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Sherbert v. Verner

    Brief Fact Summary. The Appellant, Sherbert (Appellant) a Seventh Day Adventist, brought suit alleging South Carolina’s unemployment scheme was unfair as it disqualified her for compensation when she could not find a job that comported with her religious practice.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. This case stands for the fact that no law or statutory scheme should abridge an individual’s free exercise of religion.

    Facts. The Petitioner was discharged because she would not work on Saturdays, as a condition of her religion. After several attempts to gain employment, she filed for unemployment compensation and was denied by the Commission because she did not have a suitable reason for failing to accept work. The South Carolina Supreme Court sustained the findings of the Commission and the Petitioner appealed to the United States Supreme Court (Supreme Court) on the basis that the unemployment scheme abrogated her First Amendment rights under the Free Exercise Clause.

    Issue. The facial issue presented by this case is whether the unemployment scheme of South Carolina violated the Petitioner’s First Amendment Rights under the Free Exercise Clause.

    Held. Reversed.
    The Supreme Court declined to hold that a constitutional right to unemployment exists on the part of all persons terminated due to their religious convictions.
    Rather, the Supreme Court held that the State could not apply eligibility provisions to the extent that they constrain a worker from observing a religious day of rest.

    Dissent. Justice John Harlan (J. Harlan) dissented, noting the purpose of unemployment was to help people get through when work was unavailable. In this case, it is arguable that work is unavailable, save for the Petitioner’s religious restrictions.
    Concurrence. Justice Stewart (J. Stewart) concurred, maintaining that the denial of benefits is enough to infringe on the free exercise of religion.

    Discussion. The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment stands for the tenant that no law should be created that would deter an individual from the free exercise of his religion. In this case, South Carolina’s unemployment scheme, if allowed to stand, would have violated this clause.


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