Cases Dealing With Free Exercise Clause

The Free Exercise Clause prohibits "all 'governmental regulation of religious beliefs as such.' " See Employment Div. v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872, 877, 108 L. Ed. 2d 876, 110 S. Ct. 1595 (1990) (quoting Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398, 402, 10 L. Ed. 2d 965, 83 S. Ct. 1790 (1963)). The Free Exercise Clause also protects acts for religious purposes, including proselytizing. See id. Likewise, the Free Exercise Clause prohibits the government from intervening in a dispute concerning religious authority or dogma. See id. The government may not impose a regulation that would substantially burden a religious practice based on sincerely held religious beliefs unless the lack of the regulation would significantly hinder a compelling state interest. See Sherbert, 374 U.S. at 403; Tilton v. Marshall, 925 S.W.2d 672, 677-78 (Tex. 1996). Such "compelling state interests" exist when the conduct regulated would invariably pose "a substantial threat to the public safety, peace, or order." Sherbert, 374 U.S. at 403. To illustrate this point, the Court in Sherbert cited cases upholding statutes prohibiting bigamy and the transportation of women across state lines for immoral purposes, which interfered with the defendants' religious practice of polygamy; and a statute prohibiting young children from selling newspapers, which interfered with the defendants' practice of selling religious literature. See: Cleveland v. United States, 329 U.S. 14, 17-19, 91 L. Ed. 12, 67 S. Ct. 13 (1946); Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, 160-61, 169-71, 88 L. Ed. 645, 64 S. Ct. 438 (1944); Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11, 12-14, 49 L. Ed. 643, 25 S. Ct. 358 (1905); Reynolds, 98 U.S. at 145. This last prohibition bars government involvement in disputes concerning the structure, leadership, or internal policies of a religious institution. See Serbian E. Orthodox Diocese v. Milivojevich, 426 U.S. 696, 709, 49 L. Ed. 2d 151, 96 S. Ct. 2372 (1976). As the Court stated, "Civil courts are bound to accept the decisions of the highest judicatories of a religious organization of hierarchical polity in matters of discipline, faith, internal organization, or ecclesiastical rule, custom, or law." Id. at 713. This principle protects religious institutions from government interference in their internal management and supervision. See Combs v. Central Tex. Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, 173 F.3d 343, 350 (5th Cir. 1999). It also prohibits courts from considering claims by ministers against their religious organization concerning employment practices. See: Starkman v. Evans, 198 F.3d 173, 175-77 (5th Cir. 1999); Bell v. Presbyterian Church, 126 F.3d 328, 331 (4th Cir. 1997); EEOC v. Catholic Univ. of Am., 317 U.S. App. D.C. 343, 83 F.3d 455, 465 (D.C. Cir. 1996); McClure v. Salvation Army, 460 F.2d 553, 560 (5th Cir. 1972).