480 U.S. 136 (1987), 85-993, Hobbie v. Unemployment Appeals Comm'n of Florida
|Docket Nº:||No. 85-993|
|Citation:||480 U.S. 136, 107 S.Ct. 1046, 94 L.Ed.2d 190, 55 U.S.L.W. 4208|
|Party Name:||Hobbie v. Unemployment Appeals Comm'n of Florida|
|Case Date:||February 25, 1987|
|Court:||United States Supreme Court|
Argued December 10, 1986
APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF APPEAL OF FLORIDA,
After 2 1/2 years, appellant informed her employer that she was joining the Seventh-day Adventist Church and that, for religious reasons, she would no longer be able to work at the employer's jewelry store on her Sabbath. When she refused to work scheduled shifts on Friday evenings and Saturdays, she was discharged. She then filed a claim for unemployment compensation, which was denied by a claims examiner for "misconduct connected with [her] work" under the applicable Florida statute, and the Unemployment Appeals Commission (Appeals Commission) affirmed. The Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal affirmed the Appeals Commission's order.
[107 S.Ct. 1047] Held: Florida's refusal to award unemployment compensation benefits to appellant violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398; Thomas v. Review Board of Indiana Employment Security Div., 450 U.S. 707.
(a) When a State denies receipt of a benefit because of conduct mandated by religious belief, thereby putting substantial pressure on an adherent to modify his behavior and to violate his beliefs, that denial must be subjected to strict scrutiny, and can be justified only by proof of a compelling state interest. The Appeals Commission did not seriously contend that its infringement could withstand strict scrutiny, and there is no merit to its contention that justification for the infringement should be determined under the less rigorous standard of demonstrating that the challenged requirement for governmental benefits was a reasonable means of promoting a legitimate public interest. Pp. 139-146.
(b) The denial of benefits to appellant cannot be justified on the ground that, under Florida law, appellant was not completely ineligible for benefits, but was disqualified only for a limited time. Pp. 143-144.
(c) Nor can the denial of benefits be upheld on the ground that the conflict between work and religious belief was not caused by the employer's alteration of the conditions of employment after appellant was hired, but was caused, instead, by appellant's conversion during the course of her employment. Pp. 143-144.
(d) There is no merit to the Appeals Commission's argument that awarding benefits to appellant would violate the Establishment Clause
of the First Amendment. The accommodation of religious practices here would not entangle the State in an unlawful fostering of religion. Pp. 144-145.
475 So.2d 711, reversed.
BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., post, p. 146, and STEVENS, J., post, p. 147, filed opinions concurring in the judgment. REHNQUIST, C.J., filed a dissenting statement, post, p. 146.
BRENNAN, J., lead opinion
JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.
Appellant's employer discharged her when she refused to work certain scheduled hours because of sincerely held religious convictions adopted after beginning employment. The question to be decided is whether Florida's denial of unemployment compensation benefits to appellant violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution, as applied to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment.1
Lawton and Company (Lawton), a Florida jeweler, hired appellant Paula Hobbie in October, 1981. She was employed by Lawton for 2 1/2 years, first as a trainee and then as assistant manager of a retail jewelry store. In April, 1984, Hobbie informed her immediate supervisor that she was to be baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church and that, for religious reasons, she would no longer be able to work on her Sabbath, from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday.2 The supervisor devised an arrangement with Hobbie: she agreed to work evenings and Sundays, [107 S.Ct. 1048] and he agreed to substitute for her whenever she was scheduled to work on a Friday evening or a Saturday.
This arrangement continued until the general manager of Lawton learned of it in June, 1984. At that time, after a meeting with Hobbie and her minister, the general manager informed appellant that she could either work her scheduled shifts or submit her resignation to the company. When Hobbie refused to do either, Lawton discharged her.
On June 4, 1984, appellant filed a claim for unemployment compensation with the Florida Department of Labor and Employment Security. Under Florida law, unemployment compensation benefits are available to persons who become "unemployed through no fault of their own." Fla.Stat. § 443.021 (1985). Lawton contested the payment of benefits on the ground that Hobbie was "disqualified for benefits" because she had been discharged for "misconduct connected with [her] work." § 443.101(1)(a).3
A claims examiner for the Bureau of Unemployment Compensation denied Hobbie's claim for benefits, and she appealed that determination. Following a hearing before a referee, the Unemployment Appeals Commission (Appeals Commission) affirmed the denial of benefits, agreeing that Hobbie's refusal to work scheduled shifts constituted "misconduct connected with [her] work." App. 3.
Hobbie challenged the Appeals Commission's order in the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal. On September 10, 1985, that court summarily affirmed the Appeals Commission.4 We postponed jurisdiction, 475 U.S. 1117 (1985), and we now reverse.5
Under our precedents, the Appeals Commission's disqualification of appellant from receipt of benefits violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, applicable to the
States through the Fourteenth Amendment.6 Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 (1963); Thomas v. Review Bd. of Indiana Employment Security Div., 450 U.S. 707 (1981). In Sherbert, we considered South Carolina's denial of unemployment compensation benefits to a Sabbatarian who, like Hobbie, refused to work on Saturdays. The Court held that the State's [107 S.Ct. 1049] disqualification of Sherbert
force[d] her to choose between following the precepts of her religion and forfeiting benefits, on the one hand, and abandoning one of the precepts of her religion in order to accept work, on the other hand. Governmental imposition of such a choice puts the same kind of burden upon the free exercise of religion as would a fine imposed against [her] for her Saturday worship.
374 U.S. at 404. We concluded that the State had imposed a burden upon Sherbert's free exercise rights that had not been justified by a compelling state interest.
In Thomas, too, the Court held that a State's denial of unemployment benefits unlawfully burdened an employee's right to free exercise of religion. Thomas, a Jehovah's Witness, held religious beliefs that forbade his participation in the production of armaments. He was forced to leave his job when the employer closed his department and transferred him to a division that fabricated turrets for tanks. Indiana then denied Thomas unemployment compensation benefits. The Court found that the employee had been "put to a choice between fidelity to religious belief or cessation of work," and that the coercive impact of the forfeiture of benefits in this situation was undeniable:
"Not only is it apparent that appellant's declared ineligibility for benefits derives solely from the practice of
. . . religion, but the pressure upon [the employee] to forego that practice is unmistakable."
Thomas, supra, at 717 (quoting Sherbert, supra, at 404).
We see no meaningful distinction among the situations of Sherbert, Thomas, and Hobbie. We again affirm, as stated in Thomas:
Where the state conditions receipt of an important benefit upon conduct proscribed by a religious faith, or where it denies such a benefit because of conduct mandated by religious belief, thereby putting substantial pressure on an adherent to modify his behavior and to violate his beliefs, a burden upon religion exists. While the compulsion may be indirect, the infringement upon free exercise is nonetheless substantial.
450 U.S. at 717-718 (emphasis added).
Both Sherbert and Thomas held that such infringements must be subjected to strict scrutiny and could be justified only by proof by the State of a compelling interest. The Appeals Commission does not seriously contend that its denial of benefits can withstand strict scrutiny; rather, it urges that we hold that its justification should be determined under the less rigorous standard articulated in Chief Justice Burger's opinion in Bowen v. Roy, 476 U.S. 693, 707-708 (1986):
[T]he Government meets its burden when it demonstrates that a challenged requirement for governmental benefits, neutral and uniform in its application, is a reasonable means of promoting a legitimate public interest.
Five Justices expressly rejected this argument in Roy. See id. at 715-716 (BLACKMUN, J., concurring in part); id. at 728 (O'CONNOR, J., joined by BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ, concurring in part and dissenting in part); id. at 733 (WHITE, J., dissenting). We reject the argument again today. As JUSTICE O'CONNOR pointed out in Roy,
[s]uch a test has no basis in precedent, and relegates a serious First Amendment value to the barest level of minimal scrutiny that the Equal Protection
Clause already provides.
Id. at 727. See also Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 215 (1972) ("[O]nly those interests of the highest order and those not otherwise served can overbalance legitimate claims to the free exercise of religion").7
[107 S.Ct. 1050] The Appeals Commission also suggests two grounds upon which we might distinguish Sherbert and Thomas from the present case....
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