Sherbert v. Verner

This case carved out the possibility for religiously-based exemptions from otherwise generally applicable laws. Mrs. Sherbert was discharged from her job due to her Seventh-Day Adventist practice of sabbitarianism that required her to not work on Saturdays. She could not find other employment that did not require Saturday work, and she filed for state unemployment but was denied benefits because she failed to accept suitable work without "good cause." In ruling, the Court created the “Sherbert test” which asked first whether the state policy at issue imposed a substantial burden on the claimant's right to free exercise of religion and, second, if there is a burden, whether the infringement is justified by a compelling state interest and is narrowly tailored or the least restrictive means to achieve this interest. The Court applied this test to determine that Sherbert was burdened in her fundamental religious free exercise liberty—in this instance she faced pressure to forgo her religious practice in exchange for receiving unemployment benefits. Since the Court found a burden on her fundamental liberty, they then applied heightened scrutiny of the state interest to determine whether or not it was compelling. The Court determined that the state's claimed interest—to prevent “"spurious" unemployment claims under the guise of religious freedom—was a distant possibility for which there were alternative remedies, rather than necessitating the denial of benefits. The Court thereby overturned the denial of benefits to Sherbert and created the possibility for religious practitioners to claim religious exemptions from otherwise generally applicable laws.

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