personnel to wear yarmulkes.) At the same time, Congress and the Supreme Court have granted protection to a range of religiously motivated practices. The Court has allowed Amish parents to take their children out of school after the eighth grade, reasoning that the Amish community is well established and that its children will not burden the state. 27 More broadly, parents have a right to send their children to accredited religious schools rather than public schools. A state may not require Jehovah’s Witnesses or members of other religions to participate in public school flag-saluting ceremonies. Congress has also decided—and the courts have affirmed—that people can become conscientious objectors to war on religious grounds. The free exercise clause also prevents government from interfering with the freedom of religious groups to select their own personnel. Thus, religious groups are not subject to laws that prohibit discrimination in employment. 28 In 2014 the Court held that requiring family- owned corporations run on religious principles to pay for insurance coverage for contraception violated a federal law protecting religious freedom. 29 The next year, it held that the 1964 Civil Rights Act (discussed in detail in Chapter 5 ) forbids an employer from making an applicant’s religious practice (such as a head scarf) a factor in employment decisions. 30 What kind of laws restricting religious practices might be constitutional? In 1988, in upholding Oregon’s prosecution of persons using the drug peyote as part of their religious rituals ( Employment Division v. Smith ), the Court decided that a state law could apply to conduct, even if the conduct was religiously inspired, as long as that law did not single out religious practices because they were engaged in for religious reasons. 31 However, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which Congress passed in 1993 and which applies only to the national government, 32 requires laws to meet a more restrictive standard: a law or regulation cannot interfere with religious practices unless the government can show that it is narrowly tailored and in pursuit of a “compelling interest.” The Court in a 2006 decision allowed a small religious sect to use a hallucinogenic tea in its rituals despite the federal government’s attempts to bar its use. 33 In 2000, Congress passed legislation that, in accordance with the “compelling interest” standard, made it more difficult for local governments to enforce zoning or other regulations on religious groups and required governments to allow those institutionalized in state facilities (such as prisons) to practice their faith. The Supreme Court upheld this law in 2005, 34 and in 2015 upheld the right of a Muslim prisoner to grow a short beard. 35 In 2017, the Court held that Missouri violated a church’s right of free exercise under the First Amendment when it denied the church public funds for playground improvements “solely because it was a religious institution.” The Court pointed out that the playground was publicly accessible and not for use solely by students or members of the church.
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- Summer '16
- Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution