NOVEMBER 6, 1919


Born in Modoc Point, Oregon, Smith was a counselor for Native people with drug and alcohol addictions.  In Roseburg, Oregon, working in a program using his exposure to Native spiritual traditions to provide culturally relevant treatment to Native clients, he was fired for attending a Native American Church peyote ceremony.  Oregon denied his unemployment benefits claim calling peyote use “misconduct.”  His religious freedom case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court which, in 1990, in Employment Division v. Smith, ruled against him.  However, the ruling was broad enough to threaten all religious-freedom claims.  Congress first passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in 1993.  As RFRA excluded the Native American Church, the 1994 Amendments to the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 (see August 11), cover use, possession, or transportation of peyote for bona fide ceremonial purposes.  Smith died November 19, 2014, in Eugene, Oregon.

Source:  Garrett Epps, “Elegy for a Hero of Religious Freedom,” The Atlantic, 12/9/2014.  Retrieved 7/18/2019,
Photo: Phil Roeder, 3/15/2011.  Interior of the U.S. Supreme Court.  Permissive use under Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic,  Source: File: Inside the United States Supreme Court.jpg - Wikimedia Commons.

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