Sherbert v. Verner,
374 U.S. 398 (1963)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 (1963)

Sherbert v. Verner

No. 526

Argued April 24, 1963

Decided June 17, 1963

374 U.S. 398


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. She was unable to obtain other employment because she would not work on Saturday, and she filed a claim for unemployment compensation benefits under the South Carolina Unemployment Compensation Act, which provides that a claimant is ineligible for benefits if he has failed, without good cause, to accept available suitable work when offered him. The State Commission denied appellant's application on the ground that she would not accept suitable work when offered, and its action was sustained by the State Supreme Court.

Held: As so applied, the South Carolina statute abridged appellant's right to the free exercise of her religion, in violation of the First Amendment, made applicable to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 374 U. S. 399-410.

(a) Disqualification of appellant for unemployment compensation benefits, solely because of her refusal to accept employment in which she would have to work on Saturday contrary to her religious belief, imposes an unconstitutional burden on the free exercise of her religion. Pp. 374 U. S. 403-406.

(b) There is no compelling state interest enforced in the eligibility provisions of the South Carolina statute which justifies the substantial infringement of appellant's right to religious freedom under the First Amendment. Pp. 374 U. S. 406-409.

(c) This decision does not foster the "establishment" of the Seventh-Day Adventist religion in South Carolina contrary to the First Amendment. Pp. 374 U. S. 409-410.

240 S.C. 286, 125 S.E.2d 737, reversed.

Page 374 U. S. 399

Primary Holding

The Free Exercise Clause prohibits the government from setting unemployment benefits eligibility requirements such that a person cannot properly observe key religious principles.


Sherbert refused to work on Saturday, which was the Sabbath in her religion. She was fired by her employer as a result, and 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 state law, employers were not allowed to require employees to work on Sunday.



  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr. (Author)
  • Earl Warren
  • Hugo Lafayette Black
  • William Orville Douglas
  • Tom C. Clark
  • Potter Stewart
  • Byron Raymond White
  • Arthur Joseph Goldberg

No person should need to choose between complying with religious principles, such as observing the Sabbath, or receiving unemployment benefits. This has the same type of penalty-like impact as if she had been fined for observing the Sabbath on Saturday.


  • John Marshall Harlan II (Author)

Unemployment benefits are intended to be a temporary measure of assistance while people are looking for work. People who are unavailable for work because of personal or religious reasons should not be able to receive them. The Free Exercise Clause permits only a narrow set of accommodations for religion, and it should not extend to this situation.

Case Commentary

Being forced to choose between a religious belief and the right to necessary financial support cannot be allowed under the Constitution, even when the choice is implicit.

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