Court cases: 25 years of zigzagging

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Over the past 25 years, the United States Supreme Court has zigzagged in its approach to ``free exercise'' of religion. Among the most notable cases: Sherbert v. Verner (1963). The court held that a Seventh-day Adventist was entitled to unemployment compensation as a matter of free exercise of religion although she refused employment that involved work on her Sabbath.

Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972). The high court ruled that Amish parents are entitled under the First Amendment to withdraw their children from school at age 14 because further education affronts their religion. Other children must attend to age 16.

Thomas v. Review Board of Indiana Employment Security Division (1981). When a Jehovah's Witness was fired for refusing on religious grounds to build tanks, the justices held that he was eligible for unemployment payments despite lack of ``good cause'' for leaving under state law.

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Heffron v. International Society for Krishna Consciousness (1981). Although a ritual of the society involves communicating its beliefs through face-to-face discussions, state police powers were upheld which barred solicitation at a crowded state fairground.

United States v. Lee (1982). In the case of an Amish farmer, who employed other Amish but refused on religious grounds to withhold part of their pay for social security, the Supreme Court ruled against the farmer, saying that the tax did not constitute an unconstitutional burden on his religious practices.

Bob Jones University v. United States (1983). The Supreme Court held that a university that engaged in racial discrimination on religious grounds was not entitled to tax-exempt status.

Tony and Susan Alamo Foundation v. Secretary of Labor (1985). A religious organization that operated businesses - staffed by former derelicts and criminals it was seeking to rehabilitate - refused on religious grounds to obey the Fair Labor Standards Act. The Supreme Court found that the group's beliefs were not really burdened by the act's recordkeeping requirements, having already met the wage and hour standards.

Jensen v. Quaring (1985). A woman claimed that her religious principles barred her from having her picture on her driver's license. A 4-to-4 Supreme Court vote let a circuit ruling stand, upholding her right to an exemption from the requirement.

Goldman v. Weinberger (1986). The justices held that demands for military uniformity allow the US Air Force to prohibit the wearing of a yarmulke by a uniformed officer on duty.

Bowen v. Roy (1986). The Supreme Court found that modern government procedures demand the use of numbers and are compelling enough to uphold a government requirement for use of social security numbers against individual religious convictions. They ruled against American Indian parents who refused to use this identification for their child when applying for welfare.

Hobbie v. Florida Unemployment Appeals Commission (1987). The court found a free-exercise right to unemployment benefits for a convert to the Seventh-day Adventist religion who refused Saturday work after embracing her new religious beliefs.

O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz (1987). The justices said prison inmates are not entitled under the free-exercise clause to attend religious services at a specific time and place where prison security may be jeopardized.

Board of Airport Commissioners of Los Angeles v. Jews for Jesus (1987). The court held that an ordinance banning all ``First Amendment activities'' in the airport terminal is not supported by any compelling government interest and violates the right to free exercise.

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