Man has no free exercise of religion right to drive to church without a license
An Indiana appeals court rejected the argument of a man who alleged
his constitutional right to freely practice his religion was violated when he
was cited for driving without a license on his way to church.
In June 1999, a state police officer pulled Leslie Dale Cosby over for
speeding in Clinton County. Cosby was driving to church with his parents. After
learning that Cosby had never obtained a driver’s license, the officer issued
him a citation.
A trial court judge found Cosby guilty of operating a motor vehicle
without a license. Cosby contended that this violated his “God-given right
to worship” under the Indiana Constitution.
On appeal, Cosby cited a provision in the 1816 Indiana Constitution
that protects the right to freely practice religion. However, the Indiana
appeals court pointed out that Indiana had passed a new Constitution in 1851.
The latter provides that: “No law shall, in any case whatever, control the
free exercise and enjoyment of religious opinions, or interfere with the rights
The Indiana appeals court affirmed the trial judge in
Cosby v. State of Indiana
and said it was turning “for guidance to decisions of the
United States Supreme Court regarding free exercise under the First
It cited the 1990 case Employment Div. v.
Smith in which the Supreme Court concluded that the
free-exercise clause of the First Amendment was not violated by “neutral
laws of general applicability,” even if those laws happened to infringe
upon religious beliefs or practices.
“The law requiring those who wish to drive motor vehicles on
public highways to obtain licenses is a neutral law of general
applicability,” the Indiana court wrote in its Nov. 27 opinion.
“Additionally, we see no evidence that our state police officer
and other law enforcement bodies have set out to enforce this law only against
Christians driving to church,” the court wrote.