Sherbert v. Verner (1963)

Sherbert is a major case that first clearly enunciated the doctrine of “strict scrutiny” with respect to free exercise claims. Strict scrutiny requires that when a religious believer objects in good faith to a legal requirement, the court should inquire whether application of the requirement is necessary to a compelling government interest, and if that interest can be sufficiently protected by a less restrictive means that would allow the objector to adhere to his/her beliefs.

The case arose when Adele Sherbert, a Seventh-Day Adventist, was discharged by her employer after she refused to work on Saturdays, the Sabbath in her religion. The State subsequently denied Sherbert unemployment benefits because she did not accept work from three other employers who wanted her to work on Saturdays.

The Supreme Court applied strict scrutiny to Sherbert’s case and held that the government’s interest in administering unemployment benefits could be fully pursued by allowing Sherbert an exemption from the requirement that she accept employment on Saturdays. It therefore ruled that the South Carolina statute impeded Sherbert’s right to freely exercise religion, in violation of the Free Exercise Clause.