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Scrutiny Mutiny: Why the Iowa Supreme Court Should Reject Employment Division v. Smith and Adopt a Strict Scrutiny Standard for Free-Exercise Claims Arising Under the Iowa Constitution

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ABSTRACT: In 1990, the United States Supreme Court decided Employment Division v. Smith. The Smith decision dismantled the Supreme Court’s prior free-exercise jurisprudence that applied a “compelling state interest” strict scrutiny standard of review to facially neutral, generally applicable laws that allegedly interfered with a plaintiff’s free-exercise rights by replacing it with a rational-basis test. As a result of Smith, free-exercise plaintiffs—fearing their chance of success under the First Amendment to be dismal—began bringing their claims under the free-exercise provisions of their state constitutions as well as the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Since most state constitutional free-exercise provisions had never been interpreted by their respective supreme courts, state supreme courts have broad discretion in deciding what standard of scrutiny to apply. Consequently, some state supreme courts restored the “compelling state interest” standard for free- exercise claims brought under their state constitutions. This provides citizens of these states with greater individual protection of religious liberty than what is currently available under the First Amendment. Iowa has yet to take a position on this issue. Through the evaluation of the Iowa Constitution’s textual similarities to the Free Exercise Clause, the doctrine of stare decisis, the public policy favoring individual religious rights, and the original intent of Iowa’s framers, this Note explains why the Iowa Supreme Court should adopt a strict scrutiny standard under Article 1, Section 3 of the Iowa Constitution.

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