Case Overview

Legal Principle at Issue

Whether a law denying unemployment benefits to someone who cannot find work because their religious beliefs prohibit working on Saturdays is constitutional.


The Supreme Court of the United States held under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment that unemployment benefits could not be denied to the plaintiff, reversing the South Carolina Supreme Court.


Adell H. Sherbert was fired from her job because her religious beliefs as a Seventh Day Adventist prohibited her from working on Saturdays. This restriction also made it difficult for her to find other work after losing her job. When Sherbert applied for unemployment benefits from the state of South Carolina, the state denied her relief. South Carolina could deny benefits to those who could not find a job without good cause. Here, South Carolina did not find Sherbert’s religious convictions to be a “good cause” to restrict her employment.

Importance of Case

The Court stated that the government may not “penalize or discriminate against individuals or groups because they hold religious views abhorrent to the authorities.” Given that, the Court found it “clear” that the denial of unemployment benefits “imposes [a] burden on the free exercise of appellant’s religion.” The Court did not find a compelling state interest for denying those benefits, as the state only suggested that there could be fraudulent claims and disruption without demonstrating it would be so, the Court held the denial of benefits unconstitutional.

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