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To pass constitutional muster under Lemon v. Kurtzman, a statute must not only have a secular purpose and not foster excessive entanglement of government with religion, its primary effect must not advance or inhibit religion.
Pursuant to a Connecticut statute providing that no person stating a particular day as his Sabbath may be required by his employer to work on such day, and also providing a remedy and procedure to be followed where an employee was discharged in violation of the statute, a retail store manager filed a grievance with the State Board of Mediation and Arbitration after his employer had transferred him to a nonsupervisory position in another store at a lower salary upon his refusal to work on Sundays, his stated Sabbath. The Board sustained the employee's grievance and ordered the employer to reinstate the employee, and the Connecticut Superior Court affirmed the ruling, concluding that the statute did not offend the establishment clause of the First Amendment. The Supreme Court of Connecticut reversed, holding that the statute did not have a clear secular purpose and its primary effect was to advance religion. A writ of certiorari was granted.
Did the Connecticut statute violate the Establishment Clause?
The Court held that the Connecticut statute, by providing Sabbath observers with an absolute and unqualified right not to work on their chosen Sabbath, violated the Establishment Clause. The Court noted that in order to meet the constitutional requirements under the Establishment Clause, a statute must not only have a secular purpose and not foster excessive entanglement of government with religion, its primary effect must not advance or inhibit religion. The Court averred that the Connecticut statute imposed on employers and employees an absolute duty to conform their business practices to the particular religious practices of an employee by enforcing observance of the Sabbath that the latter unilaterally designated. The State thus commanded that Sabbath religious concerns automatically controlled over all secular interests at the workplace; the statute took no account of the convenience or interests of the employer or those of other employees who did not observe a Sabbath. In granting unyielding weighting in favor of Sabbath observers over all other interests, the Court concluded that the statute has a primary effect that impermissibly advances a particular religious practice.