Free Exercise of Religion
Bob Jones University v. United States (1983) held that the IRS may deny
tax-exempt status to institutions that violate racial policy, even if the
violations are based on religion.
Braunfeld v. Brown (1961) ruled that a state law that required retail
businesses to close on Sunday did not violate the First Amendment’s free
The Supreme Court in Carson v. Makin ruled in June 2022 that Maine’s
tuition reimbursement program could not exclude parents who sent their
children to religious schools.
Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah (1993) said that a city
ordinance against animal sacrifice practiced by a new church violated the
In Clay v. United States (1971) rejected a denial of conscientious objector
status to Cassius Clay. “Right to conscience” is protected by the First
In an early state case about religious freedom, Commonwealth v. Cronin, a
Virginia judge ruled that a priest could not be forced to testify about
information learned in confessional.
In 1817, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld a fine against a Jewish man
who worked on a Sunday in violation of the state’s law prohibiting work on
the Christian Sabbath.
Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith
(1990) greatly changed First Amendment religious free exercise law,
abandoning the compelling interest test.
In Ex Parte Newman, the California Supreme Court in 1858 issued what is
believed to be the only 19th-century case in the U.S. that overturned a law
designed to protect the observance of Sunday, regarded as the Christian
Frazee v. Illinois Department of Employment Security (1989) said belief
need not be part of established religious doctrine to be considered under
the First Amendment.
The Supreme Court in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia (2021) upheld the
religious rights of Catholic Social Services, saying the agency’s refusal
to certify same-sex couples as foster families could not be the city’s
reason for ending the agency’s contract.
A Massachusetts law required supermarkets to remain closed on Sundays. A
kosher supermarket appealed the law, but the court ruled that the law was
In Gillette v. United States, the court denied a draft exemption to a man
who refused to participate in the Vietnam War but would have fought in a
war of self defense.
Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao Do Vegetal upheld the
sacramental use of a hallucinogenic substance under the First Amendment
free exercise clause.
Groff v. Dejoy, 600 U.S. ____ (2023) is an example of a case in which the U.S. Supreme Court clarified an earlier decision that had been commonly employed in ascertaining the degree to which employers had to accommodate the religious faith of workers under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which had
In this case, the Supreme Court upheld the right of states to require
university students to receive military training, declaring that the free
exercise clause of the First Amendment applied to states and federal
Hernandez v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue (1989) said preventing tax
deductions from monies used for religious “training” sessions did not
violate the First Amendment.
Hobbie v. Unemployment Appeals Commission of Florida (1987) said denying
benefits to an individual who refused to work on the Sabbath violated the
Holt v. Hobbs (2015) ruled that prison officials violated the First
Amendment religious liberty rights of a Muslim inmate by refusing to allow
him to grow a short beard.
Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC (2012) was the first time the Court used a
“ministerial exception” as First Amendment basis for rejecting an
employment discrimination suit.
In 1905, the U.S. Supreme Court said that Massachusett’s compulsory
smallpox vaccination program did not violate a pastor’s religious freedom
rights under the First Amendment in Jacobson v. Massachusetts.
In Johnson v. Robison (1974), the Court ruled that making veterans’
education benefits unavailable to conscientious objectors who performed
alternate service did not violate the First Amendment.
In Jones v. Wolf, 443 (1979), the Court ruled that, under the First
Amendment, a state could resolve church property disputes by applying
neutral principles of law.
In Kedroff v. Saint Nicholas Cathedral (1952), the Supreme Court ruled that
a New York law exercised unconstitutional legislative interference in the
freedom of religion.
In Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, the Supreme Court ruled that a
coach-led prayer on the 50-yard line did not violate the establishment
clause of the First Amendment.
In 1890, the Court ruled that Congress could dissolve the Mormon church
because of its practice of polygamy. That action is now considered a clear
violation of the First Amendment.
Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association (1988) said that
building a road through sacred Native American sites did not violate the
Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (2018) used the
First Amendment to uphold the right of the store owner to refuse to custom
design a cake for a same-sex wedding.
McDaniel v. Paty (1978) ruled that a Tennessee law prohibiting clergy
members from serving as political delegates violated the free exercise
clause of the First Amendment.
The Supreme Court in 2019 granted a stay of execution to a Texas prisoner
who claimed prison rules denying him access to his Buddhist spiritual
advisor violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment. In Murphy
v. Collier, the court ruled this was “denominational discrimination.”
The Supreme Court in July 2020 upheld the termination of two teachers in
Catholic elementary schools in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v.
Vorissey-Berru, saying the First Amendment’s freedom of religion prevented
the government from interfering in church governance matters.
People v. Phillips has been called the first free exercise case and the
origin of priest-penitent privilege. It affirmed the First Amendment’s
right to free exercise of religion.
Permoli v. New Orleans (1845) shows the limits of the free exercise clause
of the First Amendment in the years before the Bill of Rights was applied
to the states.
The U.S. Supreme Court in a split 5-4 decision on Nov. 25, 2020, blocked
New York’s COVID-19 restrictions on the size of religious gatherings,
saying although the state had a compelling interest of public health, the
rules struck at the heart of religious liberty.
Serbian Eastern Orthodox Diocese v. Milivojevich (1976) ruled that the
First Amendment prevented the state from becoming entangled in hierarchical
Sherbert v. Verner (1963) said that denying unemployment benefits to an
applicant who refused to work on Saturday, her Sabbath, violated First
The Supreme Court ruled in 2022 in Shurtleff v. Boston determined that, in
this instance, flying a Christian flag on a city flagpole at the request of
a resident was a private expression, not government speech.
South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom (2020) said attendance limits
on houses of worship during the COVID-19 pandemic did not violate First
Stormans, Inc. v. Wiesman (2016) declined to hear a First Amendment case
about a law that prohibited pharmacists from refusing on religious grounds
to dispense contraceptives.
In Tandon v. Newsom, 593 U.S. ____ (2021), the U.S. Supreme Court granted injunctive relief against a California regulation that had the effect of restricting at-home Bible studies and prayer meetings by limiting all gatherings in private homes to no more than three households at a time. In so doing, the Court chided the 9th
Thomas v. Review Board of Indiana Employment Security Division (1981) ruled
that states could not deny unemployment benefits for quitting his job due
to a religious objection.
Torcaso v. Watkins (1961) found that requiring an oath to affirm belief in
“the existence of God” in order to hold public office violated the First
Trans World Airlines v. Hardison (1977) dealt with accommodations that
private employers were required to make for employees whose religious views
limit their work on the Sabbath.
Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer (2017) used the free
exercise clause of the First Amendment to rule that a state had improperly
excluded a church from a grant.
In United States v. Ballard (1944), the Supreme Court ruled that the First
Amendment prohibited courts from inquiring into the truth or falsity of
In 1965, the Supreme Court expanded the concept of religion that is
protected under the First Amendment in a case involving a conscientious
objector who did not believe in a single Supreme Being. In United States v.
Seeger, the Court moved away from requiring a theistic belief to qualify
for protection of religious freedom.
In a case about religious exemptions from the military draft, Welsh v.
United States (1970) sought to define the meaning of religion under the
Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972) addressed the First Amendment right of free
exercise of religion in allowing parents to withdraw their children from
school for religious reasons.