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Braunfeld v. Brown

Citation. 366 U.S. 599 (1961)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Appellants challenge the constitutional validity of the application to appellants of the Pennsylvania criminal statute that prohibits the Sunday retail sale of certain enumerated commodities.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

While certain aspects of religious exercise cannot be restricted or burdened by either federal or state legislation, the freedom to act, even when the action is in accord with one’s religious convictions, is not totally free from legislative restrictions.


Appellants are merchants in Philadelphia who engage in the retail sale of clothing and home furnishings within the proscription of the statute in issue. Each of the appellants is a member of the Orthodox Jewish faith, which requires the closing of their places of business and a total abstention from all manner of work from nightfall each Friday until nightfall each Sunday. Appellants contend that the enforcement against them of the Pennsylvania statute will prohibit the free exercise of their religion because appellants will suffer substantial economic loss, to the benefit of their non-Sabbatarian competitors, if appellants also continue their Sabbath observance by closing their businesses on Saturday.


Does the Ohio Criminal Syndicalism statute that criminalizes the act or advocating syndicalism violate the Constitution?


No, the purpose or effect of the law in question does not impede the observance of one or all religions or does not discriminate invidiously between religions, and thus the law is not constitutionally invalid. The State regulates conduct by enacting a general law within its power, and the purpose and effect is to advance the State’s secular goals. Therefore, it is valid despite its indirect burden on religious observance unless the State may accomplish its purpose by means which do not impose such a burden.


The statute at bar does not make unlawful any religious practices of appellants; the Sunday law simply regulates a secular activity and, as applied to appellants, operates so as to make the practice of their religious beliefs more expensive. Further, the law’s effect does not inconvenience all members of the Orthodox Jewish faith but only those who believe it necessary to work on Sunday. And even these are not faced with as serious a choice as forsaking their religious practices or subjecting themselves to criminal prosecution. To strike down legislation which imposes only an indirect burden on the exercise of religion would radically restrict the operating latitude of the legislature. Statutes which tax income and limit the amount which may be deducted for religious contributions imposes an indirect economic burden on the observance of the religion of the citizen whose religion requires him to donate a greater amount to his church. The list of legislation of this nature is nearly limitless. Finally, allowing only people who rest on a day other than Sunday to keep their businesses open on that day will result in economic harm to the society.

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