Thomas v. Review Board of the Indiana Employment Security Division, 450 U.S. 707 (1981), was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that Indiana's denial of unemployment compensation benefits to petitioner violated his First Amendment right to free exercise of religion under Sherbert v. Verner.
Facts of the case
Thomas, a Jehovah's Witness, was initially hired to work in his employer's roll foundry, which fabricated sheet steel for a variety of industrial uses, but when the foundry was closed he was transferred to a department that fabricated turrets for military tanks. Since all of the employer's remaining departments to which transfer might have been sought were engaged directly in the production of weapons, petitioner asked to be laid off. When that request was denied, he quit, asserting that his religious beliefs prevented him from participating in the production of weapons. He applied for unemployment compensation benefits under the Indiana Employment Security Act.
At an administrative hearing, Thomas testified that he believed that contributing to the production of arms violated his religion, although he could, in good conscience, engage indirectly in the production of materials that might be used ultimately to fabricate arms. The hearing referee found that petitioner had terminated his employment because of his religious convictions, but held that petitioner was not entitled to benefits because his voluntary termination was not based upon a "good cause [arising] in connection with [his] work," as required by the Indiana statute.
The Review Board of the Indiana Employment Security Division affirmed, but the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the Indiana statute, as applied, improperly burdened petitioner's right to the free exercise of his religion. The Indiana Supreme Court vacated on petitioner's free exercise right, which burden was justified by legitimate state interests.
Decision of the Court
Chief Justice Warren Burger delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Justices BRENNAN, STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, POWELL, and STEVENS joined, and in Parts I, II, and III of which Justice Harry Blackmun joined. Justice Blackmun filed a statement concurring in part and concurring in the result.
The decision of the majority was that Indiana's denial of unemployment compensation violated Thomas' right to free exercise of religion.
Justice William Rehnquist filed a dissenting opinion.
Effects of the decision
- Text of Thomas v. Review Board of the Indiana Employment Security Division, 450 U.S. 707 (1981) is available from: Findlaw Justia
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