Frazee v Illinois Dep’t of Employment Security – 19.03

Frazee v Illinois Department of Employment Security
Digest no. 19.03

Cite as: Frazee v Ill Dep’t of Employment Security, 450 US 707 (1989).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: William A. Frazee
Employer: Kelly Services
Docket no.: U.S. Supreme Court No. 87-1945
Date of decision: March 29, 1989

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UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT HOLDING: Where a claimant has a sincere belief that religion required him or her to refrain from the work in question they may invoke the protections of the First Amendment. It is not required that the claimant belong to an established religious sect for the claimant’s religious beliefs to be protected.

FACTS: Claimant refused a temporary position offered him by Kelly Services because the job required Sunday work. Claimant told Kelly that, as a Christian, he could not work on “the Lord’s day.” Claimant applied for unemployment benefits and was denied for his refusal to accept work on Sunday. Claimant was denied at every stage of the appeal process until the U.S. Supreme Court. The lower courts recognized the sincerity of his professed religious belief but found it was not entitled to First Amendment protection as he was not a member of an established sect or church and did not claim his refusal of work was based on a tenet of an established religious sect.

DECISION: Claimant’s refusal to work was based on a sincerely held religious belief. As such he was entitled to invoke the First Amendment protection and should not be denied benefits.

RATIONALE: In earlier cases the Court held where a claimant was forced to choose between fidelity to religious belief and employment, the forfeiture of unemployment benefits for choosing the former over the latter brings unlawful coercion to bear on the employee’s choice. In each case the Court concluded the denial of unemployment benefits violated the 1st and 14th Amendments. Though those claimants were members of a particular religious sect, none of those decisions turned on that fact, or on any tenet that forbade the work the claimants refused. The claimants’ judgments in those cases rested on the fact each had a sincere belief religion required him or her to refrain from the work he or she refused to perform.

Digest Author:  Board of Review (original digest here)
Digest Updated: 12/91