Resources on Faith, Ethics and Public Life

Thomas v. Review Board

In Thomas v. Review Board, the Supreme Court held unconstitutional a state’s denial of unemployment benefits to a Jehovah’s Witness who quit his job for religious reasons. Thomas worked in a foundry that fabricated steel for industrial use. The particular foundry in which he worked was closed and the company transferred him to a different department that constructed turrets for tanks. Thomas quit his job, asserting that his religious beliefs prevented him from constructing weapons. When Thomas applied for unemployment benefits, his claim was denied because the review board found that his voluntary termination was not based upon a “good cause [arising] in connection with [his] work,” as required by Indiana law. The Court found that the state was wrong to deny Thomas his unemployment. The Court held that a state may not compel a person to choose between the exercise of a First Amendment right and participation in an otherwise available public program such as the provision of unemployment benefits. A state violates the Free Exercise Clause when it conditions the receipt of a benefit on conduct prohibited by a religious faith because such a condition may pressure an adherent to modify his behavior and to violate his beliefs.

Cornell Legal Information Institute

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