476 U.S. 693 (1986), 84-780, Bowen v. Roy

Docket NºNo. 84-780
Citation476 U.S. 693, 106 S.Ct. 2147, 90 L.Ed.2d 735, 54 U.S.L.W. 4603
Party NameBowen v. Roy
Case DateJune 11, 1986
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 693

476 U.S. 693 (1986)

106 S.Ct. 2147, 90 L.Ed.2d 735, 54 U.S.L.W. 4603

Bowen

v.

Roy

No. 84-780

United States Supreme Court

June 11, 1986

Argued January 14, 1986

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE

MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA

Syllabus

Appellees applied for and received benefits under the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program and the Food Stamp program. They refused, however, to comply with the federal statutory requirements that participants in those programs furnish the state welfare agencies who administer the programs with their Social Security numbers and those of each member of their household as a condition of receiving benefits, and that each state agency utilize those numbers in administering the programs. Appellees contended that obtaining a Social Security number for their 2-year-old daughter would violate their Native American religious beliefs. Thereafter, the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare terminated AFDC benefits [106 S.Ct. 2149] payable to appellees on the child's behalf and instituted proceedings to reduce the level of food stamps that appellees' household was receiving. Appellees then filed an action in Federal District Court, claiming that the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment entitled them to an exemption from the Social Security number requirements, and requesting injunctive and other relief. Following a trial in which it was disclosed that the child had in fact been assigned a Social Security number, the court held that the public interest in maintaining an efficient and fraud-resistant system could be met without requiring a Social Security number for the child. The court then enjoined the Secretary of Health and Human Services from using and disseminating the Social Security number issued in the child's name, and also enjoined the federal and state defendants from denying appellees benefits, until the child's 16th birthday, because of their refusal to provide a Social Security number for her.

Held: The judgment is vacated, and the case is remanded.

590 F.Supp. 600, vacated and remanded.

CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I and II, concluding that the statutory requirement that a state agency utilize Social Security numbers in administering the programs in question does not violate the Free Exercise Clause. That Clause affords an individual protection from certain forms of governmental compulsion, but does not afford an individual a right to dictate the conduct of the Government's internal procedures. The Government's

Page 694

use of a Social Security number for appellees' child does not itself impair appellees' freedom to exercise their religion. Pp. 699-701.

CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER, joined by JUSTICE POWELL and JUSTICE REHNQUIST, concluded in Part III that the statutory requirement that applicants provide a Social Security number as a condition of eligibility for the benefits in question does not violate the Free Exercise Clause. That requirement is facially neutral in religious terms, applies to all applicants for the benefits involved, and clearly promotes a legitimate and important public interest. Preventing fraud in these benefit programs is an important goal, and the Social Security number requirement is a reasonable means of promoting that goal. Government regulation that indirectly and incidentally calls for a choice between securing a governmental benefit and adherence to religious beliefs is wholly different from governmental action or legislation that criminalizes religiously inspired activity or compels conduct that some find objectionable for religious reasons. Pp. 701-712.

BURGER, C.J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I and II, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, REHNQUIST, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, and an opinion with respect to Part III, in which POWELL and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in part, post, p. 712. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the result, post, p. 716. O'CONNOR, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 724. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 733.

Page 695

BURGER, J., lead opinion

CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I and II, and an opinion with respect to Part III, in which JUSTICE POWELL and JUSTICE REHNQUIST join.

The question presented is whether the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment [106 S.Ct. 2150] compels the Government to accommodate a religiously based objection to the statutory requirements that a Social Security number be provided by an applicant seeking to receive certain welfare benefits, and that the States use these numbers in administering the benefit programs.

I

Appellees Stephen J. Roy and Karen Miller applied for and received benefits under the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program and the Food Stamp program. They refused to comply, however, with the requirement, contained in 42 U.S.C. § 602(a)(25)1 and 7 U.S.C. § 2025(e), that participants in these programs furnish their state welfare agencies with the Social Security numbers of the members of their household as a condition of receiving benefits. Appellees contended that obtaining a Social Security number for their 2-year-old daughter, Little Bird of the Snow, would violate their Native American religious beliefs. The Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare thereafter terminated AFDC and medical benefits payable to appellees on the child's behalf and instituted proceedings to reduce the level of food stamps that appellees' household was receiving. Appellees then filed this action against the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and the Secretary of Agriculture, arguing that the Free Exercise Clause entitled them to an exemption from the Social Security number requirement. In their complaint,

Page 696

appellees stated that "[t]he sole basis" for the denial of welfare benefits was "Mr. Roy's refusal to obtain a Social Security Number for Little Bird of the Snow," and thus requested injunctive relief, damages, and benefits. In the statement of "undisputed facts," the parties agreed that Little Bird of the Snow did not have a Social Security number.

At trial, Roy testified that he had recently developed a religious objection to obtaining a Social Security number for Little Bird of the Snow.2 Roy is a Native American descended from the Abenaki Tribe, and he asserts a religious belief that control over one's life is essential to spiritual purity, and indispensable to "becoming a holy person." Based on recent conversations with an Abenaki chief, Roy believes that technology is "robbing the spirit of man." In order to prepare his daughter for greater spiritual power, therefore, Roy testified to his belief that he must keep her person and spirit unique, and that the uniqueness of the Social Security number as an identifier, coupled with the other uses of the number over which she has no control, will serve to "rob the spirit" of his daughter and prevent her from attaining greater spiritual power.

For purposes of determining the breadth of Roy's religious concerns, the trial judge raised the possibility of using the phonetics of his daughter's name to derive a Social Security number. Although Roy saw "a lot of good" in this suggestion, he stated it would violate his religious beliefs because the special number still would apply uniquely and identify her. Roy also testified that his religious objection would not be satisfied even if the Social Security Administration appended the daughter's full tribal name to her Social Security number.

Page 697

In Roy's own testimony, he emphasized the evil that would flow simply from obtaining a number.3 On the last day of trial, however, a federal officer inquired [106 S.Ct. 2151] whether Little Bird of the Snow already had a Social Security number; he learned that a number had been assigned -- under first name "Little," middle name "Bird of the Snow," and last name "Roy."

The Government at this point suggested that the case had become moot, because, under Roy's beliefs, Little Bird of the Snow's spirit had already been "robbed." Roy, however, was recalled to the stand and testified that her spirit would be robbed only by "use" of the number. Since no known use of the number had yet been made, Roy expressed his belief that her spirit had not been damaged. The District Court concluded that the case was not moot because of Roy's beliefs regarding "use" of the number. See Roy v. Cohen, 590 F.Supp. 600, 605 (MD Pa.1984) (finding of fact 33) ("Roy believes that the establishment of a social security number for Little Bird of the Snow, without more, has not `robbed her spirit,' but widespread use of the social security number by the federal or state governments in their computer systems would have that effect").

After hearing all of the testimony, the District Court denied appellees' request for damages and benefits, but granted injunctive relief. Based on the testimony of the Government's experts and the obvious fact that many people share certain names, the District Court found that

[u]tilization in

Page 698

the computer system of the name of a benefit recipient alone frequently is not sufficient to ensure the proper payment of benefits.

The court nevertheless concluded that the public

interest in maintaining an efficient and fraud resistant system can be met without requiring use of a social security number for Little Bird of the Snow,

elaborating:

It appears to the Court that the harm that the Government might suffer if [appellees] prevailed in this case would...

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369 practice notes
  • Federal Law Protections for Religious Liberty
    • United States
    • Federal Register October 26, 2017
    • 26 Octubre 2017
    ...imposes no substantial burden. See, e.g., Lyng v. Nw. Indian Cemetery Protective Ass'n, 485 U.S. 439, 448-49 (1988); Bowen v. Roy, 476 U.S. 693, 699-700 As with claims under the Free Exercise Clause, RFRA does not permit a court to inquire into the reasonableness of a religious belief, incl......
  • 874 F.2d 686 (9th Cir. 1989), 88-5021, United States v. Komisaruk
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • 10 Mayo 1989
    ...that his admissions were "not to be believed" because of the stressful circumstances under which he confessed. Id. at 691, 106 S.Ct. at 2147. Komisaruk's reliance on Crane is misplaced. Komisaruk does not argue that the redacted press release inaccurately presents her words. Inste......
  • 940 F.Supp. 879 (D.Md. 1996), C. A. S-96-167, Keeler v. Mayor & City Council of Cumberland
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 4th Circuit United States District Court (Maryland)
    • 15 Octubre 1996
    ...it may not refuse to extend that system to cases of 'religious hardship' without compelling reason." Ibid., (quoting Bowen v. Roy, 476 U.S. at 708, 106 S.Ct. at 2156). Consequently, to the extent that Cumberland's historic zoning laws provide for a "system" of exemptions and ......
  • 770 N.E.2d 1251 (Ill.App. 4 Dist. 2002), 4-01-0421, Mefford v. White
    • United States
    • Illinois United States Appellate Court of Illinois
    • 7 Junio 2002
    ...of social security numbers in the administration of government programs is not susceptible to a free exercise challenge. In Bowen v. Roy, 476 U.S. 693, 699-701, 106 S.Ct. 2147, 2152-53, 90 L.Ed.2d 735, 744-45 (1986), the Court was presented with a challenge to the use of social security num......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
303 cases
  • 874 F.2d 686 (9th Cir. 1989), 88-5021, United States v. Komisaruk
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • 10 Mayo 1989
    ...that his admissions were "not to be believed" because of the stressful circumstances under which he confessed. Id. at 691, 106 S.Ct. at 2147. Komisaruk's reliance on Crane is misplaced. Komisaruk does not argue that the redacted press release inaccurately presents her words. Inste......
  • 940 F.Supp. 879 (D.Md. 1996), C. A. S-96-167, Keeler v. Mayor & City Council of Cumberland
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 4th Circuit United States District Court (Maryland)
    • 15 Octubre 1996
    ...it may not refuse to extend that system to cases of 'religious hardship' without compelling reason." Ibid., (quoting Bowen v. Roy, 476 U.S. at 708, 106 S.Ct. at 2156). Consequently, to the extent that Cumberland's historic zoning laws provide for a "system" of exemptions and ......
  • 770 N.E.2d 1251 (Ill.App. 4 Dist. 2002), 4-01-0421, Mefford v. White
    • United States
    • Illinois United States Appellate Court of Illinois
    • 7 Junio 2002
    ...of social security numbers in the administration of government programs is not susceptible to a free exercise challenge. In Bowen v. Roy, 476 U.S. 693, 699-701, 106 S.Ct. 2147, 2152-53, 90 L.Ed.2d 735, 744-45 (1986), the Court was presented with a challenge to the use of social security num......
  • 13 A.3d 1227 (Md. 2011), 12-2010, Neustadter v. Holy Cross Hosp. of Silver Spring, Inc.
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • 24 Febrero 2011
    ...to individualized governmental assessment of the reasons for the relevant conduct. As a plurality of the Court noted in [ Bowen v. ] Roy [476 U.S. 693, 106 S.Ct. 2147, 90 L.Ed.2d 735 (1986) ], a distinctive feature of the unemployment compensation programs is that their eligibility criteria......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 firm's commentaries
  • The SEC’s Clawback Proposal – An Unconstitutional Taking?
    • United States
    • JD Supra United States
    • 13 Julio 2015
    ...(“No State shall . . . pass any . . . Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts.”). Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. v. Gray & Co., 476 U.S. 717, 733 (1984). The primary check on Congress’ power to interfere with contracts between or among private parties is the Takings Clause found in th......
62 books & journal articles
  • The free exercise clause, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the right to active and passive euthanasia.
    • United States
    • Issues in Law & Medicine Vol. 10 Nbr. 1, June 1994
    • 22 Junio 1994
    ...485 U.S. 439 (1988). (74) See Jimmy Swaggart Ministries v. Bd. of Equalization, 493 U.S. 378 (1990); Lyng, 485 U.S. 439; Bowen v. Roy, 476 U.S. 693 (1986). (75) See United States v. Lee, 455 U.S. 252 (1982); Hernandez v. Commissioner of internal Revenue, 490 U.S. 680 (1989); Jimmy Swaggart ......
  • What are equal terms anyway?
    • United States
    • Notre Dame Law Review Vol. 87 Nbr. 3, February 2012
    • 1 Febrero 2012
    ...at 908 (Blackmun, J., dissenting). (34) See id. at 883-84 (majority opinion). (35) See id. at 883. (36) Id. at 884 (quoting Bowen v. Roy, 476 U.S. 693, 708 (1986) (plurality opinion)). (37) Id. The Court cites as examples Gillette v. United States, 401 U.S. 437 (1971), and United States v. ......
  • Addressing the hybrid-rights exception: how the colorable-plus approach can revive the free exercise clause.
    • United States
    • Case Western Reserve Law Review Vol. 63 Nbr. 1, September 2012
    • 22 Septiembre 2012
    ...(27.) Id. at 546. (28.) Id. at 531 (citing Emp't Div. v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990)). (29.) Smith, 494 U.S. at 884 (citing Bowen v. Roy, 476 U.S. 693, 708 (1986)). (30.) Id. (31.) Id. (32.) Roy, 476 U.S. at 708. (33.) Id. at 884-85. (34.) See, e.g., Swanson v. Guthrie Indep. Sch. Dist. No. ......
  • Religion
    • United States
    • West's Encyclopedia of American Law Po–San
    • 1 Enero 2005
    ...Security numbers by the government to be a legitimate government action that does not violate the Free Exercise Clause (Bowen v. Roy, 476 U.S. 693, 106 S. Ct. 2147, 90 L. Ed. 2d 735 [1986]). In the 1989 case of Hernandez v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, 490 U.S. 680, 109 S. Ct. 2136, 10......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 provisions
  • Federal Law Protections for Religious Liberty
    • United States
    • Federal Register October 26, 2017
    • 26 Octubre 2017
    ...imposes no substantial burden. See, e.g., Lyng v. Nw. Indian Cemetery Protective Ass'n, 485 U.S. 439, 448-49 (1988); Bowen v. Roy, 476 U.S. 693, 699-700 As with claims under the Free Exercise Clause, RFRA does not permit a court to inquire into the reasonableness of a religious belief, incl......
  • Medicaid: Children's Health Insurance Program; State allotments and grants,
    • United States
    • Federal Register November 08, 1999
    • 23 Septiembre 1999
    ...the State with their social security number(s) as a condition of eligibility. While the United States Supreme Court in Bowen v. Roy, 476 U.S. 693 (1986) upheld this requirement, it did so in a plurality decision in which some of the Justices held that the challenge was moot since the claima......