Sherbert Test

The Sherbert Test is a tool to determine whether an act by the government infringes upon a person’s religious freedom. In Sherbert v. Verner (1963), the Supreme Court ruled that government can only restrict the free exercise rights of individuals if the regulations survive strict scrutiny, placing a steep burden on state laws in such cases.

In Employment Division v. Smith (1990), the Supreme Court limited the scope of the Sherbert Test. Under Smith, the Court ruled that the strict scrutiny test could not be applied to laws that were generally applicable (meaning that, as written, they applied to everyone regardless of religion), even if they incidentally hindered religious freedoms of certain individuals or groups. Thus, as in Smith, a law that prohibits use of certain drugs such as peyote (thus a law of general applicability) was enforceable against members of a Native American tribe that used peyote in religious ceremonies.