Thomas v. Review Board of the Indiana Employment Security Division

PETITIONER: Eddie C. Thomas
RESPONDENT: Review Board of the Indiana Employment Security Division et al.
LOCATION: Indiana State Employment Security Division

DOCKET NO.: 79-952
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of Indiana

CITATION: 450 US 707 (1981)
ARGUED: Oct 07, 1980
DECIDED: Apr 06, 1981

ADVOCATES:
Blanca Bianchi de la Torre - on behalf of the Petitioner
Mrs Blanca Bianchi De La Torre - on behalf of the petitioner-- rebuttal
William E. Daily - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

Eddie C. Thomas, a Jehovah's Witness and an employee of Blaw-Knox Foundry & Machinery Co., asked his company to lay him off when it transferred all of its operations to weapons manufacturing. He stated that his religious faith prohibited him from producing arms. His employer refused, so he quit instead. He applied for unemployment compensation benefits under the Indiana Employment Security Act, which the Review Board of the Indiana Employment Security Division denied. The board agreed that he quit because of his religious convictions, but claimed that this was not a "good cause [arising] in connection with [his] work" that would qualify him for benefits. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the decision on the ground that it burdened Thomas' First Amendment right to the free exercise of his religion. The Supreme Court of Indiana reinstated the board's initial decision, calling Thomas' decision to quit a "personal philosophical choice" that only indirectly burdened his free exercise right.

Question

Does the Free Exercise Clause require a state to provide unemployment compensation benefits to an employee who quit because of a belief that his religion prohibited him from engaging in the employer's line of work?

Media for Thomas v. Review Board of the Indiana Employment Security Division

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 07, 1980 in Thomas v. Review Board of the Indiana Employment Security Division

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 06, 1981 in Thomas v. Review Board of the Indiana Employment Security Division

Warren E. Burger:

I have the judgment and opinion of the Court to announce in Thomas against the Review Board of the Indiana Employment Security Division and for reasons stated in the opinion for the Court filed with the clerk this morning, the judgment of the Supreme Court of Indiana is reversed.

Justice Blackmun filed a statement concurring in part and concurring in the judgments.

Justice Rehnquist filed a dissenting opinion.