State may legitimately regulate is, if anything, more burdensome than a neutral civil
Legislatures, of course, have always been "left free to reach actions which were in violation of social duties or subversive of good order." Reynolds, 98 U. S., at 164; see also Yoder, supra, at 219-220; Braunfeld, 366 U. S., at 603-604. Yet because of the close relationship between conduct and religious belief, "[i]n every case the power to regulate must be so exercised as not, in attaining a permissible end, unduly to infringe the protected freedom." Cantwell, 310 U. S., at 304. Once it has been shown that a government regulation or criminal prohibition burdens the free exercise of religion, we have consistently asked the government to demonstrate that unbending application of its regulation to the religious objector "is essential to accomplish an overriding governmental interest," Lee, supra, at 257-258, or represents "the least restrictive means of achieving some compelling state interest," Thomas, supra, at 718. See, e. g., Braunfeld, supra, at 607; Sherbert, supra, at 406; Yoder, supra, at 214-215; Roy, 476 U. S., at 728-732 (opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part). To me, the sounder approach — the approach more consistent with our role as judges to decide each case on its individual merits — is to apply this test in each case to determine whether the burden on the specific plaintiffs before us is constitutionally significant and whether the particular criminal interest asserted by the State before us is compelling. Even if, as an empirical matter, a government's criminal laws might usually serve a compelling interest in health, safety, or public order, the First Amendment at least requires a case-by-case determination of the question, sensitive to the facts of each particular claim. Cf. McDaniel, 435 U. S., at 628, n. 8 (plurality opinion) (noting application of Sherbert to general criminal prohibitions and the "delicate balancing required by our decisions in" Sherbert and Yoder). Given the range of conduct that a State might legitimately make
Moreover, we have not "rejected" or "declined to apply" the compelling interest test in our recent cases. Ante, at 883-884. Recent cases have instead affirmed that test as a fundamental part of our First Amendment doctrine. See, e. g., Hernandez, 490 U. S., at 699; Hobbie, supra, at 141-142 (rejecting Chief Justice Burger's suggestion in Roy, supra, at 707-708, that free exercise claims be assessed under a less rigorous "reasonable means" standard). The cases cited by the Court signal no retreat from our consistent adherence to the compelling interest test. In both Bowen v. Roy, supra, and Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Assn., 485 U.S. 439 (1988), for example, we expressly distinguished Sherbert on the ground that the First Amendment does not "require the Government itself to behave in ways that the individual believes will further his or her spiritual development . . . . The Free Exercise Clause simply cannot be understood to require the Government to conduct its own internal affairs in ways that comport with the religious beliefs of particular citizens." Roy, supra, at 699; see Lyng, supra, at 449. This distinction makes sense because "the Free Exercise Clause is written in terms of what the government cannot do to the individual, not in terms of what the individual can exact from the government." Sherbert, supra, at 412 (Douglas, J., concurring). Because the case sub judice, like the other cases in which we have applied Sherbert, plainly falls into the former category, I would apply those established precedents to the facts of this case.
Similarly, the other cases cited by the Court for the proposition that we have rejected application of the Sherbert test outside the unemployment compensation field, ante, at 884, are distinguishable because they arose in the narrow, specialized contexts in which we have not traditionally required
The Court today gives no convincing reason to depart from settled First Amendment jurisprudence. There is nothing talismanic about neutral laws of general applicability or general criminal prohibitions, for laws neutral toward religion can coerce a person to violate his religious conscience or intrude upon his religious duties just as effectively as laws aimed at religion. Although the Court suggests that the compelling interest test, as applied to generally applicable laws, would result in a "constitutional anomaly," ante, at 886, the First Amendment unequivocally makes freedom of religion, like freedom from race discrimination and freedom of speech, a "constitutional nor[m]," not an "anomaly." Ibid. Nor would application of our established free exercise doctrine to this case necessarily be incompatible with our equal protection cases. Cf. Rogers v. Lodge, 458 U.S. 613, 618 (1982) (race-neutral law that " `bears more heavily on one race than another' " may violate equal protection) (citation omitted); Castaneda v. Partida, 430 U.S. 482, 492-495 (1977) (grand jury selection). We have in any event recognized that the Free Exercise Clause protects values distinct from those protected by the Equal Protection Clause. See Hobbie, 480 U. S., at 141-142. As the language of the
Finally, the Court today suggests that the disfavoring of minority religions is an "unavoidable consequence" under our system of government and that accommodation of such religions must be left to the political process. Ante, at 890. In my view, however, the First Amendment was enacted precisely to protect the rights of those whose religious practices are not shared by the majority and may be viewed with hostility. The history of our free exercise doctrine amply demonstrates the harsh impact majoritarian rule has had on unpopular or emerging religious groups such as the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Amish. Indeed, the words of Justice Jackson in West Virginia State Bd. of Ed. v. Barnette (overruling Minersville School Dist. v. Gobitis, 310 U.S. 586 (1940)) are apt:
See also United States v. Ballard, 322 U.S. 78, 87 (1944) ("The Fathers of the Constitution were not unaware of the varied and extreme views of religious sects, of the violence of disagreement among them, and of the lack of any one religious creed on which all men would agree. They fashioned a charter of government which envisaged the widest possible toleration of conflicting views"). The compelling interest test reflects the First Amendment's mandate of preserving religious liberty to the fullest extent possible in a pluralistic society. For the Court to deem this command a "luxury," ante, at 888, is to denigrate "[t]he very purpose of a Bill of Rights."
The Court's holding today not only misreads settled First Amendment precedent; it appears to be unnecessary to this case. I would reach the same result applying our established free exercise jurisprudence.
There is no dispute that Oregon's criminal prohibition of peyote places a severe burden on the ability of respondents to freely exercise their religion. Peyote is a sacrament of the Native American Church and is regarded as vital to respondents' ability to practice their religion. See O. Stewart, Peyote Religion: A History 327-336 (1987) (describing modern status of peyotism); E. Anderson, Peyote: The Divine Cactus 41-65 (1980) (describing peyote ceremonies); Teachings from
There is also no dispute that Oregon has a significant interest in enforcing laws that control the possession and use of controlled substances by its citizens. See, e. g., Sherbert, 374 U. S., at 403 (religiously motivated conduct may be regulated where such conduct "pose[s] some substantial threat to public safety, peace or order"); Yoder, 406 U. S., at 220 ("[A]ctivities of individuals, even when religiously based, are often subject to regulation by the States in the exercise of their undoubted power to promote the health, safety, and general welfare"). As we recently noted, drug abuse is "one of the greatest problems affecting the health and welfare of our population" and thus "one of the most serious problems confronting our society today." Treasury Employees v. Von Raab, 489 U.S. 656, 668, 674 (1989). Indeed, under federal law (incorporated by Oregon law in relevant part, see Ore. Rev. Stat. § 475.005(6) (1987)), peyote is specifically regulated as a Schedule I controlled substance, which means that Congress has found that it has a high potential for abuse, that there is no currently accepted medical use, and that there is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug under medical supervision. See 21 U. S. C. § 812(b)(1). See generally R. Julien, A Primer of Drug Action 149 (3d ed. 1981). In light of our recent decisions holding that the governmental
Thus, the critical question in this case is whether exempting respondents from the State's general criminal prohibition "will unduly interfere with fulfillment of the governmental interest." Lee, supra, at 259; see also Roy, 476 U. S., at 727 ("[T]he Government must accommodate a legitimate free exercise claim unless pursuing an especially important interest by narrowly tailored means"); Yoder, supra, at 221; Braunfeld, 366 U. S., at 605-607. Although the question is close, I would conclude that uniform application of Oregon's criminal prohibition is "essential to accomplish," Lee, supra, at 257, its overriding interest in preventing the physical harm caused by the use of a Schedule I controlled substance. Oregon's criminal prohibition represents that State's judgment that the possession and use of controlled substances, even by only one person, is inherently harmful and dangerous. Because the health effects caused by the use of controlled substances exist regardless of the motivation of the user, the use of such substances, even for religious purposes, violates the very purpose of the laws that prohibit them. Cf. State v. Massey, 229 N.C. 734, 51 S.E.2d 179 (denying religious exemption to municipal ordinance prohibiting handling of poisonous reptiles), appeal dism'd sub nom. Bunn v. North Carolina, 336 U.S. 942 (1949). Moreover, in view of the societal interest in preventing trafficking in controlled substances, uniform application of the criminal prohibition at issue is essential to the effectiveness of Oregon's stated interest in preventing any possession of peyote. Cf. Jacobson v.
For these reasons, I believe that granting a selective exemption in this case would seriously impair Oregon's compelling interest in prohibiting possession of peyote by its citizens. Under such circumstances, the Free Exercise Clause does not require the State to accommodate respondents' religiously motivated conduct. See, e. g., Thomas, 450 U. S., at 719. Unlike in Yoder, where we noted that "[t]he record strongly indicates that accommodating the religious objections of the Amish by forgoing one, or at most two, additional years of compulsory education will not impair the physical or mental health of the child, or result in an inability to be self-supporting or to discharge the duties and responsibilities of citizenship, or in any other way materially detract from the welfare of society," 406 U. S., at 234; see also id., at 238-240 (WHITE, J., concurring), a religious exemption in this case would be incompatible with the State's interest in controlling use and possession of illegal drugs.
Respondents contend that any incompatibility is belied by the fact that the Federal Government and several States provide exemptions for the religious use of peyote, see 21 CFR § 1307.31 (1989); 307 Ore., at 73, n. 2, 763 P. 2d, at 148, n. 2 (citing 11 state statutes that expressly exempt sacramental peyote use from criminal proscription). But other governments may surely choose to grant an exemption without Oregon, with its specific asserted interest in uniform application of its drug laws, being required to do so by the First Amendment. Respondents also note that the sacramental use of peyote is central to the tenets of the Native American Church, but I agree with the Court, ante, at 886-887, that because " `[i]t is not within the judicial ken to question the centrality of particular beliefs or practices to a faith,' " quoting Hernandez, supra, at 699, our determination of the constitutionality of Oregon's general criminal prohibition cannot, and should not, turn on the centrality of the particular
I would therefore adhere to our established free exercise jurisprudence and hold that the State in this case has a compelling interest in regulating peyote use by its citizens and that accommodating respondents' religiously motivated conduct "will unduly interfere with fulfillment of the governmental interest." Lee, supra, at 259. Accordingly, I concur in the judgment of the Court.
JUSTICE BLACKMUN, with whom JUSTICE BRENNAN and JUSTICE MARSHALL join, dissenting.
This Court over the years painstakingly has developed a consistent and exacting standard to test the constitutionality of a state statute that burdens the free exercise of religion. Such a statute may stand only if the law in general, and the State's refusal to allow a religious exemption in particular, are justified by a compelling interest that cannot be served by less restrictive means.
This distorted view of our precedents leads the majority to conclude that strict scrutiny of a state law burdening the free exercise of religion is a "luxury" that a well-ordered society
For these reasons, I agree with JUSTICE O'CONNOR's analysis of the applicable free exercise doctrine, and I join parts I and II of her opinion.
In weighing the clear interest of respondents Smith and Black (hereinafter respondents) in the free exercise of their religion against Oregon's asserted interest in enforcing its drug laws, it is important to articulate in precise terms the state interest involved. It is not the State's broad interest
The State's interest in enforcing its prohibition, in order to be sufficiently compelling to outweigh a free exercise claim,
Similarly, this Court's prior decisions have not allowed a government to rely on mere speculation about potential harms, but have demanded evidentiary support for a refusal to allow a religious exception. See Thomas, 450 U. S., at 719 (rejecting State's reasons for refusing religious exemption, for lack of "evidence in the record"); Yoder, 406 U. S., at 224-229 (rejecting State's argument concerning the dangers of a religious exemption as speculative, and unsupported by the record); Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398, 407 (1963) ("[T]here is no proof whatever to warrant such fears . . . as those which the [State] now advance[s]"). In this case, the State's justification for refusing to recognize an exception to its criminal laws for religious peyote use is entirely speculative.
The State proclaims an interest in protecting the health and safety of its citizens from the dangers of unlawful drugs. It offers, however, no evidence that the religious use of peyote
The fact that peyote is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance does not, by itself, show that any and all uses of peyote, in any circumstance, are inherently harmful and dangerous. The Federal Government, which created the classifications of unlawful drugs from which Oregon's drug laws are derived, apparently does not find peyote so dangerous as to preclude an exemption for religious use.
The carefully circumscribed ritual context in which respondents used peyote is far removed from the irresponsible and unrestricted recreational use of unlawful drugs.
Moreover, just as in Yoder, the values and interests of those seeking a religious exemption in this case are congruent, to a great degree, with those the State seeks to promote through its drug laws. See Yoder, 406 U. S., at 224, 228-229 (since the Amish accept formal schooling up to 8th grade, and then provide "ideal" vocational education, State's interest in enforcing its law against the Amish is "less substantial than . . . for children generally"); id., at 238 (WHITE, J., concurring). Not only does the church's doctrine forbid nonreligious use of peyote; it also generally advocates self-reliance, familial responsibility, and abstinence from alcohol. See Brief for Association on American Indian Affairs et al. as Amici Curiae 33-34 (the church's "ethical code" has four parts: brotherly love, care of family, self-reliance, and avoidance of alcohol (quoting from the church membership card)); Olsen, 279 U. S. App. D. C., at 7, 878 F. 2d, at 1464 (the Native American Church, "for all purposes other than the special, stylized ceremony, reinforced the state's prohibition");
The State also seeks to support its refusal to make an exception for religious use of peyote by invoking its interest in abolishing drug trafficking. There is, however, practically no illegal traffic in peyote. See Olsen, 279 U. S. App. D. C., at 6, 7, 878 F. 2d, at 1463, 1467 (quoting DEA Final Order to the effect that total amount of peyote seized and analyzed by federal authorities between 1980 and 1987 was 19.4 pounds; in contrast, total amount of marijuana seized during that period was over 15 million pounds). Also, the availability of peyote for religious use, even if Oregon were to allow an exemption from its criminal laws, would still be strictly controlled by federal regulations, see 21 U. S. C. §§ 821-823 (registration requirements for distribution of controlled substances); 21 CFR § 1307.31 (1989) (distribution of peyote to Native American Church subject to registration requirements), and by the State of Texas, the only State in which peyote grows in significant quantities. See Texas Health & Safety Code Ann. § 481.111 (1990 pamphlet); Texas Admin. Code, Tit. 37, pt. 1, ch. 13, Controlled Substances Regulations, §§ 13.35-13.41 (1989); Woody, 61 Cal. 2d, at 720, 394 P. 2d, at 816 (peyote is "found in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and northern Mexico"). Peyote simply is not a popular drug; its distribution for use in religious rituals has nothing to do with the vast and violent traffic in illegal narcotics that plagues this country.
Finally, the State argues that granting an exception for religious peyote use would erode its interest in the uniform, fair, and certain enforcement of its drug laws. The State fears that, if it grants an exemption for religious peyote use, a flood of other claims to religious exemptions will follow. It would then be placed in a dilemma, it says, between allowing a patchwork of exemptions that would hinder its law enforcement efforts, and risking a violation of the Establishment Clause by arbitrarily limiting its religious exemptions. This
The State's apprehension of a flood of other religious claims is purely speculative. Almost half the States, and the Federal Government, have maintained an exemption for religious peyote use for many years, and apparently have not found themselves overwhelmed by claims to other religious exemptions.
Finally, although I agree with JUSTICE O'CONNOR that courts should refrain from delving into questions whether, as a matter of religious doctrine, a particular practice is "central" to the religion, ante, at 906-907, I do not think this means that the courts must turn a blind eye to the severe impact of a State's restrictions on the adherents of a minority religion. Cf. Yoder, 406 U. S., at 219 (since "education is inseparable from and a part of the basic tenets of their religion. . . [, just as] baptism, the confessional, or a sabbath may be for others," enforcement of State's compulsory education law would "gravely endanger if not destroy the free exercise of respondents' religious beliefs").
Respondents believe, and their sincerity has never been at issue, that the peyote plant embodies their deity, and eating it is an act of worship and communion. Without peyote, they could not enact the essential ritual of their religion. See Brief for Association on American Indian Affairs et al. as Amici Curiae 5-6 ("To the members, peyote is consecrated with powers to heal body, mind and spirit. It is a teacher; it teaches the way to spiritual life through living in harmony and balance with the forces of the Creation. The rituals are an integral part of the life process. They embody a form of worship in which the sacrament Peyote is the means for communicating with the Great Spirit"). See also O. Stewart, Peyote Religion 327-330 (1987) (description of peyote ritual);
If Oregon can constitutionally prosecute them for this act of worship, they, like the Amish, may be "forced to migrate to some other and more tolerant region." Yoder, 406 U. S., at 218. This potentially devastating impact must be viewed in light of the federal policy — reached in reaction to many years of religious persecution and intolerance — of protecting the religious freedom of Native Americans. See American Indian Religious Freedom Act, 92 Stat. 469, 42 U. S. C. § 1996 (1982 ed.) ("[I]t shall be the policy of the United States to protect and preserve for American Indians their inherent right of freedom to believe, express, and exercise the traditional religions . . . , including but not limited to access to sites, use and possession of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through ceremonials and traditional rites").
The American Indian Religious Freedom Act, in itself, may not create rights enforceable against government action restricting religious freedom, but this Court must scrupulously apply its free exercise analysis to the religious claims of Native Americans, however unorthodox they may be. Otherwise, both the First Amendment and the stated policy of Congress will offer to Native Americans merely an unfulfilled and hollow promise.
For these reasons, I conclude that Oregon's interest in enforcing its drug laws against religious use of peyote is not sufficiently compelling to outweigh respondents' right to the free exercise of their religion. Since the State could not constitutionally enforce its criminal prohibition against respondents, the interests underlying the State's drug laws cannot justify its denial of unemployment benefits. Absent such justification, the State's regulatory interest in denying benefits for religiously motivated "misconduct," see ante, at 874, is indistinguishable from the state interests this Court has rejected in Frazee, Hobbie, Thomas, and Sherbert. The State of Oregon cannot, consistently with the Free Exercise Clause, deny respondents unemployment benefits.
"We do not mean to say that religious groups and the press are free from all financial burdens of government. . . . We have here something quite different, for example, from a tax on the income of one who engages in religious activities or a tax on property used or employed in connection with those activities. It is one thing to impose a tax on the income or property of a preacher. It is quite another thing to exact a tax from him for the privilege of delivering a sermon. . . . Those who can deprive religious groups of their colporteurs can take from them a part of the vital power of the press which has survived from the Reformation." 319 U. S., at 112.
Yoder said that "the Court's holding in Pierce stands as a charter of the rights of parents to direct the religious upbringing of their children. And, when the interests of parenthood are combined with a free exercise claim of the nature revealed by this record, more than merely a `reasonable relation to some purpose within the competency of the State' is required to sustain the validity of the State's requirement under the First Amendment." 406 U. S., at 233.
Nor is this difficulty avoided by JUSTICE BLACKMUN's assertion that "although . . . courts should refrain from delving into questions whether, as a matter of religious doctrine, a particular practice is `central' to the religion, . . . I do not think this means that the courts must turn a blind eye to the severe impact of a State's restrictions on the adherents of a minority religion." Post, at 919 (dissenting opinion). As JUSTICE BLACKMUN's opinion proceeds to make clear, inquiry into "severe impact" is no different from inquiry into centrality. He has merely substituted for the question "How important is X to the religious adherent?" the question "How great will be the harm to the religious adherent if X is taken away?" There is no material difference.
It is surprising, to say the least, that this Court which so often prides itself about principles of judicial restraint and reduction of federal control over matters of state law would stretch its jurisdiction to the limit in order to reach, in this abstract setting, the constitutionality of Oregon's criminal prohibition of peyote use.
Moreover, 23 States, including many that have significant Native American populations, have statutory or judicially crafted exemptions in their drug laws for religious use of peyote. See 307 Or. 68, 73, n. 2, 763 P.2d 146, 148, n. 2 (1988) (case below). Although this does not prove that Oregon must have such an exception too, it is significant that these States, and the Federal Government, all find their (presumably compelling) interests in controlling the use of dangerous drugs compatible with an exemption for religious use of peyote. Cf. Boos v. Barry, 485 U.S. 312, 329 (1988) (finding that an ordinance restricting picketing near a foreign embassy was not the least restrictive means of serving the asserted government interest; existence of an analogous, but more narrowly drawn, federal statute showed that "a less restrictive alternative is readily available").
Indeed, Oregon's attitude toward respondents' religious peyote use harkens back to the repressive federal policies pursued a century ago:
"In the government's view, traditional practices were not only morally degrading, but unhealthy. `Indians are fond of gatherings of every description,' a 1913 public health study complained, advocating the restriction of dances and `sings' to stem contagious diseases. In 1921, Commissioner of Indian Affairs Charles Burke reminded his staff to punish any Indian engaged in `any dance which involves . . . the reckless giving away of property. . . frequent or prolonged periods of celebration . . . in fact, any disorderly or plainly excessive performance that promotes superstitious cruelty, licentiousness, idleness, danger to health, and shiftless indifference to family welfare.' Two years later, he forbid Indians under the age of 50 from participating in any dances of any kind, and directed federal employees `to educate public opinion' against them." Id., at 370-371 (footnotes omitted).