CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.
We granted certiorari to decide whether a state statute that provides employees with the absolute right not to work
In early 1975, petitioner's decedent Donald E. Thornton
In 1977, following the state legislature's revision of the Sunday-closing laws,
Thornton rejected respondent's offer either to transfer him to a management job in a Massachusetts store that was closed on Sundays, or to transfer him to a nonsupervisory position in the Torrington store at a lower salary.
Respondent defended its action on the ground that Thornton had not been "discharged" within the meaning of the statute; respondent also urged the Board to find that the statute violated Article 7 of the Connecticut Constitution as well as the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
After holding an evidentiary hearing the Board evaluated the sincerity of Thornton's claim and concluded it was based on a sincere religious conviction; it issued a formal decision sustaining Thornton's grievance. The Board framed the statutory issue as follows: "If a discharge for refusal to work Sunday hours occurred and Sunday was the Grievant's Sabbath . . . ," § 53-303e(b) would be violated; the Board held that respondent had violated the statute by "discharg[ing] Mr. Thornton as a management employee for refusing to work . . . [on] Thornton's . . . Sabbath." App. 11a, 12a. The Board ordered respondent to reinstate Thornton with backpay and compensation for lost fringe benefits.
The Supreme Court of Connecticut reversed, holding the statute did not have a "clear secular purpose." Caldor, Inc. v. Thornton, 191 Conn. 336, 349, 464 A.2d 785, 793 (1983).
We granted certiorari, 465 U.S. 1078 (1984).
Under the Religion Clauses, government must guard against activity that impinges on religious freedom, and must take pains not to compel people to act in the name of any religion. In setting the appropriate boundaries in Establishment Clause cases, the Court has frequently relied on our holding in Lemon, supra, for guidance, and we do so here. To pass constitutional muster under Lemon a statute must not only have a secular purpose and not foster excessive entanglement of government with religion, its primary effect must not advance or inhibit religion.
The Connecticut statute challenged here guarantees every employee, who "states that a particular day of the week is observed as his Sabbath," the right not to work on his chosen day. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53-303e(b) (1985). The State has thus decreed that those who observe a Sabbath any day of the week as a matter of religious conviction must be relieved of the duty to work on that day, no matter what burden or
In essence, the Connecticut statute imposes on employers and employees an absolute duty to conform their business practices to the particular religious practices of the employee by enforcing observance of the Sabbath the employee unilaterally designates. The State thus commands that Sabbath religious concerns automatically control over all secular interests at the workplace; the statute takes no account of the convenience or interests of the employer or those of other employees who do not observe a Sabbath. The employer and others must adjust their affairs to the command of the State whenever the statute is invoked by an employee.
There is no exception under the statute for special circumstances, such as the Friday Sabbath observer employed in an occupation with a Monday through Friday schedule — a school teacher, for example; the statute provides for no special consideration if a high percentage of an employer's work force asserts rights to the same Sabbath. Moreover, there is no exception when honoring the dictates of Sabbath observers
This unyielding weighting in favor of Sabbath observers over all other interests contravenes a fundamental principle of the Religion Clauses, so well articulated by Judge Learned Hand:
As such, the statute goes beyond having an incidental or remote effect of advancing religion. See, e. g., Roemer v. Maryland Bd. of Public Works, 426 U.S. 736, 747 (1976); Board of Education v. Allen, 392 U.S. 236 (1968). The statute has a primary effect that impermissibly advances a particular religious practice.
We hold that the Connecticut statute, which provides Sabbath observers with an absolute and unqualified right not to
JUSTICE REHNQUIST dissents.
JUSTICE O'CONNOR, with whom JUSTICE MARSHALL joins, concurring.
The Court applies the test enunciated in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 612-613 (1971), and concludes that Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53-303e(b) (1985) has a primary effect that impermissibly advances religion. I agree, and I join the Court's opinion and judgment. In my view, the Connecticut Sabbath law has an impermissible effect because it conveys a message of endorsement of the Sabbath observance.
All employees, regardless of their religious orientation, would value the benefit which the statute bestows on Sabbath observers — the right to select the day of the week in which to refrain from labor. Yet Connecticut requires private employers to confer this valued and desirable benefit only on those employees who adhere to a particular religious belief. The statute singles out Sabbath observers for special and, as the Court concludes, absolute protection without according similar accommodation to ethical and religious beliefs and practices of other private employees. There can be little doubt that an objective observer or the public at large would perceive this statutory scheme precisely as the Court does today. Ante, at 708-710. The message conveyed is one of endorsement of a particular religious belief, to the detriment of those who do not share it. As such, the Connecticut statute has the effect of advancing religion, and cannot withstand Establishment Clause scrutiny.
I do not read the Court's opinion as suggesting that the religious accommodation provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are similarly invalid. These provisions preclude employment discrimination based on a person's religion
Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations by Michael H. Gottesman, Lawrence S. Gold, and George Kaufmann; for the Connecticut Retail Merchants Association et al. by Jay S. Seigel; and for the Equal Employment Advisory Council by Robert E. Williams and Douglas S. McDowell.
Section 53-303e was enacted as part of the 1976 revision of the Sunday-closing laws. Apart from the 6-day week and the Sabbath-observance provisions, see n. 2, supra, the remainder of the statute provides:
"(c) Any employee, who believes that his discharge was in violation of subsection (a) or (b) of this section may appeal such discharge to the state board of mediation and arbitration. If said board finds that the employee was discharged in violation of said subsection (a) or (b), it may order whatever remedy will make the employee whole, including but not limited to reinstatement to his former or a comparable position.
"(d) No employer may, as a prerequisite to employment, inquire whether the applicant observes any Sabbath.
"(e) Any person who violates any provision of this section shall not be fined more than two hundred dollars."