U.S. Supreme Court to Rule on Compensation for Sabbath Observers

The United States Supreme Court today agreed to review a ruling by the highest court of South Carolina which maintained that it was legal to deprive a person of state unemployment compensation for refusing for religious reasons to work on Saturdays. The case involved a Seventh Day Adventist, a sect which, like the Jews, observes Saturday as the Sabbath.

Now that the Supreme Court has accepted jurisdiction, Jewish groups are considering filing friend of the court briefs. The case will be argued early next year.

The Supreme Court yesterday dismissed a challenge to Kentucky’s Sunday closing law which forbids the opening of business places on Sunday except for “work of necessity or charity” and some entertainment activities. The Kentucky law, like that in a few other states, exempts Jews and others who observe a day of rest other than Sunday.

Justice William O. Douglas, in his dissent from the ruling yesterday, argued that this exemption emphasized the religious nature of the law. “The law is thus plainly an aid to organized religion, bringing to heel anyone who violates the religious scruples of the majority by seeking his salvation not through organized religion but on his own,” Justice Douglas wrote in his dissent.

In a series of rulings in May 1961, the Supreme Court upheld Sunday closing laws against the contention that they violated the church-state constitutional separation principle. The majority held that the laws were not to aid religion but to assure everyone a day of rest. Justice Douglas dissented then. In his dissent yesterday he asked “by what authority can government compel one person not to work on Sunday because the majority of the populace deem Sunday to be a Holy Day?”

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