The Free Exercise of Religion: A Sociological Approach

No overriding theory has heretofore been proposed capable of allocating the various rules of decision in free exercise cases according to an appropriate classification of fact situations. This Article suggests an objective sociological approach to defining and weighing the governmental and religious interests inhering in a given free exercise claim in order to eliminate value preferences from the constitutional weighing process. Religious interests will be ranked according to functional criteria internal to all religious systems and not dependent upon the belief content of any given sect. State interests will be analyzed in terms of formalized modes of governmental action involving action generally and religion in particular, taking into consideration certain constitutional limitations on state power over the individual, over interpersonal relationships, and over intragroup behavior. The resulting method of adjusting competing governmental and religious interests may be characterized as value-neutral, and is capable not only of rationalizing past free exercise decisions, but also of resolving current controversies and of suggesting the direction of future development.