Brief Fact Summary. Sherbert (Petitioner) was denied unemployment benefits because she refused to work on Saturdays.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. A state may not deny unemployment benefits to a citizen because her religions convictions require an observance of a day of rest.
Petitioner was fired for refusing to work on Saturdays, the Sabbath of her religion. She later filed for unemployment because she unable to find a job that did not require Saturday work. Respondent determined that Petitioner was not eligible for benefits because of her Saturday restriction.
Issue. Is the state restraint on unemployment benefits constitutional?
Held. No. Petitioner is being penalized for practicing her religion. She is forced to forfeit benefits because she refuses to sacrifice her religious conviction. To be valid this regulation would need to survive strict scrutiny analysis.
Dissent. Points of Law - for Law School Success
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. View Full Point of Law
The majority ruling means that a state is obligated to provide financial support, and provides an exception based on religion. This may violate limits on state entanglement with religion. Discussion.
Generally, the state may regulate expressions that pose a serious threat to pubic safety, peace, or order. This will include actions that manifest a religious belief or doctrine, but cannot be intended to quash the practices of a religion. The disqualification for benefits burdens the free exercise of religion. Petitioner is forced to choose between earning a living and practicing her religion.