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Religious Objection to Government Regulation, Sorted by Year, Click here to sort by Case Name.

Case Name YearDecision of the CourtTopic Group(s)   
Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 1451878Upheld federal law prohibiting polygamy. Free Exercise Exemptions-Miscellaneous


Crane v. Johnson, 242 U.S. 3391917Conviction of nonreligious "drugless practitioner" of medicine for failure to obtain license was not violative of Equal Protection Clause notwithstanding Christian Science practitioners rendering " treatment by prayer" were not licensed. Statutory Exemptions for Religious Persons/Entities

The Selective Serv. Draft Law Cases [Arver v. United States], 245 U.S. 3661918Exemption of clergy, theology students, and pacifist sects from combat service is constitutional. Free Exercise Exemptions-Miscellaneous

Hamilton v. Regents of Univ. of California, 293 U.S. 2451934Due process clause of Fourteenth Amendment confers no right to attend state university without taking prescribed course in military training. Military Service

Falbo v. United States, 320 U.S. 5491944Draft board's alleged error in classifying Jehovah's Witness as conscientious object rather than minister is no defense to board's order to report for national service; post-reporting review of the classification is sufficient due process. Jehovah's Witnesses

Military Religious Liberty

Military Service

In re Summers, 325 U.S. 5611945Turning down bar applicant for refusal to take oath supporting state's constitution because unwilling to serve in militia in time of war does not violate religious freedom. Military Service


Eagles v. United States ex rel. Horowitz, 329 U.S. 3171946Draft board was within its discretion in denying a Jewish objector's claim to be exempt divinity student. Military Service

Eagles v. United States ex rel. Samuels, 329 U.S. 3041946Neither use of advisory theological panel to assist draft board nor panel's asking religious questions are reasons to overturn board's discretion in denying a Jewish objector's claim to be an exempt divinity student. Military Service

Estep v. United States, 327 U.S. 1141946Draft board's refusal to classify Jehovah's Witness as minister is, after exhausting administrative remedies, subject to judicial review. Jehovah's Witnesses

Military Service

Gibson v. United States, 329 U.S. 3381946Jehovah's Witness minister could appeal his classification without first appearing at induction camp. Jehovah's Witnesses

Military Service

Military Service

Cox v. United States, 332 U.S. 4421947Courts have limited scope of review over board's classification of Jehovah's Witness as conscientious objector rather than minister. Jehovah's Witnesses

Military Service

Bunn v. North Carolina, 336 U.S. 942 (appeal dismissed for want of substantial federal question)1949Upheld law prohibiting handling of poisonous reptiles as applied to a church. Discrimination Against Religion

Snake Handling

Corp. of Presiding Bishop of Church of Latter-Day Saints v. City of Porterville, 338 U.S 805 (appeal dismissed for want of substantial federal question)1949Upheld exclusion of churches from area reserved for single family homes. Zoning/Land Use Regulation

Gara v. United States, 340 U.S. 857 (aff'd by equally divided Court)1950Notwithstanding religious scruples, defendant is subject to military draft. Military Service

Donner v. New York, 342 U.S. 884 (appeal dismissed for want of substantial federal question)1951Teacher certification law upheld as applied to Jewish day school. Free Exercise Exemptions-Miscellaneous

Religious Schools and Colleges

Dickinson v. United States, 346 U.S. 3891953Classification as minister is not available to all members of a sect notwithstanding doctrine that all are ministers; but part-time secular work does not, without more, disqualify member from satisfying the ministerial exemption. Jehovah's Witnesses

Military Service

United States v. Nugent, 346 U.S. 11953Conscientious objector has not shown induction statute to be unconstitutional. Military Service

Gonzales v. United States, 348 U.S. 4071955Jehovah's Witness was denied fair hearing because of failure to supply him with materials in his record. Jehovah's Witnesses

Military Service

Sicurella v. United States, 348 U.S. 3851955Willingness to fight in "theocratic" wars does not disqualify a Jehovah's Witness who would otherwise be eligible for exemption as a conscientious objector. Jehovah's Witnesses

Military Service

Simmons v. United States, 348 U.S. 3971955Jehovah's Witness was denied fair hearing because of failure to supply him with materials in his record. Jehovah's Witnesses

Military Service

Witmer v. United States, 348 U.S. 3751955Draft board's rejection of Jehovah's Witness' claim of conscientious objector status upheld as lacking sincerity. Jehovah's Witnesses

Military Service

Braunfeld v. Brown, 366 U.S. 599 (plurality)1961Statute proscribing Sunday retailing did not violate free exercise of Jewish owners. Free Exercise Exemptions-Miscellaneous

Sunday Law and Other Religious Feasts

Cooper v. Pate, 378 U.S. 5461964Black Muslim prisoner's claim that he was denied religious publications is entitled to hearing on the merits. Prisoners' Religious Liberty

United States v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 1631965Conscientious objectors are exempted from combat training and service in armed forces if their belief is sincere and meaningful and occupies a place in their life parallel to that filled by an orthodox belief in God. Military Service

Jehovah's Witnesses v. King County Hosp., 390 U.S. 59 (summarily aff'd)1968Blood transfusions may be administered to children over religious objections. Jehovah's Witnesses

Medical Care

Oestereich v. Selective Service System, 393 U.S. 2331968Individual classified as divinity student could not lose exemption by sending board his draft card as protest. Military Service

Mulloy v. United States, 398 U.S. 4101970Lapsed Roman Catholic who returned to the faith and applied for conscientious objector status could not be denied opportunity for reclassification, thus also affording opportunity for administrative appeal. Military Service

United States v. Sisson, 399 U.S. 267 (plurality)1970Non-religious objections to draft, religious exemptions, and legality of Vietnam War claims were dismissed because case had been improperly appealed. Military Service

Walz v. Tax Comm'n, 397 U.S. 6641970Upheld property tax exemption for churches. Statutory Exemptions for Religious Persons/Entities

Tax Exemptions

Welsh v. United States, 398 U.S. 333 (plurality)1970Beliefs held with strength of traditional religious convictions are entitled to conscientious objector status. Military Service

Clay v. United States, 403 U.S. 698 (per curiam)1971Conviction of Black Muslim for refusing induction is reversed when government conceded pacifism and sincerity. Military Service

Coit v. Green, 404 U.S. 997 (summarily aff'd)1971Upholding IRS revocation of tax exemption on basis of racially exclusionary policies. Race and Religion

Statutory Exemptions for Religious Persons/Entities

Tax Exemptions

Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 3191972Reasonable opportunities must be afforded to prison inmates to exercise religion. Prisoners' Religious Liberty

Diffenderfer v. Central Baptist Church, 404 U.S. 41 (per curiam)1972Challenge to property tax exemption for church parking lot used for commercial purposes is moot due to change in statute. Statutory Exemptions for Religious Persons/Entities

Tax Exemptions

Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 2051972State law requiring all children to attend school until the age of 16, regardless of religious belief, disallowed. Compulsory Education

Parental Rights

Hernandez v. Veterans' Administration, 415 U.S. 3911974Constitutional challenge by conscientious objectors to denial of veteran educational benefits not barred by statute. Discrimination Against Religion

Military Service


Johnson v. Robison, 415 U.S. 3611974Statute which grants educational benefits to military draftees, but not to draftees who perform civilian alternative service, is constitutional. Discrimination Against Religion

Military Service


Thomas v. Review Bd., 450 U.S. 7071981Denial of unemployment benefits because religious beliefs forbade production of armaments violated First Amendment. Jehovah's Witnesses

Military Service

Unemployment Compensation

United States v. Lee, 455 U.S. 2521982Denied religious exemption from Social Security taxes for Amish employer. Social Security

Jensen v. Quaring, 472 U.S. 478 (aff'd by equally divided Court)1985Struck down requirement that applicant submit to having photograph taken for affixing on driver's license as unconstitutionally burdening free exercise. Free Exercise Exemptions-Miscellaneous

Bowen v. Roy, 476 U.S. 693 (plurality in part)1986Federal agency's internal use of social security number in administering programs does not violate the Free Exercise Clause, notwithstanding parent's belief that use of the number would impair his child's spirit. Social Security

Goldman v. Weinberger, 475 U.S. 5031986First Amendment does not prohibit application of Air Force regulation preventing wearing of yarmulke by officer while on duty and in uniform. Military Religious Liberty

Corporation of Presiding Bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints v. Amos, 483 U.S. 3271987Upheld religious discrimination exemption in Title VII for religious organizations. Statutory Exemptions for Religious Persons/Entities

O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 3421987Heightened scrutiny of prison regulations allegedly impinging on inmates constitutional rights is not appropriate whenever regulations effectively prohibit, rather than simply limit, particular exercise of rights. Prisoners' Religious Liberty

Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah, 508 U.S. 5201993*Municipal ordinance targeting Santerians ritual sacrifice of animals violates Free Exercise Clause. Discrimination Against Religion

Zoning/Land Use Regulation

City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 5071997Freedom Restoration Act to state and local law exceeds Congress' power under § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, which is limited to remedial or preventive legislation. Incorporation by Fourteenth Amendment

Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Zoning/Land Use Regulation

Brown v. Payton, 544 U.S. 1332005In sentencing phase of jury deliberations, it was error to not admit as mitigating evidence defendant’s religious conversion. Prisoners' Religious Liberty

Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U.S. 7092005Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act requiring states to accommodate religious practices of prison inmates not a preference for religion that violates Establishment Clause. Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act

Statutory Exemptions for Religious Persons/Entities

Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao Do Vegetal, 126 S.Ct. 12112006RFRA construed to afford preliminary protection to religious sect's importation and use of hallucinogen in religious sacrament. Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Statutory Exemptions for Religious Persons/Entities


Except for those entries preceded by an asterisk, Professor Carl H. Esbeck, Isabelle Wade and Paul C. Lyda Professor of Law, University of Missouri-Columbia prepared and copyrighted the text under the column entitled "Decision of the Court." L. Martin Nussbaum, co-chair of the Lewis Roca Rothgerber Religious Institutions Group prepared the text under the column entitled "Decision of the Court" which is preceded by an asterisk. The Lewis Roca Rothgerber LLP Religious Institutions Group gratefully acknowledges Professor Esbeck's permission to reprint the text which he prepared.


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