Sherbert v. Verner, No. 526

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBRENNAN
Citation10 L.Ed.2d 965,374 U.S. 398,83 S.Ct. 1790
PartiesAdell H. SHERBERT, Appellant, v. Charlie V. VERNER et al., as members of South Carolina Employment Security Commission, and Spartan Mills
Decision Date17 June 1963
Docket NumberNo. 526

374 U.S. 398
83 S.Ct. 1790
10 L.Ed.2d 965
Adell H. SHERBERT, Appellant,

v.

Charlie V. VERNER et al., as members of South Carolina Employment Security Commission, and Spartan Mills.

No. 526.
Argued April 24, 1963.
Decided June 17, 1963.

William D. Donnelly, Bethesda, Md., for appellant.

Page 399

Daniel R. McLeod, Columbia, S.C., for appellees.

Mr. Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Appellant, a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church was discharged by her South Carolina employer because she would not work on Saturday, the Sabbath Day of her faith.1 When she was unable to obtain other employment because from conscientious scruples she would not take Saturday work,2 she filed a claim for

Page 400

unemployment compensation benefits under the South Carolina Unemployment Compensation Act.3 That law provides that, to be eligible for benefits, a claimant must be 'able to work and * * * is available for work'; and, fur-

Page 401

ther, that a claimant is ineligible for benefits '(i)f * * * he has failed, without good cause * * * to accept available suitable work when offered him by the employment office or the employer * * *.' The appellee Employment Security Commission, in administrative proceedings under the statute, found that appellant's restriction upon her availability for Saturday work brought her within the provision disqualifying for benefits insured workers who fail, without good cause, to accept 'suitable work when offered * * * by the employment office or the employer * * *.' The Commission's finding was sustained by the Court of Common Pleas for Spartanburg County. That court's judgment was in turn affirmed by the South Carolina Supreme Court, which rejected appellant's contention that, as applied to her, the disqualifying provisions of the South Carolina statute abridged her right to the free exercise of her religion secured under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment through the Fourteenth Amendment. The State Supreme Court held specifically that appellant's ineligibility infringed no constitutional liberties because such a construction of the statute 'places no restriction upon the appellant's freedom of religion nor does it in any way prevent her in the exercise of her right and freedom to observe her religious beliefs in accordance with the dictates of her conscience.' 240 U.S. 286, 303—304, 125 S.E.2d 737, 746.4 We noted probable

Page 402

jurisdiction of appellant's appeal.371 U.S. 938, 83 S.Ct. 321, 9 L.Ed.2d 273. We reverse the judgment of the South Carolina Supreme Court and remand for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

I.

The door of the Free Exercise Clause stands tightly closed against any governmental regulation of religious beliefs as such, Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 303, 60 S.Ct. 900, 903, 84 L.Ed. 1213. Government may neither compel affirmation of a repugnant belief, Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488, 81 S.Ct. 1680, 6 L.Ed.2d 982; nor penalize or discriminate against individuals or groups because they hold religious views abhorrent to the authorities, Fowler v. Rhode Island, 345 U.S. 67, 73 S.Ct. 526, 97 L.Ed. 828; nor employ the taxing power to inhibit the dissemination of particular religious views, Murdock v. Pennsylvania, 319 U.S. 105, 63 S.Ct. 870, 87 L.Ed. 1292; Follett v. McCormick, 321 U.S. 573, 64 S.Ct. 717, 88 L.Ed. 938; cf. Grosjean v. American Press Co., 297 U.S. 233, 56 S.Ct. 444, 80 L.Ed. 660. On the other hand,

Page 403

the Court has rejected challenges under the Free Exercise Clause to governmental regulation of certain overt acts prompted by religious beliefs or principles, for 'even when the action is in accord with one's religious convictions, (it) is not totally free from legislative restrictions.' Braunfeld v. Brown, 366 U.S. 599, 603, 81 S.Ct. 1144, 1146, 6 L.Ed.2d 563. The conduct or actions so regulated have invariably posed some substantial threat to public safety, peace or order. See, e.g., Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145, 25 L.Ed. 244; Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11, 25 S.Ct. 358, 49 L.Ed. 643; Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, 64 S.Ct. 438, 88 L.Ed. 645; Cleveland v. United States, 329 U.S. 14, 67 S.Ct. 13, 91 L.Ed. 12.

Plainly enough, appellant's conscientious objection to Saturday work constitutes no conduct prompted by religious principles of a kind within the reach of state legislation. If, therefore. the decision of the South Carolina Supreme Court is to withstand appellant's constitutional challenge, it must be either because her disqualification as a beneficiary represents no infringement by the State of her constitutional rights of free exercise, or because any incidental burden on the free exercise of appellant's religion may be justified by a 'compelling state interest in the regulation of a subject within the State's constitutional power to regulate * * *.' NAACP v. Button, 371 U.S. 415, 438, 83 S.Ct. 328, 341, 9 L.Ed.2d 405.

II.

We turn first to the question whether the disqualification for benefits imposes any burden on the free exercise of appellant's religion. We think it is clear that it does. In a sense the consequences of such a disqualification to religious principles and practices may be only an indirect result of welfare legislation within the State's general competence to enact; it is true that no criminal sanctions directly compel appellant to work a six-day week. But this is only the beginning, not the end, of our

Page 404

inquiry.5 For '(i)f the purpose or effect of a law is to impede the observance of one or all religions or is to discriminate invidiously between religions, that law is constitutionally invalid even though the burden may be characterized as being only indirect.' Braunfeld v. Brown, supra, 366 U.S., at 607, 81 S.Ct., at 1148. Here not only is it apparent that appellant's declared ineligibility for benefits derives solely from the practice of her religion, but the pressure upon her to forego that practice is unmistakable. The ruling forces 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 appellant for her Saturday worship.

Nor may the South Carolina court's construction of the statute be saved from constitutional infirmity on the ground that unemployment compensation benefits are not appellant's 'right' but merely a 'privilege.' It is too late in the day to doubt that the liberties of religion and expression may be infringed by the denial of or placing of conditions upon a benefit or privilege.6 American

Page 405

Communications Ass'n v. Douds, 339 U.S. 382, 390, 70 S.Ct. 674, 679, 94 L.Ed. 925; Wieman v. Updegraff, 344 U.S. 183, 191—192, 73 S.Ct. 215, 218—219, 97 L.Ed. 216; Hannegan v. Esquire, Inc., 327 U.S. 146, 155—156, 66 S.Ct. 456, 461, 90 L.Ed. 586. For example, in Flemming v. Nestor, 363 U.S. 603, 611, 80 S.Ct. 1367, 1373, 4 L.Ed.2d 1435, the Court recognized with respect to Federal Social Security benefits that '(t)he interest of a covered employee under the Act is of sufficient substance to fall within the protection from arbitrary governmental action afforded by the Due Process Clause.' In Speiser v. Randall, 357 U.S. 513, 78 S.Ct. 1332, 2 L.Ed.2d 1460, we emphasized that conditions upon public benefits cannot be sustained if they so operate, whatever their purpose, as to inhibit or deter the exercise of First Amendment freedoms. We there struck down a condition which limited the availability of a tax exemption to those members of the exempted class who affirmed their loyalty to the state government granting the exemption. While the State was surely under no obligation to afford such an exemption, we held that the imposition of such a condition upon even a gratuitous benefit inevitably deterred or discouraged the exercise of First Amendment rights of expression and thereby threatened to 'produce a result which the State could not command directly.' 357 U.S.,

Page 406

at 526, 78 S.Ct., at 1342. 'To deny an exemption to claimants who engage in certain forms of speech is in effect to penalize them for such speech.' Id., 357 U.S., at 518, 78 S.Ct., at 1338. Likewise, to condition the availability of benefits upon this appellant's willingness to violate a cardinal principle of her religious faith effectively penalizes the free exercise of her constitutional liberties.

Significantly South Carolina expressly saves the Sunday worshipper from having to make the kind of choice which we here hold infringes the Sabbatarian's religious liberty. When in times of 'national emergency' the textile plants are authorized by the State Commissioner of Labor to operate on Sunday, 'no employee shall be required to work on Sunday * * * who is conscientiously opposed to Sunday work; and if any employee should refuse to work on Sunday on account of conscientious * * * objections he or she shall not jeopardize his or her seniority by such refusal or be discriminated against in any other manner.' S.C.Code, § 64—4. No question of the disqualification of a Sunday worshipper for benefits is likely to arise, since we cannot suppose that an employer will discharge him in violation of this statute. The unconstitutionality of the disqualification of the Sabbatarian is thus compounded by the religious discrimination which South Carolina's general statutory scheme necessarily effects.

III.

We must next consider whether some compelling state interest enforced in the eligibility provisions of the South Carolina statute justifies the substantial infringement of appellant's First Amendment right. It is basic that no showing merely of a rational relationship to some colorable state interest would suffice; in this highly sensitive...

To continue reading

Request your trial
2104 practice notes
  • Carson v. Makin, No. 19-1746
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • October 29, 2020
    ..." Id. (quoting Locke, 540 U.S. at 726, 124 S.Ct. 1307 (Scalia, J., dissenting)). Thus, the concurrence explained, in Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398, 83 S.Ct. 1790, 10 L.Ed.2d 965 (1963), and Thomas v. Review Board of Indiana Employment Security Division, 450 U.S. 707, 101 S.Ct. 1425, 67 L......
  • Fulton v. City of Phila., No. 19-123
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 17, 2021
    ...v. Roy, 476 U. S. 693, 708 (1986) (opinion of Burger, C. J., joined by Powell and Rehnquist, JJ.)). For example, in Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U. S. 398 (1963), a Seventh-day Adventist was fired because she would not work on Saturdays. Unable to find a job that would allow her to keep the Sabb......
  • INTERN. SOC. FOR KRISHNA, ETC. v. Barber, No. 77 CV 328.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of New York
    • August 25, 1980
    ...87 S.Ct. 242, 17 L.Ed.2d 149 (1966); Cox v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 536, 554-55, 85 S.Ct. 453, 464, 13 L.Ed.2d 471 (1965); Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398, 83 S.Ct. 1790, 10 L.Ed.2d 965 Still, even when regulations are justified because of a compelling public interest, the regulations must be ......
  • Mancuso v. Taft, Civ. A. No. 4751.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Rhode Island
    • April 17, 1972
    ...353 U.S. 232 77 S.Ct. 752, 1 L.Ed.2d 796; Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488 81 S. Ct. 1680, 6 L.Ed.2d 982. In Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398, 404 83 S.Ct. 1790, 1794, 10 L.Ed.2d 965, we said: `It is too late in the day to doubt that the liberties of religion and expression may be infringed......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2092 cases
  • Carson v. Makin, No. 19-1746
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • October 29, 2020
    ..." Id. (quoting Locke, 540 U.S. at 726, 124 S.Ct. 1307 (Scalia, J., dissenting)). Thus, the concurrence explained, in Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398, 83 S.Ct. 1790, 10 L.Ed.2d 965 (1963), and Thomas v. Review Board of Indiana Employment Security Division, 450 U.S. 707, 101 S.Ct. 1425, 67 L......
  • Fulton v. City of Phila., No. 19-123
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 17, 2021
    ...v. Roy, 476 U. S. 693, 708 (1986) (opinion of Burger, C. J., joined by Powell and Rehnquist, JJ.)). For example, in Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U. S. 398 (1963), a Seventh-day Adventist was fired because she would not work on Saturdays. Unable to find a job that would allow her to keep the Sabb......
  • INTERN. SOC. FOR KRISHNA, ETC. v. Barber, No. 77 CV 328.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of New York
    • August 25, 1980
    ...87 S.Ct. 242, 17 L.Ed.2d 149 (1966); Cox v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 536, 554-55, 85 S.Ct. 453, 464, 13 L.Ed.2d 471 (1965); Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398, 83 S.Ct. 1790, 10 L.Ed.2d 965 Still, even when regulations are justified because of a compelling public interest, the regulations must be ......
  • Mancuso v. Taft, Civ. A. No. 4751.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Rhode Island
    • April 17, 1972
    ...353 U.S. 232 77 S.Ct. 752, 1 L.Ed.2d 796; Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488 81 S. Ct. 1680, 6 L.Ed.2d 982. In Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398, 404 83 S.Ct. 1790, 1794, 10 L.Ed.2d 965, we said: `It is too late in the day to doubt that the liberties of religion and expression may be infringed......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
14 books & journal articles
  • ESTABLISHMENT'S POLITICAL PRIORITY TO FREE EXERCISE.
    • United States
    • Notre Dame Law Review Vol. 97 Nbr. 2, January 2022
    • January 1, 2022
    ...Is Not Special?, 79 LJ. CHI. L. REV. DlALOGUE 71, 74 n.18 (2013). (113) Sherbert v. Verner, 125 S.E.2d 737, 738 (S.C. 1962), reu'd, 374 U.S. 398 (114) Sherbert, 125 S.E.2d at 745. (115) Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398, 421 (1963) (Harlan, J., dissenting). (116) Id. (citing Braunfeld v. Bro......
  • The Centrality of Exclusion: Legal Impediments to Keeping 'Undesirable' People and Uses Out of the Community
    • United States
    • Land use planning and the environment: a casebook
    • January 23, 2010
    ...and forfeiting benefits, on the one hand, and abandoning one of the precepts of her religion . . . on the other hand.” Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398, 404 (1963). A number of courts use this standard as the starting Chapter Six: The Centrality of Exclusion Page 531 point for determining w......
  • Ending Political Discrimination in the Workplace.
    • United States
    • Missouri Law Review Vol. 87 Nbr. 2, March 2022
    • March 22, 2022
    ...Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1, 64-65 (1976); Kusper v. Pontikes, 414 U.S. 51, 58 (1973); Buckley, 424 U.S. at 94; Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398, 406 (1963); Buckley, 424 U.S. at (69) Id. at 367 (plurality opinion); see also id. at 372 (plurality opinion) ("There is also a need to insure t......
  • Born-Again RFRA: Will the Military Backslide on its Religious Conversion?
    • United States
    • Missouri Law Review Vol. 87 Nbr. 2, March 2022
    • March 22, 2022
    ...of those surveyed claimed that religion was either "important" or "very important" in their lives. Id. at 4. (63) Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398, 402 (1963) (citing Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 303 (1940)). (64) Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145, 165 (1879). (65) Id. at 164......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT