JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.
Appellant's employer discharged her when she refused to work certain scheduled hours because of sincerely held religious convictions adopted after beginning employment. The question to be decided is whether Florida's denial of unemployment compensation benefits to appellant violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution, as applied to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment.
Lawton and Company (Lawton), a Florida jeweler, hired appellant Paula Hobbie in October 1981. She was employed by Lawton for 2 1/2 years, first as a trainee and then as assistant manager of a retail jewelry store. In April 1984, Hobbie informed her immediate supervisor that she was to be baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church and that, for religious reasons, she would no longer be able to work on her Sabbath, from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday.
This arrangement continued until the general manager of Lawton learned of it in June 1984. At that time, after a meeting with Hobbie and her minister, the general manager informed appellant that she could either work her scheduled shifts or submit her resignation to the company. When Hobbie refused to do either, Lawton discharged her.
On June 4, 1984, appellant filed a claim for unemployment compensation with the Florida Department of Labor and Employment Security. Under Florida law, unemployment compensation benefits are available to persons who become "unemployed through no fault of their own." Fla. Stat. § 443.021 (1985). Lawton contested the payment of benefits on the ground that Hobbie was "disqualified for benefits" because she had been discharged for "misconduct connected with [her] work." § 443.101(1)(a).
Hobbie challenged the Appeals Commission's order in the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal. On September 10, 1985, that court summarily affirmed the Appeals Commission.
Under our precedents, the Appeals Commission's disqualification of appellant from receipt of benefits violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, applicable to the
We concluded that the State had imposed a burden upon Sherbert's free exercise rights that had not been justified by a compelling state interest.
In Thomas, too, the Court held that a State's denial of unemployment benefits unlawfully burdened an employee's right to free exercise of religion. Thomas, a Jehovah's Witness, held religious beliefs that forbade his participation in the production of armaments. He was forced to leave his job when the employer closed his department and transferred him to a division that fabricated turrets for tanks. Indiana then denied Thomas unemployment compensation benefits. The Court found that the employee had been "put to a choice between fidelity to religious belief or cessation of work" and that the coercive impact of the forfeiture of benefits in this situation was undeniable:
We see no meaningful distinction among the situations of Sherbert, Thomas, and Hobbie. We again affirm, as stated in Thomas:
Both Sherbert and Thomas held that such infringements must be subjected to strict scrutiny and could be justified only by proof by the State of a compelling interest. The Appeals Commission does not seriously contend that its denial of benefits can withstand strict scrutiny; rather it urges that we hold that its justification should be determined under the less rigorous standard articulated in Chief Justice Burger's opinion in Bowen v. Roy, 476 U.S. 693, 707-708 (1986): "[T]he Government meets its burden when it demonstrates that a challenged requirement for governmental benefits, neutral and uniform in its application, is a reasonable means of promoting a legitimate public interest." Five Justices expressly rejected this argument in Roy. See id., at 715-716 (BLACKMUN, J., concurring in part); id., at 728 (O'CONNOR, J., joined by BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., concurring in part and dissenting in part); id., at 733 (WHITE, J., dissenting). We reject the argument again today. As JUSTICE O'CONNOR pointed out in Roy, "[s]uch a test has no basis in precedent and relegates a serious First Amendment value to the barest level of minimal scrutiny that the Equal Protection
The Appeals Commission also suggests two grounds upon which we might distinguish Sherbert and Thomas from the present case. First, the Appeals Commission points out that in Sherbert the employee was deemed completely ineligible for benefits under South Carolina's unemployment insurance scheme because she would not accept work that conflicted with her Sabbath. The Appeals Commission contends that,
This distinction is without substance. The immediate effects of ineligibility and disqualification are identical, and the disqualification penalty is substantial. Moreover, Sherbert was given controlling weight in Thomas, which involved a disqualification provision similar in all relevant respects to the statutory section implicated here. See Thomas, 450 U. S., at 709-710, n. 1.
The Appeals Commission also attempts to distinguish this case by arguing that, unlike the employees in Sherbert and Thomas, Hobbie was the "agent of change" and is therefore responsible for the consequences of the conflict between her job and her religious beliefs. In Sherbert and Thomas, the employees held their respective religious beliefs at the time of hire; subsequent changes in the conditions of employment made by the employer caused the conflict between work and belief. In this case, Hobbie's beliefs changed during the course of her employment, creating a conflict between job and faith that had not previously existed. The Appeals Commission contends that "it is . . . unfair for an employee to
In effect, the Appeals Commission asks us to single out the religious convert for different, less favorable treatment than that given an individual whose adherence to his or her faith precedes employment. We decline to do so. The First Amendment protects the free exercise rights of employees who adopt religious beliefs or convert from one faith to another after they are hired.
Finally, we reject the Appeals Commission's argument that the awarding of benefits to Hobbie would violate the Establishment Clause. This Court has long recognized that the government may (and sometimes must) accommodate religious practices and that it may do so without violating the
We conclude that Florida's refusal to award unemployment compensation benefits to appellant violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Here, as in Sherbert and Thomas, the State may not force an employee "to choose between following the precepts of her religion and forfeiting benefits, . . . and abandoning one of the precepts of her religion in order to accept work." Sherbert, 374 U. S., at 404. The judgment of the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal is therefore
CHIEF JUSTICE REHNQUIST, dissenting.
I adhere to the views I stated in dissent in Thomas v. Review Bd. of Indiana Employment Security Div., 450 U.S. 707, 720-727 (1981). Accordingly, I would affirm.
JUSTICE POWELL, concurring in the judgment.
The Court properly concludes that Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 (1963), and Thomas v. Review Bd. of Indiana Employment Security Div., 450 U.S. 707 (1981), control the decision in this case. In both of those cases, the Court applied strict scrutiny analysis to a State's decision to deny unemployment benefits to an employee forced to leave a job because of his or her religious convictions. In each of these cases, the Court found that the State's action was not justified by a compelling interest and therefore violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. The situation in this case is remarkably similar: The State denied Hobbie unemployment compensation, even though she was forced to leave her job because of sincerely held religious beliefs. As the Court recognizes, there is "no meaningful distinction among the situations of Sherbert, Thomas, and
This Court's decision last Term in Bowen v. Roy, 476 U.S. 693 (1986), did nothing to undercut the applicability of Sherbert and Thomas to the present case. A plurality in Roy indicated that "some incidental neutral restraints on the free exercise of religion," such as the requirement that applicants for Social Security benefits use assigned numbers, need not be supported by a compelling justification. 476 U. S., at 712. The plurality distinguished Sherbert and Thomas as cases where the statute at issue "created a mechanism for individualized exemptions." 476 U. S., at 708. The plurality noted:
Thus, the decision in Roy makes explicitly clear that its reasoning does not apply to the state conduct in this case.
The Court recognizes in a footnote that the reasoning of Roy does not apply to this case. Ante, at 142, n. 7. Instead of relying on this distinction, however, the Court reaches out to reject the reasoning of Roy in toto. This strikes me as inappropriate and unnecessary. Given its context, the Court's rejection of Roy's reasoning is dictum. The proper approach in this case is to apply the established precedent of Sherbert and Thomas. Because the Court goes further, I concur only in the judgment.
JUSTICE STEVENS, concurring in the judgment.
As the Court concludes, ante, at 141-142, this case is controlled by Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 (1963), and Thomas v. Review Bd. of Indiana Employment Security Div., 450 U.S. 707 (1981). The State of Florida provides
" `Misconduct' includes, but is not limited to, the following, which shall not be construed in pari materia with each other:
"(a) Conduct evincing such willful or wanton disregard of an employer's interests as is found in deliberate violation or disregard of standards of behavior which the employer has the right to expect of his employee; or
"(b) Carelessness or negligence of such a degree or recurrence as to manifest culpability, wrongful intent, or evil design or to show an intentional and substantial disregard of the employer's interests or of the employee's duties and obligations to his employer." Fla. Stat. § 443.036(24) (1985).
"[A] person was not eligible for unemployment compensation benefits if, `without good cause,' he had quit work or refused available work. The `good cause' standard created a mechanism for individualized exemptions. If a state creates such a mechanism, its refusal to extend an exemption to an instance of religious hardship suggests a discriminatory intent. Thus, as was urged in Thomas, to consider a religiously motivated resignation to be `without good cause' tends to exhibit hostility, not neutrality, towards religion. . . . In those cases, therefore, it was appropriate to require the State to demonstrate a compelling reason for denying the requested exemption." 476 U. S., at 708 (citations omitted).
Thus, even if the Court had accepted the reasoning of the Chief Justice's opinion in Roy — which it did not — we would apply strict scrutiny in this case. Although the purpose of the statute is to provide benefits to those persons who become "unemployed through no fault of their own," Fla. Stat. § 443.021 (1985), Florida nonetheless views a religiously motivated choice which leads to dismissal as "misconduct connected with . . . work." § 443.101. This scheme — which labels and penalizes behavior dictated by religious belief as intentional misconduct — exhibits greater hostility toward religion than one deeming such resignations to be "without good cause."
In contrast, Florida's provision of unemployment benefits to religious observers does not single out a particular class of such persons for favorable treatment and thereby have the effect of implicitly endorsing a particular religious belief. Rather, the provision of unemployment benefits generally available within the State to religious observers who must leave their employment due to an irreconcilable conflict between the demands of work and conscience neutrally accommodates religious beliefs and practices, without endorsement.