Religious Freedom Acts Born Out of ... Peyote

HowStuffWorks Now: Peyote Paved the Way for Georgias Religious Liberty Bill HowStuffWorks
HowStuffWorks Now: Peyote Paved the Way for Georgias Religious Liberty Bill HowStuffWorks

The legal precedent for Georgia's controversial religious liberty bill has nothing to do with Jesus.

On the day after Easter, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed House Bill 757, aka the Free Exercise Protection Act. 


If passed, it would allow private individuals, businesses and nonprofit organizations to deny services to customers on the basis of religious principle. Or, in the words of the proposed legislation, to "protect against infringement of religious freedom."

But conservative lawmakers vowing to override the governor's decision might clutch their Bibles a bit closer if their constituents knew the legal precedent for these types of religious freedom acts, or RFRAs.

They all trace back to the 1990 U.S. Supreme Court case Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith.

Native Americans Alfred Smith and Galen Black were fired from a private drug rehabilitation facility after their employer discovered they had ingested peyote as a sacramental rite in the Native American Church they attended. Smith and Black were later denied unemployment benefits by the Oregon state government since their firing was attributed to "misconduct."

As a result, Smith sued the state for violating his First Amendment rights to religion and speech.

In 1990, the case arrived at the Supreme Court for the second time, and SCOTUS ruled in favor of Oregon's government.

Writing the majority court opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia presented a slippery-slope argument: If such religious exemptions are upheld it "would open the prospect of constitutionality required exemptions from civil obligations of almost every conceivable kind."

Disagreeing with the high Court's verdict, the U.S. Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 barring state and federal governments from "substantially burdening a person's exercise of religion."

Immediately upon signing the bill, a crew of U.S. senators hightailed it out of the Capitol building to a peyote ceremony. Just kidding.

But to learn how many other U.S. states have jumped on the RFRA bandwagon, just watch the video above.