On April 17, 1990, in Employment Division v Smith, the Supreme Court decided that neutral laws of general applicability may be applied to restrict or forbid religious exercise, and that such applications raise no issue under the free exercise clause. The opinion removes many of the issues discussed in this journal from the scope of positive constitutional law.
The Court noted some exceptions. Whether anything remains of free exercise depends on future cases interpreting those exceptions and interpreting the Court's requirement that laws regulating religion be neutral. The Court recognized constitutional protection for religious speech and religious instruction of children, and if interpreted generously, those exceptions could protect a large proportion of religious conduct. If the exceptions and the neutrality requirement are interpreted narrowly, the free exercise clause has little independent content.