Sherbert v. Verner (1963) Custom Essay


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Sherbert was a Seventh Day Adventist, a denomination that recognizes the Sabbath. She was fired for refusing to work on Saturdays. She was then refused unemployment benefits b/c she would not “accept suitable work when offered”
The Court had permitted limits on religious conduct that “invariably posed some substantial threat to public safety, peace or order.”
Because Sherbert’s refusal to work on Saturdays did not fall within this class of conduct, the Court formulated a new test:
1.) Does state action place an “incidental burden on the free exercise of appellant’s religion?”
2.) If so, is the burden “justified by a compelling state interest in the regulation of a subject w/in the State’s constitutional power to regulate?”

The Court applied the Sherbert test to approve accommodations for Amish families whose religion frowns on education past grade school. Respondents were fired after ingesting peyote in a Native American religious ceremony.They were initially denied unemployment compensation because they were dismissed for “work-related ‘misconduct’” (violating state law). The Oregon Supreme Court reversed, determining that ineligibility for unemployment compensation was an unjustified burden on respondents’ right of free exercise.
I want to ask you guys about
1.) Does state action place an “incidental burden on the free exercise of appellant’s religion?”
2.) If so, is the burden “justified by a compelling state interest in the regulation of a subject w/in the State’s constitutional power to regulate?”
The Court intended, to the extent possible, to accommodate diverse religious practices. They changed course in 1990 in Employment Division v. Smith. Henceforth, a “valid and neutral law of general applicability” would not offend the First Amendment, despite any incidental burden to free exercise that the law might impose.
* What are the strengths and weaknesses of the two approaches? Which one do you prefer? Why?

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