MBE Question of the Day – Answer
(C) is the correct answer.
Issue: Whether the statute’s enforcement against the church violates its right to free exercise of religion.
Rule: Freedom of religion is a fundamental right, and such a right is protected by the First
Amendment in the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. Under the Free Exercise
Clause, the government is not allowed to make any law “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion. In
other words, the government cannot interfere with the right of individuals to practice their religions.
As a general rule, where actions of an individual are a result of or prompted by that individual’s
sincerely held religious belief, the state may regulate or prohibit such action only if it can
demonstrate an overriding or compelling interest as justification. The test for the applicability of
overriding or compelling interest is a balancing test weighing the individual’s right against the
general purpose of the state action complained of. Note that generally, if the government action
regulates general conduct that includes religious conduct, the regulation is valid under the First
Amendment. A compelling government interest has been found in inter alia outlawing polygamy,
mandating tax payments, minimum wage requirements for religious employees, preventing the use of
illegal drugs, requiring payment of social security taxes, requiring certain businesses to be closed on
Sundays, and requiring child support. Note that under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act,
even a generally applicable federal law may not be enforced against a sincerely held religious belief
unless the government can demonstrate the law is the least restrictive means of achieving a
compelling government interest. Under the RFRA, a law such as the one in this fact pattern would
not be enforceable against the church (see Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao do
Vegetal, 546 U.S. 418 (2006)), though it likely would be under a First Amendment analysis.
However, this problem is addressing a First Amendment claim against a state government; in this
case a generally applicable state law is constitutional.
Analysis: Here, the state statute is neutral and of general applicability. It is within the state’s general
police powers to outlaw certain drugs and the state that it finds is harmful to its population. Thus, the
state will likely meet its burden under a First Amendment analysis and the statute is constitutional as
applied against the church. Thus the action for an injunction will likely fail and (C) is correct.
(C) is correct because the statute is of general applicability and the state has a compelling interest in
controlling the use of addictive drugs.
(A) is incorrect because since the law is of general applicability and does not single out the church,
and because the state has a compelling interest in controlling drug use, it likely can enforce the law
against the church. Note that this answer would likely be correct under a Religious Freedom Restoration
Act analysis if the state had passed an act which mirrors the federal RFRA. (the federal RFRA cannot be
applied against the states, only against federal laws).
(B) is incorrect because the drug statute is within the state’s general police powers which are reserved
to it under the Tenth Amendment.
(D) is incorrect because the government cannot inquire into the validity of one’s religious belief.