The Supreme Court Wednesday barred states from denying unemployment benefits to people who refuse to work on their Sabbath even if the refusal is not based on a religious sect's doctrine.
The justices, in a unanimous 9-0 decision, said Illinois officials violated a Peoria man's religious freedom by denying him unemployment benefits.The high court previously had barred states from denying unemployment benefits to people who refuse certain work because of religious scruples. But in all previous cases, the workers' refusal was based on the teachings of an established religious group such as the Seventh-day Adventists or the Jehovah's Witnesses.
Justice Byron R. White wrote for the court, "Never did we suggest that unless a claimant belongs to a sect that forbids what his job requires, his belief, however sincere, must be deemed a purely personal preference rather than a religious belief."
The ruling means, for example, that a Methodist or Roman Catholic might be eligible for unemployment benefits after refusing to work on Sunday even though neither church bars Sunday work as part of its official doctrine.
In another ruling, the court overturned a federal appeals court ruling barring Oklahoma from taxing bingo games and cigarette sales at a motel run by the Chickasaw Indian tribe outside its reservation. The justices' unsigned opinion sent the case back to Oklahoma's state courts for a decision.
In the case dealing with work on the Sabbath, William Frazee of Peoria was disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits after turning down in 1984 a temporary job assignment that would have required him to work on Sunday.
Frazee said his understanding of the requirements and tenets of Christianity is that non-emergency work on Sundays is forbidden.
The Illinois Department of Employment Security ruled that Frazee's rejection of the job offer disqualified him from receiving unemployment benefits.
Frazee sued, and Illinois courts ruled against him. But the Supreme Court Wednesday said the state courts were wrong.