Braunfeld v. Brown

In Braunfeld v. Brown, 366 U.S. 599, 603, 81 S.Ct. 1144, 1146, 6 L.Ed.2d 563 (1961), the Supreme Court upheld Pennsylvania's Sunday retail sales prohibition against a free exercise challenge. A merchant and member of the Orthodox Jewish Faith claimed that the mandated Sunday closing prevented him from compensating for the business he lost by following his faith's command that he not work on Saturday. In rejecting his contention that the state must grant a religion-based exception to the Sunday closing laws, the Court was deferential to government assertions that any exception would be unworkable. The court relied on "reason and experience" in concluding that potential problems in administration and enforcement necessitated the law's blanket application. In Braunfeld v. Brown, supra, 366 U.S. 599, 81 S.Ct. 1144, 6 L.Ed.2d 563, the Supreme Court appeared to indicate that burdens on religion, other than affirmative impositions of criminal penalties, weigh lightly against government interests. Creating a direct/indirect dichotomy with which to classify burdens on religion, the Court said: In cases where religious practices conflict with the public interest, to make accommodation between the religious action and an exercise of state authority is a particularly delicate task, citations omitted because resolution in favor of the State results in the choice to the individual of either abandoning his religious principle or facing criminal prosecution. But ... this is not the case before us because the statute at bar does not make unlawful any religious practices of appellants; the Sunday law simply regulates a secular activity and, as applied to appellants, operates so as to make the practice of their religious beliefs more expensive. Braunfeld v. Brown, supra, 366 U.S. at 605, 81 S.Ct. at 1147. The Court further noted that to strike down legislation which imposes only indirect burdens would, absent the most critical scrutiny, "radically restrict the operating latitude of the legislature." Id. This distinction led to a conclusion that, if the State regulates conduct by enacting a general law within its power, the purpose and effect 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. Id. at 1148.