Sherbert v. Verner

LOCATION: Beaumont Mills

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)

CITATION: 374 US 398 (1963)
ARGUED: Apr 24, 1963
DECIDED: Jun 17, 1963

Facts of the case

Adeil Sherbert, a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, was fired from her job after she refused to work on Saturday, the Sabbath Day of her faith. The South Carolina Employment Security Commission denied her benefits, finding unacceptable her religious justification for refusing Saturday work.


Did the denial of unemployment compensation violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments?

Media for Sherbert v. Verner

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 24, 1963 in Sherbert v. Verner

Earl Warren:

Number 526, Adell H. Sherbert, petitioner or appellant, versus Charles V. Verner, et al., as members of South Carolina Employment Security Commission, and Spartan Mills.

Mr. Donnelly.

William D. Donnelly:

May it please the Court.

This case is here on appeal from the Supreme Court of South Carolina, probable jurisdiction was noted December 17, 1962.

The question presented in essence is whether a Seventh-day Adventist observing the Saturday Sabbath from Friday evening at sundown to Saturday evening at sundown maybe required to work on Saturday under penalty of loss upon employment compensation.

The basic question is whether the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment guaranteeing the free exercise of religion is violated by the South Carolina Unemployment Compensation Act as here construed and applied.

The pertinent facts are simple.

The appellant, age 57 had been employed as a school tender for about approximately 35 years, and since 1938 steadily in the plant of Spartan Mills at Spartanburg, South Carolina.

From World War II, its Saturday work had been on a voluntary basis and appellant was required to work only five days a week, Monday through Friday.

She worked on the first shift from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

On August 6, 1957, she became a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The religious teaching of that church is that the Sabbath for the worship of God commanded by him commences at sundown, Friday evening and ends at sundown, Saturday evening.

Without incident after her joining the Seventh-day Adventist Church and for approximately 22 months, she continued in the same regular employment until June 5, 1959, when the employer posted notice that thereafter work on Saturday would be mandatory as well.

After the notice was posted, she explained to her employer that her religion would not permit her to work on Saturday.

No relief was given to her and she was absent from work for six successive Saturdays and was then discharged.

She admittedly applied for unemployment compensation.

The pertinent sections of the state law are set out in our gray-covered brief at pages 3 and 4.

This statute is substantially the same as that found in most of the states.

Section 68-113 (3) requires it to be initially eligible for compensation benefits, the claimant must be able to work and available for work.

The claims examiner held her not available for work because she was unwilling to work on Saturday.

Section 68-114 provides that even though initially eligible for benefits, the claimant maybe disqualified for misconduct conduct -- connected with her most recent work.

And on that further ground, the same examiner held her disqualified for five weeks because of her unexcused absences.

I might say that this as applied in this case means simply that the payment of the benefits which can total to 22 weeks or deferred was deferred for five weeks and the examiner did not purport to apply a forfeiture of the five weeks of pay unemployment benefits which might have been imposed in a case that he felt was flagrant enough.

It appears --

Arthur J. Goldberg:


William D. Donnelly:

That is correct.

Arthur J. Goldberg:


William D. Donnelly:

Connected with her work, that’s right, Your Honor.

It appeared that the appellant had applied at three other textile mills shortly after her discharge, but found that they were on a six-day basis.

The record shows that most of the textile plants operate on a six-day basis, but this record also shows a curious case of growth of that fraction most.