366 U.S. 599 (1961), 67, Braunfeld v. Brown

Docket Nº:No. 67
Citation:366 U.S. 599, 81 S.Ct. 1144, 6 L.Ed.2d 563
Party Name:Braunfeld v. Brown
Case Date:May 29, 1961
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 599

366 U.S. 599 (1961)

81 S.Ct. 1144, 6 L.Ed.2d 563




No. 67

United States Supreme Court

May 29, 1961

Argued December 8, 1960




Appellants are members of the Orthodox Jewish Faith, which requires the closing of their places of business and total abstention from all manner of work from nightfall each Friday until nightfall each Saturday. As merchants engaged in the retail sale of clothing and home furnishings in Philadelphia, they sued to enjoin enforcement of a 1959 Pennsylvania criminal statute which forbade the retail sale on Sundays of those commodities and other specified commodities. They claimed that the statute violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and constituted a law respecting an establishment of religion, and that it interfered with the free exercise of their religion by imposing serious economic disadvantages upon them if they adhere to the observance of their Sabbath, and that it would operate so as to hinder the Orthodox .Jewish Faith in gaining new members.

Held: the statute does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, nor constitute a law respecting an establishment of religion, Two Guys from Harrison-Allentown, Inc. v. McGinley, ante, p. 582, and it does not prohibit the free exercise of appellants' religion, within the meaning of the First Amendment, made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 600-610.

184 F.Supp. 352 affirmed.

Page 600

WARREN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE WARREN announced the judgment of the Court and an opinion in which MR. JUSTICE BLACK, MR. JUSTICE CLARK, and MR. JUSTICE WHITTAKER concur.

This case concerns the constitutional validity of the application to appellants of the Pennsylvania criminal statute,1 enacted in 1959, which proscribes the Sunday retail sale of certain enumerated commodities. Among the questions presented are whether the statute is a law

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respecting an establishment of religion and whether the statute violates equal protection. Since both of these questions, [81 S.Ct. 1145] in reference to this very statute, have already been answered in the negative, Two Guys from Harrison-Allentown, Inc. v. McGinley, ante, p. 582, and since appellants present nothing new regarding them, they need not be considered here. Thus, the only question for consideration is whether the statute interferes with the free exercise of appellants' religion.

Appellants are merchants in Philadelphia who engage in the retail sale of clothing and home furnishings within the proscription of the statute in issue. Each of the appellants is a member of the Orthodox Jewish faith, which requires the closing of their places of business and a total abstention from all manner of work from nightfall each Friday until nightfall each Saturday. They instituted a suit in the court below seeking a permanent injunction against the enforcement of the 1959 statute. Their complaint, as amended, alleged that appellants had previously kept their places of business open on Sunday; that each of appellants had done a substantial amount of business on Sunday, compensating somewhat for their closing on Saturday; that Sunday closing will result in impairing the ability of all appellants to earn a livelihood, and will render appellant Braunfeld unable to continue in his business, thereby losing his capital investment; that the statute is unconstitutional for the reasons stated above.

A three-judge court was properly convened and it dismissed the complaint on the authority of the Two Guys from Harrison case. 184 F.Supp. 352. On appeal brought under 28 U.S.C. § 1253, we noted probable jurisdiction, 362 U.S. 987.

Appellants contend that the enforcement against them of the Pennsylvania statute will prohibit the free exercise

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of their religion because, due to the statute's compulsion to close on Sunday, appellants will suffer substantial economic loss, to the benefit of their non-Sabbatarian competitors, if appellants also continue their Sabbath observance by closing their businesses on Saturday; that this result will either compel appellants to give up their Sabbath observance, a basic tenet of the Orthodox Jewish faith, or will put appellants at a serious economic disadvantage if they continue to adhere to their Sabbath. Appellants also assert that the statute will operate so as to hinder the Orthodox Jewish faith in gaining new adherents. And the corollary to these arguments is that if the free exercise of appellants' religion is impeded, that religion is being subjected to discriminatory treatment by the State.

In McGowan v. Maryland, ante, at pp. 437-440, we noted the significance that this Court has attributed to the development of religious freedom in Virginia in determining the scope of the First Amendment's protection. We observed that, when Virginia passed its Declaration of Rights in 1776, providing that "all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion," Virginia repealed its laws which in any way penalized "maintaining any opinions in matters of religion, forbearing to repair to church, or the exercising any mode of worship whatsoever." But Virginia retained its laws prohibiting Sunday labor.

We also took cognizance, in McGowan, of the evolution of Sunday Closing Laws from wholly religious sanctions to legislation concerned with the establishment of a day of community tranquillity, respite and recreation, a day when the atmosphere is one of calm and relaxation, rather than one of commercialism, as it is during the other six days of the week. We reviewed the still growing state

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preoccupation with improving the health, safety, morals and general wellbeing of our citizens.

Concededly, appellants and all other persons who wish to work on Sunday will be burdened economically by the State's day of rest mandate, and appellants [81 S.Ct. 1146] point out that their religion requires them to refrain from work on Saturday as well. Our inquiry, then, is whether, in these circumstances, the First and Fourteenth Amendments forbid application of the Sunday Closing Law to appellants.

Certain aspects of religious exercise cannot in any way be restricted or burdened by either federal or state legislation. Compulsion by law of the acceptance of any creed or the practice of any form of worship is strictly forbidden. The freedom to hold religious beliefs and opinions is absolute. Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 303; Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145, 166. Thus, in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, this Court held that state action compelling school children to salute the flag, on pain of expulsion from public school, was contrary to the First and Fourteenth Amendments when applied to those students whose religious beliefs forbade saluting a flag. But this is not the case at bar; the statute before us does not make criminal the holding of any religious belief or opinion, nor does it force anyone to embrace any religious belief or to say or believe anything in conflict with his religious tenets.

However, the freedom to act, even when the action is in accord with one's religious convictions, is not totally free from legislative restrictions. Cantwell v. Connecticut, supra, at pp. 303-304, 306. As pointed out in Reynolds v. United States, supra, at p. 164, legislative power over mere opinion is forbidden, but it may reach people's actions when they are found to be in violation of important social duties or subversive of good order, even when

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the actions are demanded by one's religion. This was articulated by Thomas Jefferson when he said:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

(Emphasis added.) 8 Works of Thomas Jefferson 113.2 And, in the Barnette case, the Court was careful to point out that

The freedom asserted by these appellees does not bring them into collision with rights asserted by any other individual. It is such conflicts which most frequently require intervention of the State to...

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