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If the state regulates conduct by enacting a general law within its power, the purpose and effect of which is to advance the state's secular goals, the statute is valid despite its indirect burden on religious observance unless the State may accomplish its purpose by means which do not impose such a burden.
Appellants were members of the Orthodox Jewish Faith, which required the closing of their places of business and total abstention from all manner of work from nightfall each Friday until nightfall each Saturday. As merchants engaged in the retail sale of clothing and home furnishings in Philadelphia, they sued to enjoin enforcement of a 1959 Pennsylvania criminal statute which forbade the retail sale on Sundays of those commodities and other specified commodities. They claimed that the statute violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and constituted a law respecting an establishment of religion and that it interfered with the free exercise of their religion by imposing serious economic disadvantages upon them, if they adhere to the observance of their Sabbath, and that it would operate so as to hinder the Orthodox Jewish Faith in gaining new members.
Was the 1959 Pennsylvania criminal statute invalid for being violative of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment or for constituting a law respecting an establishment of religion?
The court found that the statute did not make criminal the holding of any religious belief or opinion, nor did it force anyone to embrace any religious belief or to say or believe anything in conflict with his religious tenets. The court further found that the statute did not make unlawful any religious practices of appellants; the Sunday law simply regulated a secular activity and, as applied to appellants, operated so as to make the practice of their religious beliefs more expensive. Furthermore, the law's effect did not inconvenience all members of the Orthodox Jewish faith but only those who believe it necessary to work on Sunday. The court found that even those were not faced with as serious a choice as forsaking their religious practices or subjecting themselves to criminal prosecution.