Thomas v. Review Board of the Indiana Employment Security Division

Last updated
Thomas v. Review Board of the Indiana Employment Security Division
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued October 7, 1980
Decided October 6, 1981
Full case nameThomas v. Review Board of the Indiana Employment Security Division et al.
Citations450 U.S. 707 ( more )
101 S. Ct. 1425; 67 L. Ed. 2d 624; 1981 U.S. LEXIS 11
Case history
PriorDecision of the State Employment Security Review Board reversed, 381 N.E.2d 888 (Ind. Ct. App. 1978); reversed, 271 Ind. 233, 391 N.E.2d 1127 (1979); cert. granted, 444 U.S. 1070(1980).
"The State's denial of unemployment compensation benefits to petitioner violated his First Amendment right to free exercise of religion..." [1]
Court membership
Chief Justice
Warren E. Burger
Associate Justices
William J. Brennan Jr.  · Byron White
Thurgood Marshall  · Harry Blackmun
Lewis F. Powell Jr.  · William Rehnquist
John P. Stevens  · Sandra Day O'Connor
Case opinions
MajorityBurger, joined by Brennan, Stewart, White, Marshall, Powell, Stevens; Blackmun (Parts I, II, III)
ConcurrenceBlackmun (concurring in part and concurring in the result)
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. I

Thomas v. Review Board of the Indiana Employment Security Division, 450 U.S. 707 (1981), was a case [1] 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 (1963). [2]

Supreme Court of the United States Highest court in the United States

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is the highest court in the federal judiciary of the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all federal and state court cases that involve a point of federal law, and original jurisdiction over a narrow range of cases, including suits between two or more states and those involving ambassadors. The Court holds the power of judicial review, the ability to invalidate a statute for violating a provision of the U.S. Constitution. It is also able to strike down presidential directives for violating either the Constitution or statutory law. However, it may act only within the context of a case in an area of law over which it has jurisdiction. The Court may decide cases having political overtones, but it has ruled that it does not have power to decide non-justiciable political questions.

Indiana state of the United States of America

Indiana is a U.S. state in the Midwestern and Great Lakes regions of North America. Indiana is the 38th-largest by area and the 17th-most populous of the 50 United States. Its capital and largest city is Indianapolis. Indiana was admitted to the United States as the 19th U.S. state on December 11, 1816. Indiana borders Lake Michigan to the northwest, Michigan to the north, Ohio to the east, Kentucky to the south and southeast, and Illinois to the west.

Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 (1963), was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment required the government to demonstrate both a compelling interest and that the law in question was narrowly tailored before it denied unemployment compensation to someone who was fired because her job requirements substantially conflicted with her religion.



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 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 was denied unemployment compensation benefits under the Indiana Employment Security Act.

Foundry factory that produces metal castings

A foundry is a factory that produces metal castings. Metals are cast into shapes by melting them into a liquid, pouring the metal into a mold, and removing the mold material after the metal has solidified as it cools. The most common metals processed are aluminium and cast iron. However, other metals, such as bronze, brass, steel, magnesium, and zinc, are also used to produce castings in foundries. In this process, parts of desired shapes and sizes can be formed.

Turret Fortification feature

In architecture, a turret is a small tower that projects vertically from the wall of a building such as a medieval castle. Turrets were used to provide a projecting defensive position allowing covering fire to the adjacent wall in the days of military fortification. As their military use faded, turrets were used for decorative purposes, as in the Scottish baronial style.

Prior history

At an administrative hearing, Thomas testified that he believed that contributing to the production of arms violated his religion, but 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, the burden justified by legitimate state interests.

The Indiana Court of Appeals is the intermediate-level appellate court for the state of Indiana. It is the successor to the Indiana Appellate Court.


The majority held that Indiana's denial of unemployment compensation violated Thomas' right to free exercise of religion.

Chief Justice Burger delivered the opinion of the Court and was joined by Justices Brennan, Stewart, White, Marshall, and Stevens. Justice Blackmun filed a statement concurring in part and in the result.

Justice Rehnquist filed a dissenting opinion.

See also

Related Research Articles

Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971), was a case argued before the Supreme Court of the United States. The court ruled in an 8–1 decision that Pennsylvania's Nonpublic Elementary and Secondary Education Act from 1968 was unconstitutional, violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The act allowed the Superintendent of Public Schools to reimburse private schools for the salaries of teachers who taught in these private schorivate elementary schools by 15 percent. As in Pennsylvania, most of these funds were spent on Catholic schools.

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Alabama, 357 U.S. 449 (1958), was an important civil rights case brought before the United States Supreme Court.

Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83 (1968), was a United States Supreme Court case holding that a taxpayer has standing to sue the government to prevent an unconstitutional use of taxpayer funds.

Religious Freedom Restoration Act 1993 United States Law

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, Pub. L. No. 103-141, 107 Stat. 1488, codified at 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb through 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb-4, is a 1993 United States federal law that "ensures that interests in religious freedom are protected." The bill was introduced by Congressman Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on March 11, 1993. A companion bill was introduced in the Senate by Ted Kennedy (D-MA) the same day. A unanimous U.S. House and a nearly unanimous U.S. Senate—three senators voted against passage—passed the bill, and President Bill Clinton signed it into law.

In American constitutional law, strict scrutiny is the highest and most stringent standard of judicial review, and results in a judge striking down a law unless the government can demonstrate in court that a law or regulation:

  1. is necessary to a "compelling state interest";
  2. that the law is "narrowly tailored" to achieving this compelling purpose;
  3. and that the law uses the "least restrictive means" to achieve the purpose.

Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520 (1993), was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that an ordinance passed in Hialeah, Florida, forbidding the "unnecessar[y]" killing of "an animal in a public or private ritual or ceremony not for the primary purpose of food consumption", was unconstitutional.

The Free Exercise Clause accompanies the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause together read:

Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U.S. 709 (2005), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that, under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), facilities that accept federal funds cannot deny prisoners accommodations that are necessary to engage in activities for the practice of their own religious beliefs.

Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990), is a United States Supreme Court case that held that the state could deny unemployment benefits to a person fired for violating a state prohibition on the use of peyote, even though the use of the drug was part of a religious ritual. Although states have the power to accommodate otherwise illegal acts performed in pursuit of religious beliefs, they are not required to do so.

Braunfeld v. Brown, 366 U.S. 599 (1961), was a case decided by the United States Supreme Court. In a 6-3 decision, the Court held that a Pennsylvania law forbidding the sale of various retail products on Sunday was not an unconstitutional interference with religion as described in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Keystone Bituminous Coal Ass'n v. DeBenedictis, 480 U.S. 470 (1987), is an important United States Supreme Court case interpreting the Fifth Amendment's Takings Clause. In this case, the court upheld a Pennsylvania statute which limited coal mining causing damage to buildings, dwellings and cemeteries through subsidence.

Freedom of religion in the United States freedom of religion in the United States

In the United States, freedom of religion is a constitutionally protected right provided in the religion clauses of the First Amendment. Freedom of religion is also closely associated with separation of church and state, a concept advocated by Colonial founders such as Dr. John Clarke, Roger Williams, William Penn and later Founding Fathers such as James Madison and Thomas Jefferson.

In re Summers, 325 U.S. 561 (1945), is a 5-to-4 ruling by the United States Supreme Court which held that the First and Fourteenth amendment freedoms of a conscientious objector were not infringed when a state bar association declined to admit him to the practice of law. The Illinois Constitution required citizens to serve in the state militia in time of war, and all lawyers admitted to the bar were required to uphold the state constitution. Petitioner Clyde Summers could not uphold that constitutional requirement due to his religious beliefs, and the Supreme Court upheld the denial of his license of practice.

Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association, 485 U.S. 439 (1988), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court ruled on the applicability of the Free Exercise Clause to the practice of religion on Native American sacred lands, specifically in the Chimney Rock area of the Six Rivers National Forest in California. This area, also known as the High Country, was used by the Yurok, Karuk, and Tolowa tribes as a religious site.

Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, 572 U.S. 291 (2014), was a case before the United States Supreme Court concerning affirmative action and race- and sex-based discrimination in public university admissions. The Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause does not prevent states from enacting bans on affirmative action in education.

Alfred Leo Smith, also known as Al Smith, was a Klamath Nation drug and alcohol counselor and Native American activist from Oregon.

Corporation of Presiding Bishop v. Amos, 483 U.S. 327 (1986), is a United States Supreme Court case in which the court decided that the exemption of religious organizations from the prohibition of religious discrimination in employment in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is constitutional. Appellee Arthur Frank Mayson worked for 16 years an organization operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was terminated from employment when he "failed to qualify for a temple recommend, that is, a certificate that he is a member of the Church and eligible to attend its temples." He filed suit in district court, arguing that his firing violated discrimination on the basis of religion in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The district court agreed. The case was appealed directly to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Title VII's exemption of religious organizations from the prohibition on religious discrimination, even in secular activities, did not violate the First Amendment.


  1. 1 2 Thomas v. Review Bd. of Indiana Employment Sec. Div., 450 U.S. 707 (1981).
  2. Sherbert v. Verner , 374 U.S. 398 (1963).
<i>United States Reports</i> United States Supreme Court decisions

The United States Reports are the official record of the Supreme Court of the United States. They include rulings, orders, case tables, in alphabetical order both by the name of the petitioner and by the name of the respondent, and other proceedings. United States Reports, once printed and bound, are the final version of court opinions and cannot be changed. Opinions of the court in each case are prepended with a headnote prepared by the Reporter of Decisions, and any concurring or dissenting opinions are published sequentially. The Court's Publication Office oversees the binding and publication of the volumes of United States Reports, although the actual printing, binding, and publication are performed by private firms under contract with the United States Government Publishing Office.