Facts of the Case

Provided by Oyez

Adeil Sherbert, a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, was fired from her job after she refused to work on Saturday, the Sabbath Day of her faith. The Employment Security Commission ruled that she could not receive unemployment benefits because her refusal to work on Saturday constituted a failure without good cause to accept available work. Under South Carolina law, employers were not allowed to require employees to work on Sunday. 


  1. Did the denial of unemployment compensation violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments?


  1. The Free Exercise Clause prohibits the government from setting unemployment benefits eligibility requirements such that a person cannot properly observe key religious principles. In a majority opinion written by Justice Brennan, the Court held that the state's eligibility restrictions for unemployment compensation imposed a significant burden on Sherbert's ability to freely exercise her faith. Furthermore, there was no compelling state interest which justified such a substantial burden on this basic First Amendment right. Justices Douglas and Stewart concurred in separate opinions. Justice Harlan, joined by Justice White, dissented on the ground that Seventh-Day Adventist was unavailable for Saturday work just as anyone who refuses Saturday work for personal reasons is unavailable, and that the effect of the Court's decision was to require South Carolina to make an exception in favor of those whose unavailability for work stems from religious convictions.