Former Oregon Attorney General Dave Frohnmayer died in his sleep March 9. Frohnmayer’s name is written in constitutional history as the state attorney general who relentlessly fought against allowing the Free Exercise Clause to cover peyote religion. His victory in that case—Employment Division v. Smith—was widely criticized; both Congress and his own state legislature disowned the result.
With equal tenacity, he fought for the lives of his three beloved daughters, each suffering from a rare and fatal genetic disease. It’s for that struggle that he should be remembered.
Three months ago, by melancholy coincidence, I published an obituary for Al Smith, the Klamath Indian whose stubborn heroism kept the peyote-religion struggle going until a defeat at the Court until the final victory in Congress.
Both of them were my friends. As antagonists, they embody a striking, almost operatic, opposition of background, culture, and style. But each was remarkable; and each, I suspect, regarded his role in reshaping First Amendment law as among the less important achievements of a long and productive life.
For both, life was a cold and serious duel with death itself. Al fought against the deaths of whole nations of Indian people—death by official hostility (Al’s birth tribe, the Klamath, was “terminated” for a time by a government covetous of its rich forestland), by alcohol and drugs, by disease, and by despair. As a recovered alcoholic and professional counselor, he touched countless lives, and saved many, including his own.