Sherbert v. Verner/Concurrence Stewart

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Mr. Justice STEWART, concurring in the result.

Although fully agreeing with the result which the Court reaches in this case, I cannot join the Court's opinion. This case presents a double-barreled dilemma, which in all candor I think the Court's opinion has not succeeded in papering over. The dilemma ought to be resolved.

Twenty-three years ago in Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 303, 60 S.Ct. 900, 903, 84 L.Ed. 1213, the Court said that both the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment were made wholly applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment. In the intervening years several cases involving claims of state abridgment of individual religious freedom have been decided here-most recently Braunfeld v. Brown, 366 U.S. 599, 81 S.Ct. 1144, 6 L.Ed.2d 563, and Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488, 81 S.Ct. 1680, 6 L.Ed.2d 982. During the same period 'cases dealing with the specific problems arising under the 'Establishment' Clause which have reached this Court are few in number.' [1] The most recent are last Term's Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421, 82 S.Ct. 1261, 8 L.Ed.2d 601, and this Term's Schempp and Murray cases, 374 U.S. 203, 83 S.Ct. 1560.

I am convinced that no liberty is more essential to the continued vitality of the free society which our Constitution guarantees than is the religious liberty protected by the Free Exercise Clause explicit in the First Amendment and imbedded in the Fourteenth. And I regret that on occasion, and specifically in Braunfeld v. Brown, supra, the Court has shown what has seemed to me a distressing insensitivity to the appropriate demands of this constitutional guarantee. By contrast I think that the Court's approach to the Establishment Clause has on occasion, and specifically in Engel, Schempp and Murray, been not only insensitive, but positively wooden, and that the Court has accorded to the Establishment Clause a meaning which neither the words, the history, nor the intention of the authors of that specific constitutional provision even remotely suggests.

But my views as to the correctness of the Court's decisions in these cases are beside the point here. The point is that the decisions are on the books. And the result is that there are many situations where legitimate claims under the Free Exercise Clause will run into head-on collision with the Court's insensitive and sterile construction of the Establishment Clause. [2] The controversy now before us is clearly such a case.

Because the appellant refuses to accept available jobs which would require her to work on Saturdays, South Carolina has declined to pay unemployment compensation benefits to her. Her refusal to work on Saturdays is based on the tenets of her religious faith. The Court says that South Carolina cannot under these circumstances declare her to be not 'available for work' within the meaning of its statute because to do so would violate her constitutional right to the free exercise of her religion.

Yet what this Court has said about the Establishment Clause must inevitably lead to a diametrically opposite result. If the appellant's refusal to work on Saturdays were based on indolence, or on a compulsive desire to watch the Saturday television programs, no one would say that South Carolina could not hold that she was not 'available for work' within the meaning of its statute. That being so, the Establishment Clause as construed by this Court not only permits but affirmatively requires South Carolina equally to deny the appellant's claim for unemployment compensation when her refusal to work on Saturdays is based upon her religious creed. For, as said in Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1, 11, 67 S.Ct. 504, 509, 91 L.Ed. 711, the Establishment Clause bespeaks 'a government * * * stripped of all power * * * to support, or otherwise to assist any or all religions * * *,' and no State 'can pass laws which aid one religion * * *.' Id., 330 U.S., at 15, 67 S.Ct., at 511. In Mr. Justice Rutledge's words, adopted by the Court today in Schempp, 374 U.S., p. 217, 83 S.Ct., p. 1568, the Establishment Clause forbids 'every form of public aid or support for religion.' 330 U.S., at 32, 67 S.Ct., at 519. In the words of the Court in Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S., at 431, 82 S.Ct., at 1267, reaffirmed today in the Schempp case, 374 U.S., p. 221, 83 S.Ct., p. 1571, the Establishment Clause forbids the 'financial support of government' to be 'placed behind a particular religious belief.'

To require South Carolina to so administer its laws as to pay public money to the appellant under the circumstances of this case is thus clearly to require the State to violate the Establishment Clause as construed by this Court. This poses no problem for me, because I think the Court's mechanistic concept of the Establishment Clause is historically unsound and constitutionally wrong. I think the process of constitutional decision in the area of the relationships between government and religion demands considerably more than the invocation of broad-brushed rhetoric of the kind I have quoted. And I think that the guarantee of religious liberty embodied in the Free Exercise Clause affirmatively requires government to create an atmosphere of hospitality and accommodation to individual belief or disbelief. In short, I think our Constitution commands the positive protection by government of religious freedom-not only for a minority, however small-not only for the majority, however large-but for each of us.

South Carolina would deny unemployment benefits to a mother unavailable for work on Saturdays because she was unable to get a babysitter. [3] Thus, we do not have before us a situation where a State provides unemployment compensation generally, and singles out for disqualification only those persons who are unavailable for work on religious grounds. This is not, in short, a scheme which operates so as to discriminate against religion as such. But the Court nevertheless holds that the State must prefer a religious over a secular ground for being unavailable for work that state financial support of the appellant's religion is constitutionally required to carry out 'the governmental obligation of neutrality in the face of religious differences * * *.'

Yet in cases decided under the Establishment Clause the Court has decreed otherwise. It has decreed that government must blind itself to the differing religious beliefs and traditions of the people. With all respect, I think it is the Court's duty to face up to the dilemma posed by the conflict between the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution and the Establishment Clause as interpreted by the Court. It is a duty, I submit, which we owe to the people, the States, and the Nation, and a duty which we owe to ourselves. For so long as the resounding but fallacious fundamentalist rhetoric of some of our Establishment Clause opinions remains on our books, to be disregarded at will as in the present case, or to be undiscriminatingly invoked as in the Schempp case, 374 U.S. 203, 83 S.Ct. 1560, so long will the possibility of consistent and perceptive decision in this most difficult and delicate area of constitutional law be impeded and impaired. And so long, I fear, will the guarantee of true religious freedom in our pluralistic society be uncertain and insecure.

My second difference with the Court's opinion is that I cannot agree that to day's decision can stand consistently with Braunfeld v. Brown, supra. The Court says that there was a 'less direct burden upon religious practices' in that case than in this. With all respect, I think the Court is mistaken, simply as a matter of fact. The Braunfeld case involved a state criminal statute. The undisputed effect of that statute, as pointed out by Mr. Justice BRENNAN in his dissenting opinion in that case, was that "Plaintiff, Abraham Braunfeld, will be unable to continue in his business if he may not stay open on Sunday and he will thereby lose his capital investment.' In other words, the issue in this case-and we do not understand either appellees or the Court to contend otherwise-is whether a State may put an individual to a choice between his business and his religion.' 366 U.S., at 611, 81 S.Ct., at 1150.

The impact upon the appellant's religious freedom in the present case is considerably less onerous. We deal here not with a criminal statute, but with the particularized administration of South Carolina's Unemployment Compensation Act. Even upon the unlikely assumption that the appellant could not find suitable non-Saturday employment, [4] the appellant at the worst would be denied a maximum of 22 weeks of compensation payments. I agree with the Court that the possibility of that denial is enough to infringe upon the appellant's constitutional right to the free exercise of her religion. But it is clear to me that in order to reach this conclusion the court must explicitly reject the reasoning of Braunfeld v. Brown. I think the Braunfeld case was wrongly decided and should be overruled, and accordingly I concur in the result reached by the Court in the case before us.


^1  McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S. 420, 442, 81 S.Ct. 1101, 1114, 6 L.Ed.2d 393.

^2  The obvious potentiality of such collision has been studiously ignored by the Court, but has not escaped the perception of commentators. See, e.g., Katz, Freedom of Religion and State Neutrality, 20 U. of Chi.L.Rev. 426, 428 (1953); Kauper, Prayer, Public Schools and the Supreme Court, 61 Mich.L.Rev. 1031, 1053 (1963).

^3  See Judson Mills v. South Carolina Unemployment Compensation Comm., 204 S.C. 37, 28 S.E.2d 535; Hartsville Cotton Mill v. South Carolina Employment Security Comm., 224 S.C. 407, 79 S.E.2d 381.

^4  As noted by the Court, 'The record indicates that of the 150 or more Seventh-day Adventists in the Spartanburg area, only appellant and one other have been unable to find suitable non-Saturday employment.' Ante, p. 399, n. 2.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).