IFAS | Freedom Writer | June/July/August 1989 | freedom.html

Religious freedom expanded

In a unanimous decision on March 29, 1989 the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment's protection of religious liberty applies to personal religious beliefs, not just to the religious beliefs of a recognized organized religion.

The ruling overturned a decision by an Illinois appellate court which upheld the states refusal to grant unemployment benefits to a man who refused to work on Sunday. The man, William A. Frazee, was denied unemployment benefits because he turned down a job offer which required him to work on Sunday. Frazee, a Presbyterian, maintained, "It's just against my faith."

Asked what faith he belonged to, he said, "I'm a Christian." Then he was asked if it was part of his church's doctrine not to work on Sunday. He replied, "No, just as a Christian, I feel it's wrong."

Traditionally, the government has granted religious freedom to those who ascribe to the beliefs of a recognized religion. This protection was not extended to privately held religious beliefs.

Court has made it clear that formal doctrine is not a prerequisite for constitutional protection. Justice Byron R. White, who wrote the opinion, explained that the protected beliefs must be "sincere" and of a "religious nature," not just a "secular preference."

© 1998 Institute for First Amendment Studies, Inc.