Ronald Krotoszynski on Employment Division v. Smith II

Ronald Krotoszynski has published “If Judges Were Angels: Religious Equality, Free Exercise, and the (Underappreciated) Merits of Smith” in the Northwestern University Law Review. Here is an excerpt from the introduction:

Thus, the standard approach is to link the importance of religious autonomy with a strict form of judicial scrutiny for governmental actions that have the incidental effect of denying religionists, including but not limited to members of minority religions, the ability to engage in religiously motivated conduct. Viewed from this vantage point, Smith is highly objectionable because it makes successful free exercise challenges to general laws virtually impossible to win. Even if the federal courts have not applied strict scrutiny in an exacting fashion, lowering the standard of review to mere rationality virtually ensures that most free exercise claims will fail. Thus, the Justices who support strict scrutiny of neutral laws of general applicability that burden religiously motivated practices, such as Justice Brennan and Justice O’Connor, object strenuously to Smith’s change in the governing standard of review from earlier cases, such as Sherbert and Wisconsin v. Yoder, the latter a case that upheld a free exercise claim brought by Amish parents who wished to remove their children from the public schools after the eighth grade. If the Free Exercise Clause exists to facilitate absolute religious autonomy, the Sherbert approach advocated by Justices Brennan and O’Connor would better honor free exercise values. At the very least, it certainly seems reasonable to frame the Free Exercise Clause in terms of religious autonomy.

Rather than as advancing religious liberty or autonomy values, one could alternatively conceive of the Free Exercise Clause as primarily promoting religious equality. If equality among sects is the primary purpose of the Free Exercise Clause, the Smith test (or something like it) might offer a better reading of the Clause than Sherbert and Yoder.