Frazee v. Illinois Department of Employment Security 489 U.S. 829 (1989)

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This case expanded the protection of the free-exercise clause of the first amendment by allowing a Christian to refuse work on the Sabbath without being denied unemployment benefits. Earlier, the Court had held that such benefits may not be denied to persons whose religious beliefs obligated them to refuse work on the Sabbath, but in all the precedents, such as sherbert v verner (1963), the claimant had belonged to a religious sect or particular church. Frazee was not a member of either and did not rely on a specific religious tenet. The Illinois courts therefore upheld the denial to him of unemployment compensation.

Unanimously, the Supreme Court sustained Frazee's free-exercise right. He had asserted that he was a Christian, and no authority had challenged his sincerity. As a Christian, he felt that working on Sunday was wrong. The Court held that a professing Christian, even if not a church-goer or member of a sect, was protected by the free-exercise clause from having to choose between his or her religious belief and unemployment compensation. Denial of compensation violated the clause.

Leonard W. Levy

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Frazee v. Illinois Department of Employment Security 489 U.S. 829 (1989)

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