Decisions of the Supreme Court.

A reference for teachers to use after group presentations of the five case studies.

Case 1 —West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943)
Barnette won. The Court in essence reversed the Gobitis decision handed down only three years earlier. In the majority opinion, Justice Robert Jackson wrote, "If there is a fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein."

Case 2 — Welsh v. United States (1970)
Welsh won. The Court decided that Welsh's moral convictions functioned as a religion in his life, whether or not Welsh called himself religious. Therefore, he was allowed conscientious-objector status.

Case 3 — State of Wisconsin v. Jonas Yoder, et. al. (1972)
Yoder won. The Court found that the Amish way of life is church-oriented. Having the children attend high school put that way of life at risk. Allowing the Amish to maintain their community was judged more important than compulsory education. The Court did say, however, that the state could develop standards for the continuing education to be provided by the parents and church.

Case 4 — Oregon Employment Division v. Smith (1990)
Oregon won. The Court ruled 6-3 that governments may prohibit the use of drugs in religious ceremonies. Judge Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, stated "the Court has never held that an individual's religious beliefs excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that government is free to regulate." The ruling effectively abolished the requirement that governments show a "compelling interest" that should be protected in favor of religious freedom. Many religious groups were alarmed by the ruling. Congress has since passed legislation specifically protecting the rights of Native American churches to use drugs in their ceremonies.

Case 5 — Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. Hialeah (1993)
Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye won. The Court unanimously sided with the church, which had argued that the city zoning laws barring sacrifices unfairly singled out an unpopular minority faith (Santeria) in violation of the Free Exercise Clause. The Supreme Court stated, "The Free Exercise Clause protects against governmental hostility which is masked as well as overt. The Free Exercise Clause commits government itself to religious tolerance, and upon even slight suspicion that proposals for state intervention stem from animosity to religion or distrust of its practices, all officials must pause to remember their own high duty to the Constitution and to the rights it secures."

BACK