Oregon Vs. Smith


Two Native American's worked as counselors at a rehabilitation center. They took peyote, a powerful hallucinogen, for religious reasons. They were fired and tried to apply for unemployment compensation but were denied. They lost the case in state court, then the U.S supreme court vacated the Oregon supreme court and returned the case to the states courts to determine if the use of illegal drugs for sacramental reasons is against state law. They concluded that it was illegal under Oregon law however this violated the first amendment. It was sent back to the Supreme Court in this new light.

The Question Before the Court

Can a state deny unemployment benefits to a worker fired for using illegal drugs for religious purposes?

Issue and Vocab

The issue before the court was the constitutionality of denying benefits to those who are unemployed because of the use of illegal drugs for sacramental reasons. Denying these people the right to express religious freedom is against the first amendment.

Compelling Interest tests the constitutionality of a law. The governments interest is weighed against the individuals interest. The government's interest is usually denied unless the government's interest is strong enough.


The court decided that a state can deny them unemployment compensation. They determined that individuals can use illegal drugs for sacramental purposes however, it is not acceptable when it puts the safety of others at risk.

Past to Future

This decision ultimately affected the individuals involved in the case, other Native Americans, and other religions that may use similar practices. This decision can affect newer religions that may not be aware of the decision and try to challenge it.
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