Hobbie v. Unemployment Appeals Comm'n of Florida - Oral Argument - December 10, 1986

Hobbie v. Unemployment Appeals Comm'n of Florida

Media for Hobbie v. Unemployment Appeals Comm'n of Florida

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - February 25, 1987 in Hobbie v. Unemployment Appeals Comm'n of Florida

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 10, 1986 in Hobbie v. Unemployment Appeals Comm'n of Florida

William H. Rehnquist:

We will hear argument next in No. 85-993, Paula A. Hobbie versus Unemployment Appeals Commission of Florida and Lawton and Company.

Mr. Carson, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Walter E. Carson:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, this is not a factually complex case.

However, it is a case that will have profound effects on the free exercise rights of all Americans.

The issues to be addressed by the appellate in this case are threefold.

First, this case is controlled by the Court's decisions in Sherbert, 374 US, and Thomas, 450 US, and is factually indistinguishable from those cases.

Secondly, the basis that unemployment compensation was denied to Paula Hobbie, that basis being misconduct, creates a vehicle, a mechanism, if you will, whereby the state of Florida can discriminate against individuals because of their religious beliefs.

And finally, both the free exercise clause and the establishment clause ask that the courts and the laws of this land accommodate a person's religious practices and beliefs.

Moving to the first phase of our argument, Your Honor, the case, as we indicated, is factually and legally indistinguishable from the Court's decisions in Sherbert and Thomas, and I would like to lay before the Court briefly the facts of those cases so that the Court can appreciate the similarities.

Paula Hobbie had worked for Lawton Jewelers for approximately two and one-half years.

At that time she was converted to the teachings of the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

As such she was convicted that the Sabbath, that period from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, was a holy day and was a special day.

She reached these convictions and they were sincerely held.

She brought this information to the attention of her employer and her immediate supervisor and she worked out an accommodation, an arrangement whereby she worked for him on Sundays and in turn he worked for her on Friday evenings and during the Sabbath hours on Saturday.

This arrangement worked out.

It was, at least according to the immediate supervisor, an acceptable arrangement.

When upper management learned of this accommodation they put a stop to it immediately, gave Paula Hobbie the choice of her job or her religious beliefs.

She refused to give up her religious beliefs.

She refused to resign.

And she in fact was fired by the employer.

She applied for unemployment compensation.

The employer objected, the state agreed, and she was denied unemployment compensation for misconduct associated with her work.

She took an appeal to the Fifth District Appellate Court in Florida.

The court there affirmed the Florida Unemployment Appeals Commission decision denying her unemployment compensation, and she has brought the case here today.

There are a number of factual and legal parallels between Hobbie and this Court's decisions in Sherbert and Thomas.

Hobbie, like Sherbert and Thomas, was denied unemployment compensation by the state.

Hobbie, like Sherbert and Thomas, was asked or forced to choose between her religion and/or her work.

Hobbie, like Sherbert and Thomas, was put into a situation where work once acceptable for religious reasons became objectionable, and because of those changed conditions she was no longer able to work during that period.

And in Hobbie just as in Sherbert and Thomas the state once again has brought pressure to bear on her to modify her religious beliefs.

The holding in Sherbert and Thomas reached an important, we believe, milestone in free exercise jurisprudence.