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Free Exercise Clause

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Definition: The Free Exercise Clause is the part of the First Amendment that reads:
Congress shall make no law ... prohibiting the free exercise {of religion}.
The Supreme Court has never interpreted this in a completely literal way because doing so would be absurd. Murder is illegal, for example, regardless of whether it is committed for religious reasons.

There have been two predominant interpretations of the Free Exercise Clause:
  1. The first freedoms interpretation, which holds that Congress may restrict religious activity only if it has a "compelling interest" in doing so. This means that Congress may not, for example, ban the hallucinatory drug peyote (used by some American Indian traditions) because it has no compelling interest.
  2. The nondiscrimination interpretation, which holds that Congress may restrict religious activity as long as the intent of the law is not to restrict religious activity. Under this interpretation, Congress can ban peyote as long as the law is not specifically written to target a religious practice.
Also Known As: Religious Freedom Clause
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